Game 93: The New Guys

(Jonathan Daniel/Getty)
(Jonathan Daniel/Getty)

The Yankees and Twins are wrapping up their three-game series this afternoon, and the Yankees will have three new players in uniform. Todd Frazier, David Robertson, and Tommy Kahnle are all available today even though their flight from Chicago was held up by bad weather and they’re not expected to arrive at the park until around first pitch. The Yankees are a much better team right now than they were 24 hours ago. No doubt about it.

As for this afternoon’s game, the Yankees have a chance to do something they haven’t done in more than a month now: win a damn series. They’re 0-7-2 in their last nine series dating back to that massacre weekend against the Orioles. It’s about time for this extended run of crappiness to end. The front office went out and got the Yankees some help. Now it’s up to the players to turn things around. Here is the Twins’ lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:

  1. LF Brett Gardner
  2. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
  3. DH Gary Sanchez
  4. 2B Starlin Castro
  5. SS Didi Gregorius
  6. RF Clint Frazier
  7. 1B Garrett Cooper
  8. C Austin Romine
  9. 3B Ronald Torreyes
    LHP Jordan Montgomery

It is a lovely afternoon for baseball in the Twin Cities. Nice and sunny with temperatures in the 80s. Good day to play hooky and sit in the bleachers. This afternoon’s series finale will begin at 1:10pm ET and you can watch on YES. Enjoy the game.

Roster Moves: Even with Tyler Clippard going the other way in the trade, the Yankees still needed to clear two 25-man and two 40-man roster spots following the trade. Ji-Man Choi was designated for assignment to clear one of each. Chasen Shreve was sent down to clear the other 25-man spot and Rob Refsnyder was designated for assignment to clear the other 40-man spot. Choi will likely clear waivers and go to Triple-A Scranton. I bet Refsnyder ends up getting traded for nothing in particular. Either that or they’ll lose him on waivers.

Uniform Numbers: Clint Frazier has switched from No. 30 to No. 77, which is an expert troll move. He said it has nothing to do with Mickey Mantle though. He thought it would look cool with No. 77 and No. 99 in the outfield. Robertson is wearing his old No. 30. The other Frazier, Todd, is wearing No. 29. He wore No. 21 with the Reds and White Sox. I guess the Yankees are just never going to put that number back in circulation, huh? Kahnle is wearing No. 48.

Thoughts following the big trade with the White Sox

Frazier. (Christian Petersen/Getty)
Frazier. (Christian Petersen/Getty)

Are the Yankees buyers or sellers? That question was answered definitively last night. The Yankees completed a big seven-player trade with the White Sox that brings Todd Frazier, David Robertson, and Tommy Kahnle to New York. Going the other way are Blake Rutherford, Tyler Clippard, Ian Clarkin, and Tito Polo. There’s a lot going on here and I have some thoughts, so let’s get to it.

1. For all intents and purposes this trade is Rutherford for Frazier, Robertson, and Kahnle. The Yankees aren’t going to miss Clippard at all. He was included in the trade to offset salary. Clarkin is a former first rounder, but his stock has been slipping since his 2015 elbow injury and he’s fallen behind several other pitching prospects in the system. Polo has a classic fourth outfielder’s profile in a system loaded with outfielders. Also, both Clarkin and Polo will be Rule 5 Draft eligible after the season and I thought it was unlikely the Yankees would add either to the 40-man roster. They could have lost both guys for nothing in the offseason — I absolutely could see Polo sticking in the big leagues as an extra outfielder next year — and instead they turned them into big league help. The Yankees gave up one very good prospect plus stuff for three players who represent significant upgrades to their MLB roster. No one wants to see Rutherford go, but man, getting two high-end relievers for one top prospect is a hell of thing these days.

2. I don’t think the Yankees soured on Rutherford. I think this was simply a matter of having to give up a top prospect to get the deal done, and getting it done without giving up an MLB or near MLB piece. Rutherford’s really good! He’s also in Low-A ball and the Yankees have Aaron Judge and Clint Frazier in the big leagues with Dustin Fowler waiting once healthy. Don’t forget Tyler Wade and Jorge Mateo either. And even Aaron Hicks. He’s pretty cool too. There’s also Estevan Florial at Low-A as well. The Yankees have more quality outfielders than they could ever possibly roster. If they were going to dip into their system and trade one of their top prospects, the outfielder several years away from the big leagues is the one to give up. The Yankees kept all their close to MLB prospects and the kids who play positions of greater need. Rutherford was probably my favorite prospect in the system, so in that sense I’m bummed to see him go. I totally get it though.

