Aroldis Chapman is much more than a big fastball

(Getty)
(Getty)

Whenever you think about Aroldis Chapman, your mind immediately jumps to his fastball. And for good reason. He’s the hardest thrower in baseball history and there’s just something super exciting about seeing that 100 on the scoreboard. It’s still special, even with velocity at an all-time high around the league.

There’s much more to Chapman than velocity readings though. He’s got an interesting backstory — he was the first of the recent wave of huge money Cuban players — and he does in fact have other pitches besides the fastball. It’s easy to understand why everyone talks about the velocity, but there is more to Chapman than that. Much more.

The Stride

Last season Chapman’s fastball averaged 100.4 mph. Averaged. He topped out at 104.5 mph according to PitchFX. And, believe it or not, his fastball actually plays faster because of his long stride. Chapman is listed at 6-foot-4, and his stride is among the longest in the game, so he releases the ball closer to the plate than most pitchers. Check out this video from 2012:

That’s crazy. It’s not enough that the guy is throwing 100 mph on the regular. He’s also got that long stride and is right on top of the hitter when he releases the ball. That can’t be a comfortable at-bat at all. How are you supposed to catch up to the heat? Well, I guess you aren’t. There’s a reason opponents have hit .167 against his fastball over the last five seasons.

Also, Chapman is gaining velocity. Most guys who throw 100 mph do it very early in their careers, and it’s gone by time they reach 24 or 25 years old. Even relievers. A triple-digit fastball doesn’t last long-term, historically. That is not the case with Chapman. He’s throwing harder now than he did two, three, four years ago. I mean, look:

Aroldis Chapman fastball velocityI laughed. I saw that graph and I literally laughed out loud. The term freak of nature is so overused these days, so when you come across an actual freak of nature like Chapman, it doesn’t have the same meaning. That sucks. This guy does things no other human has ever done. It’s not normal. And he’s going to do it in pinstripes next year.

The Slider

Believe it or not, Chapman does indeed have pitches other than his fastball. He also throws a slider with pedestrian velocity relatively to his fastball — the slider averaged 87.6 mph last summer. That’s a pretty significant velocity separation, which leads to swings like this:

Aroldis Chapman slider slowmo

The hitter gets geared up for that triple-digit fastball — which plays up because of his stride! — and then the pitch makes a right turn when it gets halfway to the plate. When hitters swung at Chapman’s slider last season, they missed 51.2% of the time. Hitters were more likely to come up empty than make contact against the slidepiece. Insanity.

The Changeup

A fastball and a slider is plenty for most relievers, especially if they throw as hard as Chapman. That didn’t stop him from adding a changeup, however. Chapman relied on his fastball/slider combo up until the 2014 season, when he gradually began to mix in some changeups. He’s gotten more and more comfortable with the pitch and now throws it about 8% of the time. Not much, but enough that hitters have to respect it.

As you’d expect, Chapman uses the changeup primarily against righties. He goes after lefties with the fastball/slider and righties with the fastball/changeup. This is the movement Chapman is able to get on his changeup, which averages 88.7 mph:

Aroldis Chapman changeup slowmo

The hitter gears up for the fastball because they have no choice but to gear up for the fastball, but then the changeup drops off the table. Hitters missed with 56.8% of their swings against the changeup last season. As far as third pitches go, that’s as good as it gets.

The Pitch Mix

When you throw 100 mph all the time, I have to imagine the temptation is rather high to throw nothing but fastballs. And you know what? Chapman did throw almost nothing but fastballs earlier in his career. He threw the heater 87.7% of the time back in 2012. Over the last few seasons Chapman has begun to rely a little more on his slider and changeup:

Aroldis Chapman pitch selection

Chapman is still throwing his fastball three out of every four pitches, so it’s not like he’s abandoning the pitch, but he is breaking out the slider and changeup a little more often. The result is a bit more efficiency and substantially more weak contact. Chapman set a career-low in pitches per plate appearance last season (4.21), and his soft contact rate was by far his best in years:

Aroldis Chapman contact rates

Striking everyone out is super cool, and Chapman still racks up an incredible amount of strike ’em outs, but now he’s getting some more weak contact and more quick outs with the slider and change. That’s a good thing for him personally. Think of it as self-preservation. The fewer high-stress pitches, the better. The Yankees only figure to have Chapman for one year, so they aren’t too concerned about his career long-term, as callous as that sounds.

