Aroldis Chapman, Without His Command

Seeing as this is an article about Aroldis Chapman, I might be letting down my audience if I didn’t at least briefly discuss the most recent pitch Aroldis Chapman threw, considering what that most recent pitch was. The last pitch Aroldis Chapman threw in a game was a fastball, for a swinging strike — which, on its own, given our subject, is entirely unremarkable. The pitch went 103.3 mph, which is less remarkable for our subject than any other pitcher in baseball, but is fast even for Chapman’s standards. Most remarkable of all, the pitch moved like this:

To quickly play the role of Party Pooper, I have to point out that the way a catcher receives a pitch can sometimes play a trick on our eyes, deceiving us into believing a pitch had more movement than it actually did, and I think that’s at least somewhat at play here with Willson Contreras‘ stabbing motion, in concert with the pitch’s natural arm-side tail, creating an exaggerated illusion of how much this pitch actually broke.

That’s not to say the pitch wasn’t exceptional, even for Chapman. Despite my poo-pooing just a second ago, you might be able to make the case this is the most exceptional fastball Chapman’s ever thrown. The Cubs’ closer threw 15 fastballs in his save during Saturday’s 5-2 win over the Giants, and the 14 fastballs preceding the one depicted above averaged 4.6 inches of horizontal break. Chapman’s fastball, for the entire season, averaged 4.8 inches of horizontal break. This particular fastball, that final fastball, broke 9.3 inches to the arm side. It moved about twice as much as the average Chapman fastball.

Using BaseballSavant, I compiled a spreadsheet of every fastball Chapman’s thrown in his career — 5,161 pitches. I sorted them by horizontal movement. This one ranked 63rd. That’s not as sexy a result as first or second or even 10th, but it’s still in the 99th percentile. Also: at 103.3 mph, only two of the 62 fastballs with more horizontal break were also thrown as hard. Also also: those two pitches were both in the dirt. This one went for a swinging strike to end a playoff game. That’s how you make the argument this was the most exceptional fastball Aroldis Chapman has ever thrown.

For fun, I wanted to create an image. This image shows every fastball thrown by a left-handed pitcher in 2016, plotting velocity against horizontal movement, with all of Chapman’s pitches removed except the one in question. I find humor in this:

chapman

You see the little blob of pitches around 100, all featuring something between 0-5 inches of horizontal break? That’s Felipe Rivero and James Paxton. Slightly to the right of that is where Chapman would live, were the rest of his pitches to be included in this plot. Slightly to the right of that, and then up an entire block, is where this pitch lives.

So we’ve covered the velocity and the movement of that crazy Aroldis Chapman pitch, but I also want to address the command that led up to that pitch, inspired by a comment made by John Smoltz during the broadcast of this game. See, what makes the Chapman pitch above stand out even more is the location. He more or less hit his spot, which is remarkable, given where Chapman had been before it.

First, here’s that Smoltz comment:

“Nobody can be happy facing this kind of triple-digits, but the only thing you can hope is his command is not on…”

Translation: Chapman’s stuff alone is gonna beat you nine times out of 10, but you’ve got a shot if he isn’t hitting the glove. Totally reasonable statement. Let’s see how true it was in Game 2.

Pitch No. 1

1

  • Pitch? Fastball
  • Commanded? No, missed high and arm side
  • Result? Foul ball, 0-1

Pitch No. 2

2

  • Pitch? Fastball
  • Commanded? No, missed high and arm side
  • Result? Foul ball, 0-2

Here we have back-to-back fastballs by Chapman, wanted low and away by Contreras and missed high and inside, into Brandon Crawford’s barrel, by Chapman. Crawford is late on both pitches. These are almost precisely the kind of misses most pitchers dread. The kind of mistakes that lead to damage. Chapman’s ahead 0-2.

Pitch No. 3

3

  • Pitch? Fastball
  • Commanded? No, missed high and arm side
  • Result? Foul ball, 0-2

Another potential mistake pitch. Another foul ball.

Pitch No. 4

4

  • Pitch? Fastball
  • Commanded? Mostly. Contreras finally called for a pitch high, and Chapman actually went below the target, but not by much, and he had the horizontal location right. Pretty good pitch.
  • Result? Called strike, strikeout

Pitch No. 5

5

  • Pitch? Fastball
  • Commanded? No, missed high and way arm side
  • Result? Ball, 1-0

Pitch No. 6

6

  • Pitch? Fastball
  • Commanded? No, missed high and arm side
  • Result? Foul, 1-1

Smoltz: “The thought of a hitter to try to pick one out and get lucky and get a hit early, I still, in this situation, would make him throw me a strike. Easier said than done, but you’ve got to find a way to get on base.”