3. My biggest qualm with giving up Rutherford in this trade is the opportunity cost. What else could they have gotten for him? Could the Yankees have used Rutherford as the centerpiece in a package for a controllable starting pitcher? Joel Sherman says the Yankees offered Rutherford to the White Sox for Jose Quintana, so they tried. I guess it wasn’t happening though. It’s only natural to wonder what else was out there. The Yankees do know what else was out there though. They didn’t decide on a whim yesterday to include Rutherford in this trade. They looked around the league, weighed their options, and decided this was the best way to maximize him as an asset. The Yankees haven’t gotten taken to the cleaners in a trade in a long time. Brian Cashman and his staff do their due diligence and there’s no reason to think they didn’t here. I trust that they explored the rotation trade market before agreeing to this deal with Rutherford.

4. One component of this trade you can’t quantify is the message it sends to the players. The guys already on the team. The Yankees just told everyone in the clubhouse we believe in you. We believe you’re good enough to win and we’re going to get you the help you need. Last year the message was the complete opposite. You guys aren’t good enough, so we’re going to trade some of our best players and hope for better days ahead. Now, just a year later, the Yankees are buying. I’m certain the guys in the clubhouse are fired up by this, especially everyone who sat through the trade deadline sale last year. How much will it translate to production on the field? I have no idea. I don’t think this is negligible though. The Yankees sent a message to their players with this trade and that message is we believe in you and we’re going to give you whatever support you need. How could anyone not be excited by that?

5. As for things we can quantify, holy smokes is this bullpen going to miss a lot of bats now. The lowest strikeout rate among the regular relievers belongs to Adam Warren at 25.7%. There are currently 152 relievers in the big leagues who have thrown at least 30 innings this season. Four of the top 15 strikeout rates now belong to Yankees:

3. Tommy Kahnle: 42.6%
4. Dellin Betances: 42.5%
8. Chad Green: 37.4%
15. David Robertson: 35.6%

Aroldis Chapman hasn’t thrown 30 innings because he spent all the time on the disabled list, but he has a healthy 32.7% strikeout rate this year as well. Bring me a bullpen full of guys who can miss bats and get outs without allowing a ball in play. To hell with ground balls and weak pop outs and all that. Give me big strikeout totals in the late innings. The Yankees have that now. Well, they have more of it now. Adding Robertson and Kahnle to Betances and Chapman and Green gives Joe Girardi plenty of options when he needs a strikeout. I love it.

(Matthew Stockman/Getty)
Kahnle. (Matthew Stockman/Getty)

6. Kahnle is the main piece in this trade. Not Frazier or Robertson. Frazier is the former All-Star and Home Run Derby champ, and Robertson is a Proven Closerâ„¢, but Kahnle is the reason the Yankees had to give up Rutherford. He’s been unreal this season — he has a 2.50 ERA (1.47 FIP) with 42.6% strikeouts and 5.0% walks in 36 innings — and he’s also only 27 with three full years of team control beyond 2017. And his arbitration salaries won’t be significant because he doesn’t have many career saves (only three). The Yankees believe they just acquired three and a half years of an elite reliever in his prime. Of course, Kahnle has never pitched this well before, mostly because he never threw this many strikes. His career walk rate prior to this season was 14.1%. It was 13.0% in the minors. What changed? Here’s what Kahnle told Colleen Kane back in April:

“It’s just a few changes, one with the leg kick and keeping my head on a straight line,” Kahnle said. “That’s basically keeping me going toward home plate and keeping my fastball command right there. (I’m) just a little more focused as well. (The leg kick) is basically just modified so I don’t sway back or take too long with my arm action. That way I’m opening up. But now I’m more closed with a direct line to the catcher.”

