A Struggling Aroldis Chapman

Aroldis Chapman has struck out more than one-third of the hitters he’s faced this season, a phenomenal number for most pitchers. For Chapman, however, that number represents a major drop from his incredible 2014 season when he struck out more than half the batters he faced. When he gave up a game-tying three-run home run to Philadelphia Phillies rookie Maikel Franco last night, it represented the first home run he’d given up in more than a calendar year. Now is hardly the time to panic over one of the best relievers in the majors, but there are some concerns over his most recent performances. Chapman is still throwing the ball hard (although not quite as hard), and he got off to a great start in 2015. Over his last half-dozen appearances, however, he hasn’t been able to get the ball in the strike zone. Hitters have picked up on his lack of command and since taking a week-long break in the middle of May due to a Cincinnati losing streak, Chapman’s performance has suffered.

Relievers are constantly under a microscope due both to the limited number of appearances they make and the relative importance of those appearances, but it can be difficult to decipher problems over the course of the whole season due to limited innings, let alone a couple weeks. Chapman could be pitching just as he always has and gotten a few bad results. He could be going through a tiny rough patch in an otherwise great season. Something could be seriously wrong, and we are seeing glimpses of its beginnings. Knowing precisely what Chapman’s problem has been over the last few weeks is near impossible. We’re picking up bread crumbs in an enclosed room. We can glean information from those crumbs, but we do not yet know where those crumbs lead. It’s too early.

Chapman’s overall line for the season still looks pretty good: the left-hander’s recorded a 2.31 ERA and 2.60 FIP, but he has also given up multiple walks in his last two outings and has walked eight hitters in his last six appearances. Comparing 2014 to the early part of the season and the last few outings, though, does reveal one problem Chapman has encountered: he’s striking out fewer hitters, walking more and generally throwing fewer pitches in the strike zone.

K% BB% FIP Zone% F-Strike%
2014 52.5 11.9 0.89 49.4 57.9
Through 5/17/2015 38.7 9.3 1.33 50.2 61.3
5/24/15-Present 28.1 25.0 6.28 37.9 46.9

Between May 17 and May 24, Chapman received six days of rest. There doesn’t appear to be anything unusual about the layoff as the Reds were in the middle of an eight-game losing streak. Chapman came in on the 24 in a non-save situation, likely because he needed some work. Chapman has made his preference to be a reliever known, and while he might have been a fantastic starter, as a reliever, he’s performed much better when getting regular work, particularly with regards to his command. Over his career, with three days of rest or fewer, Chapman’s walk rate is 11.3% in 919 plate appearances — compared to 18.1% in 182 plate appearances with four or more days of rest (per Baseball Reference). However, Since May 24, Chapman has continued to pitch regularly and still exhibited problems with command.

Things have not been all bad for Chapman during this time. He’s still striking out nearly 30% of hitters. Throwing the ball at speeds greater than 100 miles per hour anywhere near the strike zone is going to generate swings and misses, even for very good hitters.

Here’s Chapman going way up on the very accomplished Troy Tulowitzki:

Here is Chapman going up on emerging star Nolan Arenado:

Here is Chapman blowing a fastball by veteran All-Star Ryan Zimmerman:

Chapman is still generating around 16% swings and misses on his fastball over the recent rough stretch, per Brooks Baseball, which is not too far from his career average. Of late, hitters have been making more contact on his slider. The whiffs are down some in May for the fastball, but they are way down on the slider, per this chart from Brooks Baseball.

Brooksbaseball-Chart (3)

The rate of whiffs has gone down by about half on Chapman’s slider, while the number of foul balls on the pitch has doubled. The drop in swings and misses is a concern for Chapman, but perhaps more concerning is the number of swings, which are down around 10 percentage points on both his fastball and his slider from the early part of the season. Chapman needs to induce swings because he is reliant on swings and misses. Since 2008, no pitcher with at least 250 innings has a higher percentage of swinging strikes than Chapman’s 17.2%, similar to other current closers like Craig Kimbrel, as well as swing heavy pitchers from the past like Eric Gagne, and, as recently noted, Brad Lidge. For Chapman, the culprit appears to be command of the fastball. Below is a chart from Brooks Baseball showing the fastball location for his outings up through May 17 of this year.


Chapman has thrown his fastball right down the middle of the plate 22 times, and hitters have gotten just one hit on the pitch. Compare the above chart to the one below showing fastball location from May 24 through last night, also from Brooks Baseball.


Chapman does not appear to have near the control he needs, and hitters pick up on these trends quickly. After the game on May 25, Charlie Blackmon said he could tell Chapman was likely to be wild based on warmups.

“He [Chapman] didn’t throw a single pitch hard in warmups, so I figured he had no idea where it was going, and sure enough he wasn’t right in the strike zone,” Blackmon said. “If I was going to swing, make sure it was in the zone.”

Chapman did come back to strike out Blackmon looking the next night to go along with the strikeouts shown above to Arenado and Tulowitzki. If Blackmon is picking up on Chapman’s lack of control, we can be sure other hitters are noticing the same. Chapman’s BABIP over the last few weeks is high at .357 and most of the damage has come against the fastball. Last night, Chapman was all over the place in terms of location. This is the strike zone plot from Brooks Baseball.


The pitches were all over the place, and Chapman was not helped by his lack of velocity relative to his typical 100-plus miles per hour fastball. With poor control and a slight downtick in velocity, this was the result.

Chapman has gone through patches where he has lacked control. He struggled with command throughout 2011, and there was a small stretch in June of 2013 where he was walking more batters than usual, but he came out of those periods without an issue. He was amazing in 2012 and 2014, putting up a total of six wins during those years, and it might be too much to expect that production every year from such an inherently volatile position. This stretch is probably just a blip in an otherwise strong season for one of the game’s best relievers, but a greater drop in velocity and decreased command could be the sign of an injury. In order to continue the path to a great season, Chapman will need to keep throwing the ball hard. Of greater importance, he will need to know where the ball is going.

Craig Edwards can be found on twitter @craigjedwards.

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8 years ago

Missing up way too often could be scary. Velocity is still way high though. Maybe a lower body injury?

Gotta check into his release point consistency compared to yrs past too.

Maybe time to start the fire sale early in Cincy. They arent going anywhere anytime soon. IF he is damaged goods, get him out now.