Hal Steinbrenner desperately wants you to like Aroldis Chapman

(Jim McIsaac/Getty)
(Jim McIsaac/Getty)

Eleven days from now, pitchers and catchers will report to Tampa and the Yankees will open Spring Training. Among those who will show up for work that day is Aroldis Chapman, the team’s new old closer. The Yankees signed Chapman to a five-year deal worth $86M back in December. It includes an opt-out after year three.

Yesterday, at the quarterly owners’ meetings, Hal Steinbrenner spoke to Bob Nightengale about Chapman’s return to New York, and, well, look:

“Quite frankly it was manageable the minute he got here last year,’’ Steinbrenner said at the quarterly owners’ meetings Thursday. “He was great. Look, he admitted he messed up. He paid the penalty. Sooner or later, we forget, right? That’s the way we’re supposed to be in life. He did everything right, and said everything right, when he was with us.”

To be fair, Steinbrenner later told David Lennon he meant to say “forgive,” not “forget,” which is only slightly better. Anyway, Hal’s agenda became pretty clear after he acknowledged the Yankees re-signed Chapman in part because he puts butts in the seats.

“They love him,’’ Steinbrenner said. “There are so few baseball players that I feel can really get fans to buy a ticket and brings their kids to their game, and he’s one of them.’’

Please like my temperamental $17M a year closer. That’s what this all sounds like. Forget about the ugly stuff and look at those 105 mph fastballs wowie!

The thing is, there is no forgetting, and it’s not really up to the fans to forgive. Last winter’s alleged domestic violence incident stays with Chapman the same way performance-enhancing drugs stayed with Alex Rodriguez. It’s always there with you, subconsciously. You never really forget. It’s silly to pretend otherwise. (Also, domestic violence is roughly a bazillion times worse than PEDs, but I digress.)

Steinbrenner committed an awful lot of money to Chapman and he wants fans to like him. I get it. But dude, don’t tell people they should forgive him or worse, forget about it. That’s one of those things that, even if you believe it, say it in your head and not out loud, you know? This is a sensitive subject. Telling people to forget it ain’t cool. As with anything in life, telling people how to feel isn’t a great idea.

The Yankees have a chance to be really exciting this coming season because Gary Sanchez and Aaron Judge are going to sock dingers, because Didi Gregorius is going to flash leather at shortstop, and because Masahiro Tanaka is an artist on the mound. Chapman will be part of that excitement too. Fans are under no obligation to forgive him or forget about his history though, whether Hal likes it or not.

The Third Wheel

(Christian Petersen/Getty)
(Christian Petersen/Getty)

That whole “New Year, New Me,” meme that we always see as the number turns on the calendar is not going to apply to the New York Yankees in 2017. Some of the names and faces may be different, but the big picture looks a whole lot like the one from last year. Questions about veteran bats like Mark Teixeira‘s, Alex Rodriguez‘s, and Carlos Beltran‘s have given way to questions about young players’ bats, like Gary Sanchez, Aaron Judge, Tyler Austin, and the returning Greg Bird. The rotation, as it seems to have been for a while, is far from secure. Leading the similarities, however, is a bullpen headed by a “Big Three,” though this year’s trio will be missing the best of the bunch in Andrew Miller. Replacing him, as he did at the trade deadline last year, is right hander Tyler Clippard.

Clippard pitched well in his 25.1 innings for the Yankees last year, striking out 24.3% of the batters he faced (9.24 K/9) and posting a 2.49 ERA (177 ERA+; 59 ERA-), though that is somewhat belied by a 4.05 FIP (99 FIP-), owed to a high walk rate of 10.3% (3.91 BB/9). In what is likely to be his first full season as a Yankee (provided he doesn’t get traded), Clippard is going to play an important role as gatekeeper to the superior Dellin Betances and Aroldis Chapman.