And there you have it. Kahnle streamlined his delivery and is now more on-line with the plate. That’s pretty big for the whole “throw strikes” thing. Will it last? Who knows. I wouldn’t blame you for being skeptical. Heck, I am a little. I mean, Kahnle probably won’t be this good forever. He certainly wouldn’t be the first live-armed reliever to figure out how to throw strikes in his mid-to-late-20s though. Robertson did it. Andrew Miller did it. Lots of guys do it. The Yankees believe in Kahnle’s newfound control and that’s why they traded for him. He’s the main piece here. Frazier and Robertson are the big names and they’re pretty awesome in their own right. Kahnle’s the most impactful player the Yankees acquired in this trade.

7. As for bullpen roles, my guess is Girardi will bump Betances back to the seventh inning and use Robertson as the eighth inning guy ahead of Chapman. That’s fine. Dellin’s walk issues and general inability to hold runners mean he is no longer a great option to bring into the middle of an inning to put out a fire. He’s best off starting an inning fresh, at least until he starts throwing strikes again. The best option for that fireman role is Kahnle. He’s got the huge strikeout rate and he won’t beat himself with walks. That’s the guy Girardi should use in the highest of high-leverage spots, when he needs to escape a jam in a close game. Let Betances, Robertson, and Chapman have the assigned innings — you know Girardi is going to assign innings — and let Kahnle be the fireman. This really is a hell of a bullpen now. The Yankees have the three-headed monster in the late innings, Kahnle available to put out fires, and Warren and Green for whatever other situations arise.

8. Speaking of Green, I’ve already seen some speculation that this trade could tempt the Yankees to move him back into the rotation, and I am completely against that. The bullpen is the place for him. Green still doesn’t have a changeup and he’s an extreme fly ball pitcher (29.0% grounders this year). He’s not equipped to turn over a lineup multiple times. I absolutely believe learning how to get outs in the bullpen can help a pitcher when he transitions back to the rotation — I’ve said this before, but I don’t think Luis Severino turns into the pitcher he is today without that stint in the bullpen last year — but with Green, I don’t see the tools to start. He’s found a home in the bullpen and there’s no shame in carving out a career as a reliever. Not these days. Let him continue to air it out in one and two-inning stints. If anything, Warren is the guy the Yankee should move into the rotation, not Green. Warren definitely has the repertoire and command to start. (I say that as the world’s biggest Adam Warren fan, so I’m biased.)

9. This trade felt like the start of a series of moves for the Yankees prior to the trade deadline, not the move. I think they’re going to look high and low for rotation help. They’d love a controllable guy, we all know that, but if they have to settle for a rental, they’ll do it. You don’t make a trade like this only to stick with Luis Cessa or Bryan Mitchell every fifth day, you know? A starter is the top priority now and that’s understandable. I could also see the Yankees pursuing a true matchup left-on-left reliever. Someone better at neutralizing lefties than Chasen Shreve. I suppose a bullpen southpaw isn’t all that important since the Yankees have several righty relievers who can get out lefties (Warren, Betances, Robertson), but it would be nice to have. Rotation help is far and away the priority right now. If the Yankees happen to find a lefty reliever too, great. Point is, I think there’s something else coming. The Yankees didn’t make this trade with the intentional of calling it a deadline and hoping for the best.

10. As for Frazier, he’s going to play everyday and I expect him to spend most of his time at first base. I could see a convoluted platoon in which Frazier (first base) and Chase Headley (third base) play against righties while Frazier (third) and Garrett Cooper (first) play against lefties. Something like that. First base has been an absolute disaster this season — the Yankees have gotten a .183/.272/.355 (66 wRC+) batting line from the position this year, which gave me a headache just typing it out — even when factoring Cooper’s and Ji-Man Choi‘s recent heroics. Frazier, as flawed a hitter as he is, will be a big upgrade. He could be worth as much as +2 WAR to the Yankees the rest of the way relative to the guys he’s replacing. Hopefully he comes in, is energized by being in a postseason race for the first time in several years, and goes all 2000 David Justice in the second half.

Yankees 6, Twins 3: The offense finally wakes up

The Yankees had themselves a productive little Tuesday, eh? They made a big seven-player trade with the White Sox and also picked up a much-needed 6-3 win over the Twins to create a little breathing room in the wildcard race. The Yankees are an even 3-3 since the All-Star break.