Chapman is not a one-trick pony. He’s always going to be known as the guy with the best fastball in history, but there’s more to him than that. Chapman’s fastball plays faster because of the stride, he also has a slider, and in recent years he added a changeup as well. He’s not as much of a thrower as people seem to think. Chapman’s become a much more well-rounded pitcher the last few years.

Andrew Miller is the key to the Yankees’ arbitration case with Aroldis Chapman

 (Joe Robbins/Getty)
(Joe Robbins/Getty)

Last Friday the Yankees filed salary arbitration figures with four of their six eligible players prior to the 1pm ET deadline. Michael Pineda ($4.3M) and Dustin Ackley ($3.2M) signed new deals while Aroldis Chapman, Nathan Eovaldi, Didi Gregorius, and Ivan Nova filed salary figures. The two sides can still discuss a deal of any size. Friday was not a hard deadline for a 2016 contract.

Chapman filed a $13.1M salary figure, which is a touch more than the $12.9M projection MLBTR’s model spit out. The Yankees, meanwhile, filed a $9M salary figure. That represents a mere $950,000 raise for Chapman. Here’s what I wrote when the filing figure news broke:

First thought: Chapman should probably take the Yankees to a hearing. He made $8.05M last season. Would the arbitration panel really side with the Yankees and award him a raise of less than $1M after he saved 33 games with a 1.63 ERA (1.94 FIP) and 116 strikeouts in 66.1 innings in 2015? Seems really unlikely. The other third year arbitration-eligible closers (Kenley Jansen, Drew Storen, Mark Melancon) all received raises of at least $2.5M on Friday. I guess the Yankees think Chapman’s earning potential will be dragged down by the domestic violence incident.

Jonathan Papelbon holds almost every arbitration record for relievers, and he received a $12M payday in his final season of eligibility back in 2011. Chapman is looking to break that record and he’s not being unreasonable. Reliever salaries have increased significantly since 2011 and Chapman has been as good as any closer in history the last few seasons.

As I said Friday, it appears Chapman has a pretty good case should this thing go to an arbitration hearing next month. The Yankees, it seems, are using Andrew Miller as their salary reference point for Chapman. Free agent contracts are fair game for salary comparisons for players in their final arbitration year as Jeff Passan noted, and the team’s $9M filing figure matches the average annual value of Miller’s contract.

Chapman has very few peers statistically. Miller happens to be one of them. That they’re both left-handed gives the comparison even more validity. We’re talking about the two best lefty relievers in baseball here. (Okay, maybe two of the three best along with Zach Britton.) Here’s what Chapman and Miller did last season, the most important season during contract talks:

IP Saves ERA FIP K% BB% fWAR bWAR
Miller 61.2 36 1.90 2.16 40.7% 8.1% 2.0 2.2
Chapman 66.1 33 1.63 1.94 41.7% 11.9% 2.5 2.7

Pretty damn similar. Similar innings total, similar saves total, similar strikeout rate, WAR is in the same ballpark. Miller has the edge in walk rate but Chapman has him beat in ERA and FIP. The comparison is not crazy. Chapman was a bit better last summer but Miller isn’t too far behind him. He is one of Chapman’s few peers.

That comparison with Miller seems to be the basis of the Yankees’ $9M filing figure. Should this thing go to a hearing, they’re probably going to argue Miller is a comparable pitcher and he signed a deal worth $9M per season, so that’s what Chapman deserves in his final year of arbitration. At least that’s what I think is happening. I’m not sure how else they could have come up with that $9M number.

The Miller-Chapman comparison works for the 2015 season and that’s about it. Go back further and it’s advantage Chapman in a huge way, which is why he’s in position for a record arbitration salary in the first place. Miller has been an elite reliever for only two seasons now — you could argue two and a half seasons based on his work in 2013 — Chapman’s been doing it for four years.

(Jim Rogash/Getty)
(Jim Rogash/Getty)

Saves pay, especially in arbitration. Miller has 37 career saves and he had one when he became a free agent. Chapman has 146 career saves. That’s going to be the argument Chapman’s side makes should this go to a hearing. Miller got that $9M per year contract in free agency as a setup man. David Robertson, another elite reliever who had only one year as a closer under his belt when he became a free agent, landed a contract worth $11.5M annually that same offseason. That will work against the Yankees.

The Yankees aren’t stupid. They feel they have a strong argument to support that $9M filing figure and can win a hearing if necessary. From the outside, it looks like they filed way too low — again, we’re talking about a $950,000 raise for one of the best relievers in the game coming off a great season — low enough that Chapman’s side may not have much incentive to discuss a one-year contract smaller than their $13.1M filing figure these next few weeks.

