Move over Andrew Miller and make room for Aroldis Chapman. After serving a 30-game suspension to start the season, the 28-year-old left-hander will finally make his debut for the New York Yankees as their closer.
The former Cincinnati Reds reliever was issued the suspension at the beginning of spring training for a domestic abuse incident that occurred in the offseason. The incident involved an altercation between Chapman and his girlfriend, Cristina Barnea. Barnea had originally claimed the pitcher choked her and fired several shots in the garage of their Florida home.
During the Winter Meetings, the Los Angeles Dodgers had a deal in place to acquire Chapman from the Reds, but the deal fell through after the incident was revealed. That opened the door for the Yankees to acquire Chapman at a significantly reduced price but required them to take on the controversy and likely suspension that would come with the reliever. Although Chapman was never formally charged for the incident, the closer was banned 30 games by MLB Commissioner, Rob Manfred, under the new domestic abuse policy.
Despite his decision not to appeal the suspension, Chapman insists that he was innocent and recently made the claim that Latin Americans are unfairly targeted because of their “unfamiliarity with American culture and newfound celebrity wealth.” However, when asked about the day of the incident, Chapman said, “It’s all in the past and I have moved on from it.”
The Yankees are ready to move on as well and are wasting no time in plugging the fireballing left-hander into the closer role. The Yankees had maintained all along that Chapman would be the closer, if and when, he was suspended by Major League Baseball.
Chapman’s return comes during the Yankees worst regular-season start since 1984. The team’s 11-18 record is good for last place in the American League East. Recently, Alex Rodriguez and CC Sabathia were placed on the disabled list with a hamstring injury and a groin injury, respectively. The injuries were huge blows to both the Yankees offense and starting pitching which were already ranked worst in the league in most categories. However, with Chapman being activated on Monday for the first game of a three game series against the Kansas City Royals, the Yankees will be adding to their only source of strength this season, the bullpen.
The bullpen has been particularly effective with the ball in the hands of right-handed setup man, Dellin Betances, and left-handed closer, Andrew Miller. Betances has dominated hitters this season, striking out 27 batters in 14 innings, equivalent to an insane 17.36 K/9 rate. Although the right-hander endured a rough stretch of appearances in which he gave up four earned runs in 2.2 innings pitched, Betances’ overall numbers are solid, posting a 2.57 ERA, 2.64 FIP, 0.93 WHIP, and .196 batting average against. Miller has been close to perfection, striking out 20 batters in 11.2 innings pitched without allowing an earned run. The lefty has been so good that he has a -0.10 FIP to go along with a 0.69 WHIP and .175 batting average against.
It’s understandable that there would be some hesitation in taking Miller out of the closer role due to his performance as the Yankee closer. However, it’s also hard to argue against Chapman’s major-league track record which spans more seasons than Betances and Miller combined when counting their years as relievers.
The left-hander’s accolades include: the fastest recorded pitch in major league history at 105.1 mph, the majors’ highest average pitch velocity in 2015 at 100 mph, and the highest K/9 ratio last year, at 15.74. Beyond velocity, Chapman has locked down 146 career saves in 164 opportunities, roughly an 89 percent success rate. The closer has also posted a career 2.17 ERA and 1.02 WHIP, and has limited batters to .181 batting average.
Although Chapman is just one pitcher, adding the reliever changes the entire makeup of the Yankees bullpen, which has recently struggled beyond Miller and Betances. Yankee manager, Joe Girardi, will have a lot more flexibility in how he handles the bullpen.
Girardi could choose to shorten games by using all three of Betances, Miller, and Chapman, which would minimize the amount of quality innings Girardi would need from his starting pitching, ranked 15th in quality starts. It would also reduce the need to call on middle relievers like Chasen Shreve, Johnny Barbato, and Kirby Yates, who have looked particularly shaky of late. Betances has also proved to be a workhorse the past two seasons and could pitch multiple innings if the situation called for it.
The luxury of having Betances, Miller, and Chapman is that they are all capable of closing. Meaning if Girardi needs to give one or two of those three a day off, there will always be a reliable option to close on any given day. In this scenario, the Yankees would be able to avoid overusing their three relievers, like they did with Betances and Miller down the stretch in 2015.
If the Yankees offense and starting pitching continue to struggle, it might be too late for Chapman to save the team’s season, but if the Yankees are to make any sort of push back to the top, they will need the lefty to ensure victory when the team has a lead in the ninth.