Pitch No. 7

7

  • Pitch? Fastball
  • Commanded? No, missed way high and over the plate
  • Result? Swinging strike, 1-2

Smoltz: “See that’s the problem. Those are two pitches that he swung at out of the zone—”

Bob Costas: “But when you know you’ve got to pull the trigger so soon—”

Smoltz: “I know, that’s what makes it so tough.”

As a brief interlude, this pitch, aside from the final one .gif’d in the beginning of this article, is my favorite pitch of this inning. Here’s why:

We spend so much time talking about how crazy it is that Chapman can throw these pitches and how crazy it is that batters can hit these pitches, but I don’t think we spend enough time talking about how crazy it is that a person has to catch all of these. Look at where Contreras’ glove started, and look where it wound up, and consider that this pitch traveled roughly 60 feet at 102 miles per hour, and that Contreras still caught it. Mind-boggling.

Pitch No. 8

8

  • Pitch? Fastball
  • Commanded? No, missed high and over the plate
  • Result? Foul ball, 1-2

Pitch No. 9

9

  • Pitch? Fastball
  • Commanded? Yes. Contreras finally sets a second high target, and Chapman elevates even a little more than that, but it’s about as close as one can reasonably expect a pitcher to hit their target.
  • Result? Foul ball, 1-2

Gotta give credit to Angel Pagan for stringing together a good at-bat here, fouling off these Chapman heaters to stay alive. On the other hand, he probably hasn’t seen a strike yet, and he’s down 1-2.

Pitch No. 10

10

  • Pitch? Fastball
  • Commanded? Close enough. Contreras wanted it knee-high and outside and it wound up belt-high and on the black, but still a good location.
  • Result? Foul ball, 0-1

Pitch No. 11

11

  • Pitch? Changeup
  • Commanded? lol
  • Result? Ball, 2-2

After 10 consecutive fastballs to begin the inning, Contreras calls for the change, and Chapman throws it 58 feet. Back to fastballs.

Pitch No. 12

12

  • Pitch? Fastball
  • Commanded? Not really, missed high and over the plate
  • Result? In play, out(s)

Another pitch wanted low and away, another pitch missed into the hitter’s barrel. Pagan hit it well on a line to center, and Dexter Fowler bailed out Chapman with nice diving catch.

Pitch No. 13

13

  • Pitch? Fastball
  • Commanded? No, missed high
  • Result? Ball, 1-0

You might be beginning to wonder, or have already wondered, whether these are even targets set by Contreras at all, or whether they actually do want these pitches high. I considered it myself about halfway through this exercise, wondering if this might’ve all been a futile effort. I’m confident that’s not the case, however. For one, we’ve seen Contreras set two high targets already, so there’s clearly a distinction. Two, Contreras has thrown more pitches low since coming to the Cubs than he did with the Yankees, inferring more low targets. And three, watch the .gif on Pitch No. 7 again. Chapman is the last pitcher a catcher wants to have to react to by not having the glove be the target. Contreras has really wanted these pitches low. Chapman’s just not hitting the spots.

Pitch No. 14

14

  • Pitch? Fastball
  • Commanded? No, missed high and arm side
  • Result? Called strike, 1-1

Pitch No. 15

15

  • Pitch? Fastball
  • Commanded? Mostly. He pretty much piped it down the middle when Contreras really wanted it down and in, but it wasn’t far off the target.
  • Result? Foul ball, 1-2

Pitch No. 16

16

  • Pitch? Fastball
  • Commanded? No, missed high and arm side. But we all know why.
  • Result? Swinging strike, strikeout, game over

* * *

Best I can tell, Chapman hit his spot three, maybe four times this inning. Contreras routinely wanted fastballs down, and Chapman routinely delivered fastballs up, often missing into the batter’s swing path. He threw three pitches that were clearly over the plate. He had a 1-2-3 inning with two strikeouts.

I’m not breaking any news here by telling you Aroldis Chapman’s velocity alone is enough to get by. But it’s a fun way of seeing that principle in action. John Smoltz said, “The only thing you can hope is his command is not on.” That’s not wrong. It’s also not exactly right.





August used to cover the Indians for MLB and ohio.com, but now he's here and thinks writing these in the third person is weird. So you can reach me on Twitter @AugustFG_ or e-mail at august.fagerstrom@fangraphs.com.

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Josh
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Member
Josh

Maybe he lost his command because he hurt his pitching hand beating his girlfriend again.

That’s a dick comment, sure, but I have a hard time separating what athletes do on the field from what they do off of it, particularly when it comes to things like beating up women. So great – Chapman is wild with his 103-mph pitches. Interesting. Yay. But he’s also an abusive lowlife, in real life, so who really cares what his pitching is like.

