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Entries in Aroldis Chapman (7)


Checking in on Aroldis Chapman’s Fastball 

The Aroldis Chapman experiment enters its fourth (full) season in Cincinnati this spring, and if this season goes anything like the first three, the Reds can rest easy knowing the back end of their rotation will be one of the best in baseball in 2014. Since his debut on August 30, 2010, the ‘Cuban Missile’ owns a 2.40 ERA, 1.02 WHIP, 40.9% strikeout rate and 77 saves – enough for seventh, fifth, second and sixth-best among relievers with 198 innings since that date. Now that Homer Bailey is sewn up through 2020, general manager Walt Jocketty now turns his attention to extending Chapman to solidify the backend of his bullpen for the prospective future.

Yet while Chapman has been one of the most dominant relievers in the game since his debut, his game hasn't come without a few shortcomings. Chapman's first three full seasons have been rather inconsistent, at least from a statistical perspective. Let's take a quick look at the numbers.

Chapman has been brilliant at racking up strikeouts, but his rocket arm has also cost him a good number of walks. The league average strikeout rate for relievers with at least 100 innings since 2011 is 22.9%, so we knew Chapman is elite in terms of punching batters out. However, his fluctuating walk rate is concerning, as the league average mark for those same relievers is 8.6%, and as we can see, Chapman has only one full season to his credit (2012) in which he posted a walk rate lower than that mark. He took several steps backward last season, adding another earned run to his 1.51 ERA from 2012. Opponents had much more success against his stuff in the meantime, posting a career-high .544 OPS against him. Consistency is king for closers, and though Chapman has been elite, there's room for improvement.

So, what's the problem? Chapman is becoming too reliant on his fastball. In his first full season with the Reds in 2011, Chapman tossed his fastball at a 79.4% clip -- fourth-highest among relievers with at least 50 registered innings that season and well above the 49.1% league average mark. During his best season to date in 2012, Chapman increased his heater use to 81.6% -- fourth-highest in the league once more and again noticeably higher than the 48.3% league average use. The 6-foot-4, 205-pound southpaw went to his fastball at a career-high 82.6% rate last season, however, which was third-most among lefty relievers with at least 60-innings.

Consequences of More Fastballs

While Chapman's fastball has maintained a steady (if not slightly increasing) velocity over the last three season, his fastball simply isn't generating the 'elite' type of results that we'd expect. His ground ball rate has plummeted incrementally from 42.9% in 2011 (compared to the league average mark of 38.4%) to 35.5% last season, which was actually below the league average mark of 35.5%.

And while opponents are putting fewer of his fastballs in play than ever before (21.5% in-play rate last season), they're doing more with those balls they do put in play, shown by a 2013 HR/FB ratio of 12.8% -- highest among relievers who threw at least 800 fastballs last season. Could Chapman's increase in zone% have anything to do with his ground ball decrease? Absolutely. Since 2008, the trend with relievers is that when you throw more fastballs in the zone, your ground ball rate tends to decrease roughly three percent with every five percent increase in fastball use.

When we think about relievers, we tend to think about the development of their secondary (i.e. non-fastball) offerings at a young age, particularly in the minor leagues (which Chapman didn't spend much time in). Often times, development of these pitches proves critical later in their careers, since fastball velocity tends to wane with age and young pitchers can't blow past batters with their heaters. Chapman seems to be going in the opposite direction in this respect; relying too heavily on his fastball, which has hampered the offering's ability to generate easy outs in critical late-game situations.


Killer Speed Kills

“The good rising fastball is the best pitch in baseball.” - Tom Seaver

There is a terrific article in today's New York Times by Barry Bearak in which he talks with Glenn Fleisig, a biomedical engineer and the research director at the American Sports Medicine Institute, about a compelling question: Is there a limit to how fast a human being can throw?

His answer: Yes, there is.

And, he adds: That limit already has been reached.

“Oh, there may be an outlier, one exception here or there,” Fleisig said. “But for major league baseball pitchers as a group of elites, the top isn’t going to go up anymore. With better conditioning and nutrition and mechanics, more pitchers will be toward that top, throwing at 95 or 100. But the top has topped out.”

