The Aroldis Chapman of the Batter’s Box

Aroldis Chapman was a major-league rookie in 2010, but it took no time at all for him to make a name for himself. Joel Zumaya had re-introduced the population to consistent triple digits, but Chapman pushed the limits to the extreme. In his 11th-ever outing, Chapman took the mound in San Diego, and the first pitch he threw came in at 101.5 miles per hour. Then he broke 100 again, then he broke 100 again. Then he did it again, then he did it again. Chapman threw 25 pitches on the night, and the slowest of them was an even 100. That fact was one highlight. The other highlight was one individual pitch he threw to Tony Gwynn Jr. With the count 1-and-2, Chapman missed just inside at 105.1. The enemy crowd came to life as soon as the scoreboard flashed the reading.

Last week, the Marlins took on the Dodgers in Los Angeles. Giancarlo Stanton was granted the opportunity to face Mike Bolsinger, and in an 0-and-1 count in the top of the first, Bolsinger left a fastball over the middle of the plate. Stanton swung, and connected, and the next thing the baseball knew, it was somewhere in one of the parking lots. Stanton hit a ball literally out of the stadium, and as he rounded the bases and approached home plate, he was given something of a standing ovation by the fans who just watched their team fall behind.

There are good players, and there are spectacles. Starling Marte is a good player. Joey Votto is a good player. Justin Upton is a good player. Giancarlo Stanton is a spectacle, in the way the same could be said of Aroldis Chapman. There are pitchers who are at least close to as effective as Chapman is. Yet Andrew Miller doesn’t generate the same sort of buzz. As it is with Stanton — though there are other equally good players, and even some superior players, Stanton is a freak, a player capable of the almost unachievable. Chapman is unparalleled in his ability to throw the ball hard. Stanton seems unparalleled in his ability to hit the ball hard.

It’s always fun to browse a leaderboard of all the pitches thrown at least 100 miles per hour. Chapman isn’t completely alone, but he dominates the category. This year, for example, Chapman has been responsible for 73% of such pitches. Second place is at a distant 20%; third place is at 3%. Chapman is effectively uncatchable by the rest of the pitchers in the game today. He’s thrown almost three times as many triple-digit pitches as all of the other pitchers combined.

Batted-ball data, meanwhile, is new to us. For years, we just had to survive on the ESPN Home Run Tracker, which is excellent but obviously limited. Now we’ve got some StatCast, and while it’s early and while it’s incomplete, we can still analyze what we’ve been provided. The hardest-hit baseball we know about in 2015 was hit by Giancarlo Stanton. The second-hardest-hit baseball we know about in 2015 was hit by Giancarlo Stanton. He’s also in fourth. And we can approximate a version of the Chapman velocity leaderboard. As of early Saturday, StatCast had captured seven Stanton batted balls at or above 115 miles per hour. No other player had more than two. And StatCast had captured only about two-thirds of Stanton’s batted balls, suggesting his real total is even higher.

Also, a little later on Saturday, Stanton did this:

The StatCast reading was 115. The homer was estimated at a little short of 480 feet, but other Marlins insisted the real distance must’ve eclipsed 500, and the ball soared near to a sign reading “502”. The numbers, probably, are better judges of distance than the teammates, but that isn’t the point. It was another spectacular home run, is the point.

According to the ESPN Home Run Tracker, Stanton owns the longest home run hit since 2010:

According to same, Stanton owns the hardest-hit home run over the whole Home Run Tracker era:

Stanton hit a home run that broke his own park’s scoreboard. He hit a home run by a sign designating 502 feet. He hit a home run completely out of Dodger Stadium. He hit one of the weirdest damned home runs I’ve ever seen in my life. There’s no one doing what Giancarlo Stanton does. There are players who put up similar performances, but Stanton’s more pure entertainment. Stanton can do things that make you forget completely about a game’s result. Last week, Stanton’s dinger against Bolsinger put the Marlins ahead 1-0. They lost 11-1, but still all anyone remembers is that Stanton put a ball into orbit.

There’s no such thing as a perfect equivalent for Aroldis Chapman. His control of the velocity leaderboard is too dominant, because he’s in direct control of the velocity results. He’s simply blessed more than other pitchers are blessed, and that’s his physical advantage. No hitter could be that dominant when it comes to batted balls, but Stanton is the best approximation we have. It’s possible there are guys out there capable of hitting the ball even harder, but their contact skills must be comparatively limited. Stanton features the most extreme blend of power and contact in a game setting. He doesn’t actually need so much power. Maybe by sacrificing 5% of it, he could hit the ball more than he does. But maybe that wouldn’t make him better. It would definitely make him less of a spectacle. Stanton does the things we remember far after we’ve forgotten who won and who lost. Which is one of the actual beauties of baseball, where the results themselves are overrated.

Yeah, we watch sports to be distracted. Yeah, we watch sports for the element of community. But we also watch to be entertained, to observe people do things most people can’t do. The appeal of Aroldis Chapman is that he’s a physical freak, so he can do what shouldn’t be possible. Giancarlo Stanton is no different, so he has no different a presence when he’s involved in an at-bat. Everyone in the major leagues can participate in a baseball game. Fewer are those who can play in baseball theater.

Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.

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6 years ago

Bryce Harper hit a double against AZ that was the hardest hit ball I’ve ever seen. Looked like a single until it exploded past the right fielder. Some crazy power in the NL east.

6 years ago
Reply to  Kyle

So you must be new to baseball and not remember the way Mark McGwire hit the ball, particularly the homer he hit off Randy Johnson.

6 years ago
Reply to  TKDC

So you must be a dick and not remember that you should try to keep that to yourself.

6 years ago
Reply to  Everyone

I’ll try. In the meantime, try to grow a thicker skin. Harper has hit one home run in his entire career over 115 MPH. Stanton has four of those this year. Suggesting Harper hits the ball nearly as hard as Stanton is ridiculous. Harper has plenty of things for which he deserves credit; making up stuff is unnecessary.

6 years ago
Reply to  Everyone

Who the shit even made anything up? At least you managed to capitalize on the opportunity to double down on your asshattery.