Maybe the Miller comparison will stand up in front of the three-person arbitration panel, which tends to be not well-versed in sabermetrics. (Arbitration is a very antiquated process.) The fact fellow third year arbitration-eligible closers like Jansen, Storen, and Melancon all received raises north of $2.5M this offseason — Melancon’s $4.25M raise is a record for an arbitration-eligible reliever — does not bode well for the Yankees should this get to a hearing.

Yankees sign Pineda and Ackley; file arbitration figures with Chapman, Eovaldi, Gregorius, Nova

Didi is arbitration-eligible for the first time. (Patrick Smith/Getty)
Didi is arbitration-eligible for the first time. (Patrick Smith/Getty)

Original Post (12:00pm ET): Today is an important day on the offseason calendar. The deadline for teams and their arbitration-eligible players to file salary figures for the 2016 season is 1pm ET, which is a bit earlier than previous years, I believe. A total of 156 players are eligible for arbitration this winter, though many have agreed to a new contracts already.

The Yankees have six players up for arbitration this offseason, including some pretty important members of the team. Here are the six with their projected 2016 salaries, via MLBTR:

Dustin Ackley: $3.1M (second time through arbitration)
Aroldis Chapman: $12.9M (third)
Nathan Eovaldi: $5.7M (second)
Didi Gregorius: $2.1M (first of four as a Super Two)
Ivan Nova: $4.4M (third)
Michael Pineda: $4.6M (second)

The Yankees have not been to an arbitration hearing since beating Chien-Ming Wang during the 2007-08 offseason. Since then they’ve signed all of their eligible players prior to the filing deadline. I assume that will be the case again this year, though who knows. We’ll find out soon enough.

The two sides can still negotiate a contract of any size even after filing salary figures. They can hammer out a new deal at any point, even after a hearing if they choose. Hearings will take place throughout February and arbitration is an ugly process. The team details the player’s shortcomings in an effort to keep his salary down. Not pleasant for anyone involved. It’s no mystery why everyone involved tries to avoid a hearing.

We’ll keep track of the day’s Yankees-related arbitration news right here, assuming nothing crazy happens. Someone could sign a multi-year extension but history suggests the Yankees won’t do that. Check back for updates throughout the day. The deadline is 1pm ET, but news can and probably will trickle in throughout the afternoon.

Update (3:00pm ET): Yankees sign Pineda for $4.3M (Jeff Passan)

Pineda gets a nice $2.2M raise after pitching to a 4.37 ERA (3.34 FIP) last season. Yeah, he missed all that time following shoulder surgery from 2012-13, but he was an All-Star back in 2011 and that matters in arbitration. That said, a $4.3M salary for a starter going through arbitration for the second time is relatively small. All the lost time definitely cost Pineda some cash. He can’t become a free agent until after 2017.

Update (3:26pm ET): Yankees sign Ackley for $3.2M (Chad Jennings)

Ackley made $2.6M last season, so his raise wasn’t very big. He is in a bit of an interesting situation because the Mariners signed him to a five-year contract worth $7.5M out of the draft a few years back. Ackley earned $1.5M, $1.5M, and $1.7M in his three pre-arbitration years, not the league minimum, so his starting base salary in arbitration was higher than usual. He’s making more than he should be given his production. But still, $3.2M is peanuts in today’s MLB. Ackley is two years from free agency.

Update (3:28pm ET): Yankees will file with Chapman, Eovaldi, Gregorius, Nova (Jon Heyman)

In a bit of a surprise, the Yankees were unable to reach contract agreements with those four players prior to today’s filing deadline. No word on their filing figures yet, though those should come out soon enough. The two sides can still negotiate a contract of any size, remember. Today was not a hard deadline for completing a deal.

Update (4:58pm ET): Chapman filed for $13.1M, Yankees for $9M (Jon Heyman)

First thought: Chapman should probably take the Yankees to a hearing. He made $8.05M last season. Would the arbitration panel really side with the Yankees and award him a raise of less than $1M after he saved 33 games with a 1.63 ERA (1.94 FIP) and 116 strikeouts in 66.1 innings in 2015? Seems really unlikely. The other third year arbitration-eligible closers (Kenley Jansen, Drew Storen, Mark Melancon) all received raises of at least $2.5M on Friday. I guess the Yankees think Chapman’s earning potential will be dragged down by the domestic violence incident.