Given that the rotation isn’t likely to give much length, something I discussed last month, it’s possible that a lot of games are going to hinge on Clippard performing well in the sixth or seventh inning, holding onto tight leads to turn them over to Betances and Chapman. To mix metaphors, the success of the Yankees’ three-headed-monster may rely on its third wheel, represented by Clippard.

Unless the Yankees improve their rotation before the start of the season, though, they risk the team’s biggest strength being mostly mitigated from the start. While it’s obviously better to have a solid game-ending trio than to not have one, the importance of said trio is lessened when the rotation can’t provide quality or length and the lineup can’t thump its ways through thickets of poor starting to the meadows of high-scoring leads. This isn’t really a thing, but the team’s questionable starting pitching is a case of a weakness potentially turning a strength into something, well, less strong.

To cut back on some of the falling sky here, Clippard is still a good enough pitcher that I’m not too worried about him blowing leads before they’re put into more capable hands. I am worried, though, that he’ll be pressed into early service too often and that, as the season wears on, fatigue may set in. The Yankees need an innings eat to help make sure this doesn’t happen.

Aroldis Chapman could be even more effective by being less predictable with his fastball

(Ezra Shaw/Getty)
(Ezra Shaw/Getty)

By any objective measure, Aroldis Chapman is one of the best relievers in baseball and most dominant single-inning forces in baseball history. Chapman has struck out 42.6% of the batters he’s faced in the big leagues, including 44.2% over the last five seasons, the highest rate in history by nearly two percentage points. Craig Kimbrel (40.7%) and Kenley Jansen (39.8%) are the only pitchers within nine percentage points of Chapman.

As good as he is, Chapman is not without his flaws as a pitcher. No player is perfect, after all. Chapman does walk a few too many hitters (career 11.6 BB%), and yeah, he’s made it known he prefers to work the ninth inning and only the ninth inning. Chapman can also be a bit predictable on the mound, especially when he falls behind in the count. (And since he walks so many batters, he’s behind in the count more often than the average pitcher.)

I first noticed this during Chapman’s short stint with the Yankees last year, but he was here and gone so quick — Chapman was on the active roster only 76 days between his suspension and the trade — that I never got around to looking into it. Since he’s back for at least three and possibly as many as five years, it’s time for a deeper dive. Here is Chapman’s pitch selection over the last three years:

Fastball Slider Changeup
Count Even 71.6% 22.2% 5.4%
Pitcher Ahead 68.8% 19.5% 10.5%
Batter Ahead 84.8% 11.9% 2.0%

There are two obvious caveats here. One, every pitcher throws more fastballs when they’re behind in the count. Last season pitchers threw a fastball 64.4% of the time when they were behind in the count. It was 56.2% when the count was even and 48.4% when ahead in the count. And two, not every pitcher has Chapman’s fastball. No other pitcher does. He’s one of a kind. Life is good when you throw 100 mph on the regular.

Chapman, when he falls behind in the count and needs to even things back up, will lean on his high-octane fastball and understandably so. It’s the most dominant fastball in baseball history. There’s no point in keeping it in your back pocket. Aroldis is leaning on that pitch when behind in the count more and more with each passing year too. It was 80.5% fastballs three years ago, 84.6% two years ago, and 89.1% last year.

Again, Chapman’s fastball is historically great, so throwing more of them seems like a good idea. Look at his numbers when he’s been behind in the count the last three years though:

Count Even: .199/.216/.269 (40 OPS+)
Pitcher Ahead: .068/.071/.083 (-40 OPS+)
Batter Ahead: .263/.526/.391/ (93 OPS+)

When Chapman gets ahead in the count, forget it. Game over. Opponents have a .154 OPS (OPS!) against him when he’s gotten ahead in the count since 2014. Crazy. When the count is even, Chapman is still dominant. The hitter might as well be down 0-2.

But, when Chapman falls behind in the count, he’s damn near average. Keep in mind a 93 OPS+ in those situations still isn’t great for the hitter, but relative to Chapman’s standards, it feels like a miracle. Hitting .263 against a guy throwing that hard is impressive, and I can’t help but wonder whether Chapman’s predictability with the fastball plays into that. Sure, he throws extremely hard, but if hitters know it’s coming, their life gets a little easier.