(Hannah Foslien/Getty)
(Hannah Foslien/Getty)

Cessa Struggles
Holy moly what a brutal start by Luis Cessa. I mean, it wasn’t a total disaster (three runs in 3.2 innings), but geez, the guy could not throw strikes. He walked three and hit a batter … in the first inning. Cessa also gave up a solo homer to Miguel Sano and, well, it happens. I’m not going to get mad about that. He then allowed a loud run-scoring triple to Brian Dozier after (yep) falling behind in the count. The final line: 3.2 IP, 4 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 4 BB, 2 K. Yuck.

With Michael Pineda done for the season, Tuesday’s start was a pretty good opportunity for Cessa to seize a rotation spot for the foreseeable future. Bryan Mitchell pitched well enough Monday — not great, but good enough — but the Yankees decided to option him down Tuesday. Will Cessa get another start? Eh. It wouldn’t surprise me. Then again, the wheelin’ and dealin’ Yankees could swing something before then. Just please, not another start like this.

The Offense Breaks Out
Bartolo Colon went into Tuesday’s start with an 8.14 ERA (5.07 FIP) in 63 innings, so of course he started the game with three scoreless innings. Sigh. The Yankees finally got on the board in the third inning thanks to a leadoff single by Aaron Judge, a one-out single by Didi Gregorius, and a two-out single by Chase Headley. Three singles, one run. Love that small-ish ball.

It wasn’t until the fourth inning, when the 44-year-old Colon was visibly fatigued, that the offense really broke out. The Twins were up 3-1 at the time. The first four men the Yankees sent to the plate that inning reached base. Ronald Torreyes got it started with a single. Brett Gardner then dunked a ground rule double just fair inside the line in the left field corner, and Gary Sanchez knotted the game up with a two-run double into the left field corner. Exhale.

(Hannah Foslien/Getty)
(Hannah Foslien/Getty)

The Sanchez double ended Colon’s night at 82 pitches. He looked completely out of gas. In came Ryan Pressly, who allowed the go-ahead single to Judge. Hooray for that. Judge is starting to come around a bit. His five-game slump has been annoying. Two batters later Gregorius gave the Yankees some much-appreciated breathing room with a loud two-run home run to right field. The Yankees were down 3-1 when the inning started. They were up 6-3 when it ended.

More Stellar Bullpen Work
Who is this bullpen and what have they done with the Yankees bullpen? Maybe they didn’t need to make the David Robertson/Tommy Kahnle trade after all. I kid, I kid. But seriously, how good has the bullpen been since the All-Star break? Aroldis Chapman had the ugly ninth inning Friday and Caleb Smith got hung out to dry Monday night, otherwise it’s been nothing but zeroes.

Chasen Shreve was the first man out of the bullpen and he escaped Cessa’s mess with a strikeout. Shreve then tossed a scoreless fifth inning, and Adam Warren retired all six men he faced in the sixth and seventh. Dellin Betances made things interesting in the eighth — the inning went double, strikeout, hit batsman, strikeout, walk, line out — but escaped without allowing a run, and that’s all that matters. Chapman pitched around a leadoff walk in the ninth.

The final line on the bullpen: 5.1 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 2 BB, 6 K, 1 HBP. Pretty darn good. The Yankees didn’t go out and get Robertson and Kahnle for the hell of it. They really need those guys. The bullpen has been mess for a few weeks now. They’ve been better since the All-Star break, so perhaps this means the guys who are already here are turning things around, and now the Yankees have two new high-end relievers as well. That’d be cool.

(Hannah Foslien/Getty)
(Hannah Foslien/Getty)

Leftovers
Big day for the bats. The Yankees had 13 hits, including three each by Gregorius and Torreyes. Gardner, Sanchez, and Judge had two apiece as well. Matt Holliday went 0-for-4 with two strikeouts and is now 3-for-27 (.111) with eleven strikeouts since coming off the disabled list. He’s been really late on fastballs too. Hopefully it’s just rust and not something more serious.

Not a whole lot to add other than that. The Yankees picked up a win, remained in postseason position, and added three new players to the roster. Fun day.