Update (5:01pm ET): Gregorius filed for $2.525M, Yankees for $2.3M (Jon Heyman)

A gap of $225,000 is nothing. I imagine the Yankees and Gregorius will be able to hammer out a deal soon enough, perhaps somewhere around the midpoint of the two filing figures ($2.42M). Then again, the Yankees could take the “file-and-trial” stance that is becoming popular. That is, once the salary figures are filed, the team stops negotiating and goes to a hearing. Hopefully that’s not the case.

Keep in mind with Gregorius, his 2016 salary will affect his 2017-19 salaries as well. There’s a carryover effect from year-to-year. It’s not so much about saving $225,000 next year. That $225,000 can potentially grow into a few million bucks during Didi’s four arbitration years.

Update (5:19pm ET): Eovaldi filed for $6.3M, Yankees for $4.9M (Jon Heyman)

The midpoint of the two filing figures is $5.6M, just south of MLBTR’s projection. Remember, the arbitration process is very antiquated. If they do go to a hearing, Eovaldi’s representatives will surely emphasize his 14-3 record in 2015, and the fact he led the league in winning percentage (.824). The system rewards wins and winning percentage, the stuff we know doesn’t tell us a whole lot about the pitcher’s performance.

Update (6:58pm ET): Nova filed for $4.6M, Yankees for $3.8M (Jeff Passan)

Nova, who made $3.3M last summer, filed a salary number just north of MLBTR’s projection. The Yankees are a little under that, and really, an $800,000 gap is not huge. The team seems to offering a token “you picked up another year of service time, congrats” raise after Nova’s poor 2015 season. Even considering MLBTR’s projection, I can understand why the Yankees filed at $3.8M.

Chapman, five other Yankees file for salary arbitration

(Andy Lyons/Getty)
(Andy Lyons/Getty)

Prior to yesterday’s deadline, the six eligible Yankees filed for salary arbitration. The six: Dustin Ackley, Aroldis Chapman, Nathan Eovaldi, Didi Gregorius, Ivan Nova, and Michael Pineda. A total of 156 players around the league filed for arbitration. Here’s the full list.

Filing for arbitration is nothing more than a formality, and I’m not even sure why the league requires players to do it anymore. Players no longer have to file for free agency. They just became free agents. At some point, maybe in the next Collective Bargaining Agreement, players will just go to arbitration and not have to file. Whatevs.

The deadline for teams and eligible players to file salary arbitration figures is this Friday. I’m not sure what time exactly, but it’s usually in the late afternoon, at the end of the business day. The two sides can still negotiate a contract of any size after filing salary figures. Here are the 2016 salary projections from MLBTR:

Ackley: $3.1M (second time through arbitration)
Chapman: $12.9M (third)
Eovaldi: $5.7M (second)
Gregorius: $2.1M (first)
Nova: $4.4M (third)
Pineda: $4.6M (second)

The Yankees haven’t been to an arbitration hearing since beating Chien-Ming Wang back in 2008. Since then they’ve managed to sign all of their arbitration-eligible players prior to the filing deadline. There’s no reason to think that’ll change this year. Chances are those six will have new contracts by Friday.

Eovaldi and Pineda stand out as extension candidates given the team’s lack of controllable pitching beyond 2017, but there are reasons to pass too, namely the arm injuries they suffered in the second half last year. Gregorius is also an extension candidate, though he’s under team control through 2019 anyway, so no rush.

According to Cot’s, the Yankees currently have $190.6M in guaranteed contracts on the books for 2016. That covers only eleven players. The six arbitration-eligible players will bump that up to $223.4M for 17 players. Then the Yankees have to pay all the pre-arbitration guys (Dellin Betances, Luis Severino, etc.) plus the rest of the 40-man roster.

Add on the $12M or so each team has to pay towards player benefits and the Yankees are looking at an Opening Day payroll in the $240M range for luxury tax purposes. The team closed out last season with a $241.15M payroll.

Girardi confirms Yankees will go into Spring Training with Chapman at closer

(Joe Robbins/Getty)
(Joe Robbins/Getty)

As expected, the Yankees will go into Spring Training with Aroldis Chapman as their closer, Joe Girardi confirmed during a YES Network interview last night (video link). “We’ll go into Spring Training with Chapman as our closer,” said the skipper. Can’t say I’m surprised. This felt inevitable once the trade went down.

Chapman spent the last four seasons as the Reds closer and he was an All-Star all four years. He’s widely considered either the best or second best closer in the game. Those guys usually don’t lose the ninth inning just because they were traded. The only way Chapman wasn’t closing in 2016 was if Mariano Rivera came out of retirement.