The best way to look at this is by isolating Chapman’s fastball. Here’s how hitters have performed against his fastball in the various count states over the last three years:

AVG ISO Whiff% Foul%
Count Even .210 .060 15.7% 20.5%
Pitcher Ahead .059 .005 25.0% 24.7%
Batter Ahead .389 .185 13.9% 19.4%

I literally lol’d at the .005 ISO against Chapman’s fastball when he’s ahead in the count. Aroldis has allowed one extra-base hit against the heater when he had the count advantage over the last three seasons. One. It was a Garrett Jones double on an 0-2 fastball in August 2014. (I went back through MLB.tv to see if there was any defensive funny business, but no, it was a booming double off the top of the wall on a mistake fastball down the middle. So it goes.)

Anyway, hitters have had more success against Chapman’s fastball when he’s behind in the count. A lot more success. They’ve hit for more average and power, and swung and missed a heck of a lot less. (A 13.9% whiff rate on a fastball is still insanely good, I should note.) I thought maybe this would explain the foul balls too — Aroldis does seem to give up a lot of fouls, doesn’t he? — but apparently not. Either way, Chapman’s fastball is not nearly as effective when he’s behind in the count, yet that’s the pitch he’s throwing nine times out of ten in those spots.

Based on this, it’s fair to wonder whether Chapman would benefit from using his slider and changeup a bit more often when behind in the count. Not necessarily when he’s down 3-0 or anything like that, but in 1-0, 2-0, or 2-1 counts, when a ball doesn’t put a man on base? Why not? The goal is to put something else in the back of the hitter’s mind and change the scouting report. That’s why Chapman’s fastball is so good when he’s ahead in the count. He throws the most sliders and changeups in those spots and the fastball plays up. Right now, hitters can sit fastball when he’s behind.

This is nitpicking to the nth degree, of course. Chapman is historically great even while throwing all those fastballs when behind in the count, so he doesn’t have to change anything to remain effective. This is more a look at a way Chapman can be even better, which is pretty crazy to think about. Mixing in a handful of sliders and changeups when behind in the count, just a few to stop hitters from sitting heater, could make a pretty significant difference.

Update: Yankees trade Nick Goody to Indians for cash

(Elsa/Getty)
(Elsa/Getty)

Tuesday: The Yankees have traded Goody to the Indians for cash or a player to be named later, the team announced earlier today. That almost certainly means cash. I can’t remember the last time “cash or a player to be named later” was actually a player to be named later. Anyway, at least the Yankees got something for Goody rather than losing him for nothing on waivers.

Monday: Late last week, the Yankees finalized and officially announced the Aroldis Chapman signing. Jon Heyman says Chapman will receive an $11M signing bonus and a $15M salary each year of the five-year deal. That means he’ll make $56M during the first three years of the contract, before the opt-out. It’s still a $17.2M luxury tax hit.

“The Marlins were close to signing me,” said Chapman in a conference call Friday. “But in the end my wish was to come back to the Yankees. I wanted to be part of a young team like the Yankees have now, and not go to the Marlins because we all know sometimes from time to time they change their team a lot.”

To clear a 40-man roster spot for Chapman, the Yankees designated right-hander Nick Goody for assignment. The 25-year-old Goody pitched to a 4.67 ERA (5.11 FIP) with 24.0% strikeouts and 9.7% walks in 34.2 big league innings spread across multiple stints the last two seasons. New York selected him in the sixth round of the 2012 draft.

I’ve always liked Goody. His Triple-A numbers are ridiculous — he has a 1.64 ERA (2.37 FIP) with 35.5% strikeouts and 6.5% walks in 44 career Triple-A innings — and, more importantly, his slider is a bonafide big league out pitch with a 20.8% swing-and-miss rate. (The MLB average on sliders is 15.2%.)