Box Score, WPA Graph & Standings
For the box score and updated standings, go to ESPN. MLB.com has the video highlights and we have a Bullpen Workload page. Here’s the ol’ win probability graph:


Source: FanGraphs

Up Next
The Yankees and Twins will wrap-up this three-game series with a Wednesday matinee. That’s a 1pm ET start. Jordan Montgomery and Jose Berrios are the scheduled starting pitchers. Then it’s off to Seattle.

DotF: Andujar has a huge day in Scranton’s doubleheader

OF Jeff Hendrix made today’s Notes from the Field at Baseball Prospectus (subs. req’d). “Average bat speed, good hands, contact-oriented but not slap-and-dash like (Gosuke) Katoh, has more strength and loft, can put a charge on balls, works all fields, but power is to pull-side … See as a strong OF defender in the upper levels,” said the write-up.

Triple-A Scranton Game One (10-2 loss to Norfolk in seven innings)

  • SS Tyler Wade: 0-3, 2 K
  • RF Rob Refsnyder & LF Billy McKinney: both 1-3
  • 3B Miguel Andujar: 1-3, 1 R, 1 HR, 1 RBI — eleven homers in 88 games this year after hitting 12 in 130 games last year
  • LHP Brady Lail: 4.1 IP, 7 H, 7 R, 5 ER, 2 BB, 5 K, 1 WP, 5/4 GB/FB — 57 of 82 pitches were strikes (70%)
  • RHP Colten Brewer: 1.1 IP, 4 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 1 BB, 2 K, 2 WP, 2/0 GB/FB — 21 of 35 pitches were strikes (60%)

[Read more…]

Yankees acquire Frazier, Robertson, Kahnle from White Sox

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Any question about whether the Yankees would be buyers or sellers has been answered. Tuesday night the Yankees swung their largest trade deadline deal in several years, finalizing a seven-player trade with the White Sox that brings Todd Frazier, Tommy Kahnle, and David Robertson to New York. Tyler Clippard, Blake Rutherford, Ian Clarkin, and Tito Polo are going the other way. Both teams have announced the trade. It’s a done deal. Officially official.

“Those are all guys who can help us accomplish what we’re trying to,” said Brett Gardner, who texted Robertson after the trade, to Bryan Hoch following Tuesday’s game. The Yankees are assuming the remainder of Robertson’s contract, which isn’t bad by any means. He’s owed the balance of his $12M salary this year plus $13M next year. Frazier is a rental and Kahnle will remain under team control through 2020 as an arbitration-eligible player.

Frazier, 31, is hitting .207/.328/.432 (103 wRC+) with 16 home runs in 81 games this season, and while that doesn’t sound exciting, it’s a massive upgrade over what the Yankees have been getting from first base this year. Joe Girardi confirmed Frazier will play both first and third bases, and I’m sure he’ll be in the lineup everyday. Also, Frazier is an A+ clubhouse dude. He’s great with young players and in general. The Yankees value that.

Robertson and Kahnle will help a bullpen that has been way too shaky this season. Kahnle, 27, was originally selected in the fifth round by the Yankees in the 2010 draft. They lost him to the Rockies in the 2013 Rule 5 Draft and he eventually made his way to the White Sox. Kahnle has been unreal this season. Dude has a 2.50 ERA (1.47 FIP) with 42.6% strikeouts and 5.0% walks in 36 innings. He’s been better than Robertson.

The 32-year-old Robertson has a 2.70 ERA (3.05 FIP) in 33.1 innings with 35.6% strikeouts and 8.3% walks, so typical David Robertson stuff. Welcome home, D-Rob. He and Kahnle are going to give the bullpen a huge shot in the arm. The Yankees are — and this isn’t hyperbole — replacing one of the worst relievers in baseball this season (Clippard) with one of the best (Kahnle). And then getting Robertson on top of that.

The big piece going to the White Sox in the trade is Rutherford, New York’s first round pick in last year’s draft. The 20-year-old outfielder is hitting .281/.342/.391 (112 wRC+) with two home runs in 71 Low Class-A games this season. That’s pretty good for a 20-year-old kid in full season ball, though maybe not quite what everyone hoped coming into the season. Either way, Rutherford remains an excellent prospect.