As reported in the article, according to the manager of data analytics and operations, Graham Goldbeck, of Sportvision which operates use of the Pitch F/X system, the fastest pitch recorded by the system is 105.1 miles per hour. It was thrown by Cincinnati Reds reliever Aroldis Chapman on Sept. 24, 2010, during an at-bat by Tony Gwynn Jr. of the San Diego Padres.

This season's fastest pitches

With this in mind, I wanted to look at the numbers for the fastest pitches thrown this season.

I broke this into starters and relievers since relievers know that they are out there for a short time and often let it all hang out.

2013 Fastest Pitches by Starters
Gerrit Cole (PIT)101.0
Andrew Cashner (SD)100.2
Nathan Eovaldi (MIA)100.1
Matt Harvey (NYM)100.1
Danny Salazar (CLE)100.0
Justin Verlander (DET)99.9
Carlos Martinez (STL)100.9
Wily Peralta (MIL)99.3
Jose Fernandez (MIA)99.2
Stephen Strasburg (WSH)99.1

2013 Fastest Pitches by Relievers
Aroldis Chapman (CIN)104.0
Bruce Rondon (DET)102.8
Henry Rodriguez (CHC)102.3
Kelvin Herrera (KC)101.5
Trevor Rosenthal (STL)101.4
Carlos Martinez (STL)100.9
Nate Jones (CWS)100.8
Fernando Rodney (TB)100.7
Jose Dominguez (LAD)100.6
Greg Holland (KC)100.2
Jeremy Jeffress (TOR)100.1
Justin Wilson (PIT)99.7
Tommy Hunter (BAL)99.6
Tanner Scheppers (TEX)99.6
Blake Wood (CLE)99.6

There is nothing average about this heat

Here are the starting pitchers with the highest average speed this season
2013 Starters with the Highest Average Speed
Carlos Martinez (STL)38093.7100.976.9
Danny Salazar (CLE)65093.1100.078.3
Gerrit Cole (PIT)1,53692.9101.078.3
Nathan Eovaldi (MIA)1,39692.8100.173.9
Matt Harvey (NYM)2,69792.1100.177.1
James Paxton (SEA)19291.798.279.3
Kevin Gausman (BAL)70891.899.478.9
Zack Wheeler (NYM)1,62091.498.474.7
Wily Peralta (MIL)2,89591.399.375.8
Alex Colome (TB)26591.396.982.6
Taijuan Walker (SEA)23391.197.870.0
Garrett Richards (LAA)2,08291.797.674.5
Carlos Carrasco (CLE)76091.498.175.6
Johnny Hellweg (MIL)43791.298.173.4
Chris Archer (TB)1,85491.098.879.9

Here are the relievers - Chapman is simply ridiculous
2013 Relievers with the Highest Average Speed
Blake Wood (CLE)4296.699.688.2
Aroldis Chapman (CIN)1,02996.5104.081.1
Bruce Rondon (DET)43295.8102.884.9
Jake McGee (TB)1,05595.699.179.2
Jose Dominguez (LAD)14995.3100.680.7
Johnny Hellweg (MIL)43791.298.173.4
Trevor Rosenthal (STL)1,21894.9101.477.0
Pedro Figueroa (OAK)6594.398.687.3
Kelvin Herrera (KC)97794.1101.577.4
Joel Hanrahan (BOS)15894.199.282.6
Tanner Scheppers (TEX)95094.099.680.6
Henry Rodriguez (CHC)45093.9102.380.1
Carlos Martinez (STL)38093.7100.976.9
Brayan Villarreal (BOS)13393.797.782.3
Kevin Jepsen (LAA)67593.799.044.3
Craig Kimbrel (ATL)93593.699.575.9
Allen Webster (BOS)48690.397.774.6
Edgar Olmos (MIA)7693.598.282.0
Ernesto Frieri (LAA)1,17593.296.980.9
Michael Tonkin (MIN)10593.196.682.4

How fast are the fastballs?

"Every hitter likes fastballs, just like everybody likes ice cream. But you don't like it when someone's stuffing it into you by the gallon. That's what it feels like when Nolan Ryan's thrown balls by you." - Reggie Jackson

So far, I've been talking about the whole repertoire of pitches, but before I end this fast look into fast pitching, I want to talk fastballs.