At the same time, Goody doesn’t get ground balls (career 27.3%) and is homer prone (1.82 HR/9), and he didn’t get grounders in Triple-A either (30.8%). That might just be who he is given his low-90s fastball — Goody’s fastest pitch in MLB is 95.0 mph — and if that’s the case, it’s hard to think Goody could ever be a high-leverage option.

So anyway, the Yankees now have seven days to trade, release, or waive Goody. It used to be ten days, but now it’s seven thanks to the new Collective Bargaining Agreement. A healthy reliever with a good slider and a minor league option remaining might not slip through waivers, especially with bullpens such a focal point these days.

Thoughts following the Aroldis Chapman signing

(Elsa/Getty)
(Elsa/Getty)

Late last night, the Yankees landed their high-priced closer and agreed to sign Aroldis Chapman to a five-year contract worth $86M. It includes no-trade protection and an opt-out after the third year. Joel Sherman and Bob Nightengale say Chapman turned down more money from the Marlins, who offered $87M with opt-outs after years one and two. Anyway, I have some thoughts on this.

1. From a baseball perspective, the signing makes sense in a vacuum (get good players) but I’m not convinced it’s the right move for the Yankees at this point in time. The last thing a mediocre to bad team needs is an expensive closer, and the Yankees very well might be a mediocre to bad team with an expensive closer in 2017. Maybe 2018 too. Realistically, what’s the upside on the 2017 Yankees, barring no other significant moves this offseason? Maybe 88 wins and a wild card spot? That’s the upper bounds of reasonable expectations. We saw this past season that having a dominant bullpen doesn’t mean a whole lot when the rotation and offense don’t hold up their end of the bargain, and neither the offense nor the rotation have been improved in a meaningful way this winter. Any improvement will stem from the kids coming into their own. The Yankees are paying a lot of money now to buy Chapman for the future, which would be fine if relievers weren’t so damn volatile. The history of long-term contracts for bullpen arms, even elite ones, is so very ugly. The Yankees are banking on Chapman being an outlier. Good luck with that.

2. It’s very possible, if not likely, the timing of the opt-out clause means that just as the Yankees are ready to be serious World Series contenders again, they’re going to lose their closer. That’s the best case scenario, right? The kids develop well, the Yankees sign some great players during the 2018-19 mega-free agent class, and they’re ready to raise some hell during the 2019 season. Sure, the kids could develop quicker than expected and things can happen sooner. That would be a surprise, I think. Maybe I’m just a pessimist. The odds are pretty good, probably higher than the Yankees are willing to admit, they’re a legitimate contender with Chapman for all of one season before the opt-out comes into play. I get it, opt-outs come with the territory now, but they so rarely work to the team’s advantage. What’s the scenario in which Chapman’s works out well for the Yankees, realistically?

3. The Yankees are trying like hell to get under the luxury tax threshold next season, and they just committed approximately 10% of their available player payroll under the threshold to a one-inning reliever who only has an impact when the other 24 guys on the roster do their job. Maybe not the smartest use of resources there, not with the rotation such a long-term question. Brian Cashman already admitted the Yankees are basically tapped out this offseason following the Chapman deal, so they can’t do much more than pick at the free agent scraps. I guess that doesn’t matter much since the free agent class stinks, but still. They can’t take on much salary in a trade either. Paying $17.2M a year for a one-inning pitcher whose usage depends on the rest of the team is something you do when you’re a) ready to win the World Series, or b) operating with a seemingly unlimited payroll. The Yankees are neither at the moment.

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

4. Don’t forget how this started. This all started because Chapman did something terrible in his house with the people he cares about the most around him, terrible enough to warrant a police investigation and a 30-game suspension that would have been longer had he not cut a deal with MLB to maintain his impending free agency. That ugliness created the reality of Chapman in pinstripes. The Yankees are hoping some 105 mph fastballs will make everyone forget all about that, and based on the reaction over the summer, it’ll work. But the people whose lives have been damaged by domestic violence won’t overlook it. There have been questions about Chapman’s makeup for a very long time, dating back to his time with the Cuban National Team, and he had every reason to be on his best behavior this past season given his impending free agency. Now the Yankees plopped a ton of money in front of him and are betting on him being a changed man, and hey, maybe he is. The team better hope so.