Polo and Clarkin, both 22, are decent prospects and nothing more at this point. Clarkin was one of the Yankees’ three first round picks in 2013, so once upon a time he was a pretty big deal, but he hasn’t really been the same since missing the entire 2015 season with an elbow issue. Polo came over from the Pirates in last year’s Ivan Nova trade and projects as a fourth outfielder. He’s very likely to play in MLB at some point.

Clippard was thrown into the trade as a way to offset some salary, and also clear a 40-man roster spot. (The Yankees still have to clear two more 40-man spots.) Clippard started the season in the Circle of Trustâ„¢, but he’s been getting bombed the last few weeks, forcing the Yankees to use him in lower leverage spots whenever possible. He has a 4.95 ERA (4.98 FIP) in 36.1 innings this year. Yuck. Addition by subtraction.

Now that it’s crystal clear the Yankees are going to add pieces at the trade deadline, they figure to buckle down and look for a starting pitcher. Michael Pineda is done for the season and running guys like Bryan Mitchell and Luis Cessa out there every fifth day isn’t a good idea. I don’t think the Yankees will trade top prospects for a someone like Sonny Gray, necessarily, but I do expect them to search around for a veteran innings guy.

Game 92: Stay in Postseason Position

The last 30 games in picture form. (Hannah Foslien/Getty)
The last 30 games in picture form. (Hannah Foslien/Getty)

Here is the very simple math: with a loss tonight, the Yankees will fall out of postseason position for the first time since April 13th, the day of the ninth game of the season. The Yankees are 9-21 in their last 30 games — that’s their worst 30-game stretch since going 8-22 in late-May/early-June of 1995 — and the Twins are a half-game back of the second wildcard spot. A loss tonight means the Twins will be a half-game up.

The Yankees are in the middle of a collapse. It would feel a heck of a lot worse if it were happening in September, but it’s a collapse. Over the last 30 games they’ve gone from four games up in the division to barely hanging on to the second wild card spot. Every day it seems something new goes wrong. One day it’s the offense. The next day the bullpen melts down. The day after that the starter gets rocked. This is as ugly a stretch of baseball as I can remember. Find a way to squeeze out a win tonight and go from there. Here is the Twins’ lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:

  1. CF Brett Gardner
  2. C Gary Sanchez
  3. RF Aaron Judge
  4. DH Matt Holliday
  5. SS Didi Gregorius
  6. LF Clint Frazier
  7. 3B Chase Headley
  8. 1B Garrett Cooper
  9. 2B Ronald Torreyes
    RHP Luis Cessa

It rained in Minneapolis for much of the afternoon, though it’s supposed to stop in time for the game. There is no more wet stuff coming tonight either, so once they get this one started, they should have no trouble finishing it. Tonight’s game will begin at 8:10pm ET and you can watch on WPIX locally and ESPN nationally. Try to enjoy the game.

Roster Move: Bryan Mitchell was sent down to get Cessa on the roster, the Yankees announced. I thought maybe they’d send down Caleb Smith instead, but nope. Smith remains. The middle innings lefty role is a land of opportunity right now.

Injury Updates: As expected, Michael Pineda (Tommy John surgery) and Greg Bird (ankle) had their surgeries today. Everything went fine. Bird released a statement saying he intends to play again this year. You can read it here.

Checking on Aroldis Chapman’s fastball spin rate

(Rich Gagnon/Getty)
(Rich Gagnon/Getty)

Friday night the Yankees had a win ripped away when Aroldis Chapman failed to retire even one of the five batters he faced, and blew his third save in 12 opportunities. A few of the nine saves he did nail down were a bit dicey as well. Chapman rebounded with scoreless innings Saturday and Sunday, though so far this season, he has not been the overwhelming force the Yankees thought they signed.

The single biggest difference between Chapman this year and the Chapman of the past has been a decline in swings and misses. Chapman threw 56 total pitches in his three appearances in Boston and generated one (1) swing and miss. He’s gotten eleven swings and misses in his last eight appearances and 148 pitches, or 7.4%. His career swing and miss rate is 17.3%. This year it’s 12.5%. The MLB average is 10.4%. Something has gone awry here.