JDX
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JDX

America! The land of “guilty until proven innocent!”

374285942768
Member
374285942768

you know how pathetic it is to keep this slogan as your go-to to try and cast doubt about an incident where there was so much evidence that suggested something did happen? where did those bullet holes come from?

374285942768
Member
374285942768

JDX: chapman’s gf fired those shots while she was hiding in the bushes after she had been pushed (at the very least, according to chapman and pals, or if you believe the victim who has less of a reputation to try to protect, actually choked) to frame chapman and gain fame for being an abuse victim which is the kind of fame anyone would want

cue johnston and his ‘have you ever met someone falsely accused’ trump card.

DeanAnna
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DeanAnna

You dont like X, we get it, we dont need to be reminded that you dont like X.

scooter262
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scooter262

I agree with Josh: I, too, have trouble separating the baseball player from the person. Part of me revels at Chapman’s performance. But, underneath, I’m thinking about his abhorrent behavior toward his girlfriend. I find it difficult to reconcile, at times, and dislike the part of me that so enjoys how good of a baseball player he is.

jiveballer
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jiveballer

Nah, Bosio has all the Cubs practice their pimp slap with the glove hand.

Curious Gorge
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Curious Gorge

Honestly, I don’t like what he did, but I try to be a fan without being the moral police.

LHPSU
Member
LHPSU

It’s like going to a Wagner opera and the person next to you keeps pulling at your sleeve saying, “Did you know that Wagner was an anti-Semitic and an asshole?”

Yes I know, now shut up and let me listen to Tristan und Isolde.

output gap
Member
Member
output gap

If you were there watching happen what he and his girlfriend did and did not do on that night, you should have spoken with the police. Since you were not there, any frustration you have with what you think you know should be directed at the state by state implementation of domestic abuse laws and enforcement, particularly what law allows as admissible evidence and the discretion and judgment of the prosecutors who can take or ignore cases.

Maybe you haven’t heard that America is a nation with due process. It’s kind of important to who we are, actually.

374285942768
Member
374285942768

maybe you haven’t heard that america is a nation of cover ups. It’s kind of important to who we are, actually.

fixed.

output gap
Member
Member
output gap

“Any frustration you have with what you think you know should be directed at the state by state implementation of domestic abuse laws and enforcement, particularly what law allows as admissible evidence and the discretion and judgment of the prosecutors who can take or ignore cases.”

Since you can’t read.

374285942768
Member
374285942768

taking a case over crooked judgements to a crooked judicial system doesnt seem like a fruitful endeavor. and as history has shown, it isn’t.

output gap
Member
Member
output gap

Or the facts don’t fit your narrative so you try to divert to a non-sequitur — bashing systemic “outcomes” without evidence or specificity.

If there was probable cause to prosecute, it would’ve happened. “Cuban pitcher assaults girlfriend, jailed by Florida prosecutor” is a headline many in the media wish to write because so many in society (like you) are ready to gobble it up and assume the worst, and follow with pitchforks.

If you think there should have been probable cause in this instance, that’s an opinion to share with your state’s legislators since they write the criminal code. If you think there was already enough to prosecute, you should work to replace the police commissioner and/or prosecutor in Florida that had discretion over this case. None of this has anything to do with Chapman.

And again, we don’t know what happened, unless you were a party guest of Aroldis, which seems to me unlikely. We know what the police said about that night, which is that he shot his garage (which was foolish) and that no one was harmed.

johnforthegiants
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johnforthegiants

The Yankees’ players seemed to be sincerely sad to lose him as a teammate, a number of them made statements like this, they wouldn’t have acted that way just because he’s a great pitcher if there were something really rotten about his personality. I never rushed to judge him one way or the other, but after I saw how they reacted, I’m inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt.

Tct
Member
Tct

Its really nice to be anonymous and not have your bad days and stupid decisions end up as headlines in national newspapers. That way you can criticize whoever u want for their screw ups and not have your own thrown back in your face.

Domestic violence is horrible. There are men who are beating their wives or girlfriends daily. There are men who are killing their wives. There are women who are doing the same to their boyfriends or husbands. Save your vitriol for them. Chapman shot his garage. Not a single person was hurt. People who know far more than you about the situation declined to file charges. Come down from the high horse.

Easyenough
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Member
Easyenough

Ostracizing Chapman or even just banning him from baseball will do nothing to change his behavior and will probably make it worse as we know from not just common sense but research. Banning him just makes you feel righteous. If we want less domestic violence we bring him into our community, show him what is to be a good man, and give him incentives to live right.

EJ
Member
EJ

You cared enough to open the article and make a comment on it.