5. Personally speaking, Chapman being on the roster takes so much excitement away from the youth and the rebuild. The Yankees have an awful lot of really good young players not just in the farm system, but at or near the big leagues too. Next year we’re going to see Gary Sanchez, Aaron Judge, and Greg Bird possibly spend their first full season together. How fun is that? I was so looking forward to it. Have been for a long time. Now the Yankees cast a big dark cloud over it with Chapman. That’s my opinion — I know for sure the opinion of many others as well — and you are very welcome to feel differently. They’re going to market the crap out of Chapman and have a disgustingly over-the-top entrance whenever he comes into the game, just like they did this year. I just can’t enjoy it. You might be okay with it. I’m not. I guess I was wrong to get my hopes up thinking the Yankees would be above using something as serious as domestic violence to get ahead on the field. I was wrong. It is g r o s s.

6. The Yankees, as an important part of the community, really need to do something and take some sort of stand here. They made a long-term commitment. Chapman has shown zero remorse since the incident last year, not a shred of regret, so it’s up to the team to do something. Donate to charity, whatever. Go beyond the halfhearted tweets* every team in the league sends out. The Yankees are short on good PR these days. The team has been marginally competitive at best the last four years, the COO told non-elites to stay the hell out of the Legends seats over the summer, and now they’ve acquired Chapman twice. Turn this into a positive somehow and try to do something to salvage the “classy” reputation the team claims to have. But they won’t. They didn’t this past season. They’ll make some more shirts and turn it all into profit.

* How completely idiotic is MLB’s anti-domestic violence campaign? The slogan is “Not A Fan.” The league is “not a fan” of domestic violence. It makes it sound like it’s socially acceptable, but no, it’s not for me. You go ahead though. How stupid. Does anyone think this stuff through?

Rosenthal: Yankees agree to five-year deal with Aroldis Chapman

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

The Yankees came into the offseason seemingly determined to spend huge on a closer, and as a result, they’ve handed out by far the largest reliever contract in baseball history. Ken Rosenthal says the Yankees are bringing back Aroldis Chapman on a five-year contract worth $86M. There’s an opt-out after the third year. Marly Rivera says the deal includes a no-trade clause for three years, and the Yankees can’t trade him to a team in California. That’s oddly specific, but whatever.

Prior to Chapman’s deal, the largest reliever contract was Mark Melancon‘s recent deal with the Giants. They gave him four years and $62M. Jonathan Papelbon’s original four-year, $50M contract with the Phillies back in the day was the largest reliever contract ever coming into this offseason. The history of long-term reliever contracts is just awful, but the Yankees had to have their man. What’s done is done.

Chapman, 29 in February, spent the first half of the 2016 season with the Yankees after coming over from the Reds last offseason. The Yankees were able to acquire him at an extreme discount because he was under police (and MLB) investigation for an alleged domestic violence incident. Chapman dominated for a few weeks following his 30-game suspension, then was traded to the Cubs at the deadline and helped them win the World Series.

Between the Yankees and Cubs, Chapman pitched to a 1.55 ERA (1.42 FIP) with 40.5% strikeouts and 8.1% walks in 58 total innings. He’d walked 11.7% of batters faced from 2013-15, and the five-year deal suggests the Yankees think the sudden drop in walk rate is here to stay. I’m not sold, but whatever. Chapman was pretty excellent even when he was walking a top of batters.

The signing means Dellin Betances will slide back into a setup role and resume duties as Joe Girardi‘s eighth inning guy. I think he’s more valuable to the team in that role because he can put fires out in the seventh inning at times, rather than be married to the ninth. I had zero concerns about Betances as closer. The Yankees are just better off with him being available earlier in games.