The first thing we all thing about with Chapman is fastball velocity, and so far this year his velocity has been fine. His fastball is averaging 100.0 mph on the nose and he’s topped out at 103.3 mph. Last year he averaged 101.1 mph and the year before it was 100.4 mph. And yet, look at the rate of misses he’s generating per swing with his fastball. This is whiffs-per-swing, not whiffs-per-total pitches:

  • 2015: 41.0% (18.5% league average)
  • 2016: 32.8% (18.8% league average)
  • 2017: 25.1% (19.7% league average)

That’s not great. The league average keeps creeping up each year while Chapman’s whiffs-per-swing rate with his fastball is dropping noticeably. He’s down nearly 40% from 2015. Chapman isn’t missing bats like he once did and he knows it. He doesn’t know why though. “Actually, that’s a good question. I’m going to go back and try to see footage and why because I honestly don’t know why,” he said to Brendan Kuty over the weekend when asked about the lack of whiffs.

Since Chapman’s swing and misses are down significantly, I figured it would be worthwhile to check out his fastball spin rate. For fastballs, a high spin rate correlates well to swing and misses and a low spin rate correlates well to ground balls. You don’t really want to be average. You want to be high or low. Here, with an assist from Baseball Savant, is Chapman’s fastball spin rate by month since Statcast became a thing back in 2015:

aroldis-chapman-fastball-spin-rate-2015-17

Let’s start with the obvious: Chapman’s spin far has been well-above-average since Opening Day 2015. His worst spin rate month, June 2015, was still nearly 10% better than the league average. Chapman has a very high fastball spin rate and he usually generates a ton of swings and misses. That’s not a coincidence.

Now, compared to last year, Chapman’s fastball spin rate is definitely down. It declined every month from September 2016 through June 2017 before ticking back up this month. A spin rate decline is bad! At the same time, his fastball spin rate has declined back to where it was for much of 2015, when hitters missed with more than 40% of the swings they took against Chapman’s fastball. Hmmm.

Even with the gradual decline this year, I don’t see a big red flag with Chapman’s fastball spin rate. I’d be really worried if it dropped lower than it had been at any point the last two seasons and change. His fastball spin rate is down from last year and right in line with 2015, and Chapman was great in 2015. He’s within range here. That’s a good thing. You want Chapman to be Chapman, right? Right.

So, with his spin rate looking okay, we’re still left wondering why Chapman’s swing and misses are down this year. Joe Girardi chalked it up to everyone throwing hard now and hitters being more comfortable against big velocity, which I suppose could be true, but Luis Severino hasn’t had any trouble getting hitters to swing through his upper-90s heat. Dellin Betances is still getting a ton of whiffs with his fastball. That doesn’t really pass the sniff test.

The way I see it, there are four possible explanations for Chapman’s relative lack of swings and misses this year. One, he’s in permanent decline. That’s always possible. Humans aren’t meant to throw this hard for this long. Two, it’s just a slump. Sometimes ground ball pitchers can’t get ground balls and sometimes strikeout pitchers can’t get strikeouts. It happens. Three, Chapman is still not all the way back from his shoulder injury. It took Andrew Miller about a month to get back to normal following his forearm issue in 2015, remember.

And four, Chapman is dealing with a World Series hangover. He threw a lot of intense innings last postseason — 15.2 innings across 13 appearances, to be exact — and because the Cubs went to Game Seven of the World Series, Chapman had a shorter offseason recover. Game Seven was November 2nd and pitchers and catchers reported on February 14th. That’s not much of a break at all.

I think (hope) Chapman is going through a World Series hangover this year. He’s wouldn’t be the only one. Basically the entire Cubs rotation is dealing with it. If it is a World Series hangover, hopefully Chapman gets a second wind soon, or is 100% good to go next year at the latest. This is year one of a five-year contract, after all. Getting this version of Chapman in year one is kinda scary.

Chapman’s swings and misses are undeniably down this year, though his fastball spin rate is within its usual range, so that’s not a huge issue. Something is off though. I don’t know what. Maybe it’s a slump, maybe it’s a World Series hangover, or maybe he really is in permanent decline. Considering Chapman is only 29 and is super athletic and well built, as long as he’s healthy, I think he’ll be fine. Eventually. I don’t know when, exactly.