Andrew Miller did a dynamite job as the closer last season and he’ll now join Dellin Betances to form a stupid good setup tandem. Miller has said he doesn’t care about his role, for what it’s worth. Girardi is pretty darn good with his bullpens and I’m sure he’ll have Miller and Betances (and Chapman) on the mound in high-leverage spots.

Of course, there’s also the matter of Chapman’s ongoing domestic violence investigation. His suspension will likely be announced before camp opens and it is not expected to be lengthy, whatever that means. A week? Two weeks? A month? Who knows. I assume Miller will close while Chapman is suspended with Betances again setting up.

Girardi was asked about the investigation and the possibility of a suspension and basically no commented. He said he supports Chapman and respects MLB’s process. Hopefully the suspension isn’t too long and the Yankees are able to get 60-something elite innings from their new closer. That’s the best case scenario right now.

Rosenthal: Chapman’s suspension could be announced before Spring Training

(Elsa/Getty)
(Elsa/Getty)

According to Ken Rosenthal, it is “probable” Aroldis Chapman‘s suspension under the league’s domestic violence policy will be announced before Spring Training opens in six weeks. March 1st is likely the absolute latest the announcement will be made, according to Rosenthal.

A few weeks ago we heard it is unlikely Chapman will receive a lengthy suspension, though one person’s idea of lengthy might be different than another’s. The domestic violence policy is new and no one has been suspended yet. There is no precedent and the policy does not include minimum or maximum suspensions.

There has been some speculation commissioner Rob Manfred would come down hard on the first set of offenders — Jose Reyes (for this) and Yasiel Puig (for this) are also being investigated — to establish a standard and hopefully create a deterrent. No one was arrested and Chapman was not charged with a crime following his incident.

Rosenthal notes the domestic violence policy does not explicitly say whether a suspended player can participate in Spring Training. I guess that will be covered when the suspension is announced. For what it’s worth, players suspended for performance-enhancing drugs can play in Spring Training and Extended Spring Training games.

Players do not accrue service time while suspended under the domestic violence policy. Chapman is due to become a free agent next offseason, though a suspension of at least 46 days would push his free agency back a year. Brian Cashman said the Yankees did their due diligence prior to acquiring Chapman and understand the risk.

At this point, there’s nothing more the Yankees or fans can do other than wait. Hoping a player is suspended more than 46 days for a domestic violence incident so you can keep him another year is kinda icky. I’m hoping Chapman’s suspension will be short so the Yankees can get 60+ high-impact innings from him, then move on next winter.

Heyman: Lengthy suspension is “unlikely” for Chapman

(Joe Robbins/Getty)
(Joe Robbins/Getty)

Earlier this week, the Yankees acquired Aroldis Chapman from the Reds even though MLB is still investigating the left-hander for an alleged domestic violence incident that occurred in late-October. Here’s a report on the incident, if you haven’t seen it. There’s no word when the investigation will be complete.

MLB’s domestic violence policy is brand new and so far no suspensions have been handed out, so there’s no precedent. Chapman is one of three players currently under investigation, joining Jose Reyes (for this) and Yasiel Puig (for this). According to Jon Heyman, word is any suspension imposed on Chapman would not be lengthy.

Word is going around that a long suspension is unlikely in the case of Aroldis Chapman’s alleged domestic violence incident. MLB is taking the domestic violence issue very seriously but word is the evidence may be thin in this case. The Yankees aren’t saying anything beyond that they did their “due diligence” in making the trade. But suffice it to say, they wouldn’t have made the deal if they thought he was in for a long suspension

A “long suspension” means different things to different people. A 30-day suspension seems pretty long to me, for example, but it might not in the eyes of commissioner Rob Manfred. Players do not accrue service time when suspended under the domestic violence policy, so a suspension of 46 days or more will push Chapman’s free agency back one year. He’s currently scheduled to become a free agent next offseason.

There are two ways to look at this, I guess. One, the Yankees checked in with MLB before the trade to get an idea of what kind of suspension may be coming, and they decided to pull the trigger because it’ll be short. Two, the Reds checked in with MLB before the trade and decided to get whatever they could for Chapman this offseason rather than wait until deadline because they were uncomfortable with the length of the suspension. Or maybe none of that happened. Who knows.

“Certainly, there is some serious issues here that are in play. That’s why it’s going to play out. And I acknowledge that it’s an area of concern. There’s risk, and I understand that,” said Brian Cashman to reporters following the Chapman trade. It’s possible if not likely the Yankees will lose Chapman for some period of time at the start of next season. Maybe a few days, maybe a few weeks. They have the bullpen pieces to cover a short suspension, but obviously they want to get as much out of Chapman as possible in 2016.