Now that the all-important closer is on board, the Yankees can focus on reinforcing the rotation and perhaps adding some more middle reliever depth. Brett Gardner and Chase Headley have been on the trade block all winter, and I expect the team to continue pursuing deals. It seems getting a closer was the Yankees’ most important piece of offseason business, and that has now been addressed.

2016 Winter Meetings Open Thread: Wednesday

(Thearon W. Henderson/Getty)
(Thearon W. Henderson/Getty)

There is one full day remaining in the 2016 Winter Meetings and so far the Yankees have done, well, not a whole lot. Things can come together pretty quickly though. Last year at this time we were all lamenting the lack of activity, then bam, the Starlin Castro and Justin Wilson trades went down.

“The free-agent stuff, you just have to stay close to it, because that can move fast,” said Brian Cashman to Bryan Hoch. “The trade stuff, there have just been certain teams that keep pursuing specific guys, so that’s been hot. There have been a couple different dynamics that have developed. Whether they lead anywhere or not, we’ll see.”

On Tuesday we learned the Yankees made contract offers to both Aroldis Chapman and Kenley Jansen, which is interesting. I’m kinda curious to see what happens if they both accept at the same time. We’ll again keep track of the day’s Yankees-related rumors right here, so check back often. All time stamps are Eastern Time.

  • 9:30am: Chapman apparently has a $92M offer in hand. Goodness. That is offer is not from the Yankees, though they’re pursuing him aggressively and are “determined” to get a deal done. [Bob Nightengale, Jon Heyman]
  • 9:30am: The Yankees did talk to the White Sox about Chris Sale before he was traded to the Red Sox, but they weren’t going to go all out to get him. “As long as we stick to the plan, we’ll be better off in the long run,” said Cashman. [David Lennon]
  • 9:30am: The Yankees have spoken to the ChiSox about David Robertson. I assume he’s a backup plan should Chapman and Jansen fall through. The White Sox are rebuilding, and obviously the Yankees know Robertson and are comfortable with him. [Sweeny Murti]
  • 9:30am: Brett Gardner is “seen as a possible fit” for the Orioles, though they’d want the Yankees to eat some money. This sounds like speculation more than anything. I have a hard time thinking Gardner will be traded to a division rival, but who knows. [Heyman]
  • 9:40am: The Yankees are interested in signing infielder Ruben Tejada to a minor league contract. They’ll need to sign at least one stopgap infielder for Triple-A this offseason, possibly two. Also, the Yankees are trying to re-sign Nick Rumbelow as well. [George King]
  • 10:07am: It sounds as though adding a closer is the team’s top priority, so much so that the Yankees will put all their other business on hold until that’s resolved. They need to see exactly how much money will be left over, I assume. [Brendan Kuty]
  • 11:00am: Cashman reiterated he doesn’t expect to land a starter at the Winter Meetings. “I don’t anticipate it. It’s a tough market and the price tags are extremely high. We could play on a lot of things because we have a lot of prospects people desire and we desire them, too. I would say it’s less likely for us to acquire a starter,” said the GM. [King]
  • 11:23am: The Rockies have agreed to sign Ian Desmond. This is notable because Colorado is forfeiting the 11th overall pick, which means the Yankees move up from 17th to 16th. Here’s the full draft order. [Ken Rosenthal]
  • 12:20pm: Along with the Yankees, both the Marlins and Dodgers are in on Chapman and waiting to hear his decision. Chapman is New York’s top target. [Heyman]
  • 12:42pm: I don’t think this will matter, but the Yankees are one of the eight teams included in Jay Bruce’s limited no-trade clause. He could block a trade across town. [James Wagner]
  • 4:57pm: The Yankees are one of several teams to show interest in free agent righty Sergio Romo. If the Yankees miss out on Chapman and Jansen, Romo could be a setup option behind Dellin Betances. [John Shea]

Reminder: Your trade proposal sucks.