According to the New York Times article, according to Sportvision, high-velocity fastball pitchers are on the rise. In 2008, 26 pitchers were averaging 95 and above. In 2009, the number rose to 29; in 2010, 41; in 2011, 42; in 2012, 44. This season the number is 46.

Here are the 15 pitchers who have thrown at least 200 fastballs this season and have the highest average speed for their heat.

2013 Fastest Average Fastballs (min 200)
Aroldis Chapman (CIN)84298.4104.094.4
Bruce Rondon (DET)34797.8102.887.3
Nate Jones (CWS)64097.3100.887.9
Kelvin Herrera (KC)72697.3101.587.9
Henry Rodriguez (CHC)31197.1102.392.8
Craig Kimbrel (ATL)65396.899.592.7
Trevor Rosenthal (STL)1,06396.4101.487.9
Fernando Rodney (TB)69596.3100.790.1
Carlos Martinez (STL)30996.3100.984.9
Nathan Eovaldi (MIA)99496.3100.187.9
Jake McGee (TB)97096.299.190.2
Chris Withrow (LAD)33696.298.988.0
Tanner Scheppers (TEX)77096.199.689.7
Tom Wilhelmsen (SEA)53896.099.290.0
Greg Holland (KC)56596.0100.290.3

Just because you throw it fast, doesn't mean you can't be hit

"I looked for the same pitch my whole career, a breaking ball. All of the time. I never worried about the fastball. They couldn't throw it past me, none of them." - Hank Aaron
"Trying to sneak a fastball past Hank Aaron is like trying to sneak the sunrise past a rooster." - Joe Adcock

Here are the batting averages against and slugging pct. of those same pitchers with the fastest average fastballs. Check out Chapman and Kimbrel in contrast to Rondon and Jones.
2013 Fastest Average Fastballs (min 200)
Aroldis Chapman (CIN)84298.4.177.287
Bruce Rondon (DET)34797.8.304.468
Nate Jones (CWS)64097.3.287.393
Kelvin Herrera (KC)72697.3.238.450
Henry Rodriguez (CHC)31197.1.258.419
Craig Kimbrel (ATL)65396.8.193.333
Trevor Rosenthal (STL)1,06396.4.217.318
Fernando Rodney (TB)69596.3.267.375
Carlos Martinez (STL)30996.3.300.400
Nathan Eovaldi (MIA)99496.3.244.360
Jake McGee (TB)97096.2.217.354
Chris Withrow (LAD)33696.2.250.450
Tanner Scheppers (TEX)77096.1.241.346
Tom Wilhelmsen (SEA)53896.0.235.336
Greg Holland (KC)56596.0.272.380

In closing...

Yankees pitcher Lefty Gomez was said to have remarked after three Bob Feller pitches blew by him, “That last one sounded a little low.”

Third Out Strikeouts - the inning's exclamation point

"He struck him out, and the side is retired!"

I'm not a fan of exclamation points but if we could ascribe a punctuation mark to an inning, it would be the strikeout that ends an inning. There is something both dramatic and discouraging about the end of inning whiff, obviously depending upon which side of the whiff you are on.

The end of the inning strikeout may come after six runs have scored which means it evoke a sigh of relief or discouragement. It may be the third (or even the fourth) strikeout of the inning, which invariably deserves the same number of exclamation points as there were whiffs, as in "He struck out the side!!!"

It's a great race this season for inning-ending strikeouts

Nine to Know

Great pitch location for Hernandez

Top 10

Let's up the ante - Inning-ending strikeouts with runners in scoring position

A.J. Burnett has had two strikeouts with the bases loaded and a 3-2 count!

Super Six

Pitchers who have ended the 9th or extra-innings with a whiff

Chapman has 41 Ks, 25 on pitchers 95+ mph

Elite Eight

Pitchers who have ended the 9th or extra-innings with a whiff w/RISP

  • Aroldis Chapman has ended seven innings
  • Fernando Rodney has ended six innings
  • Addison Reed has ended six innings
  • Mariano Rivera has ended five innings
  • Greg Holland has ended four innings
  • Grant Balfour has ended four innings
  • Craig Kimbrel has ended four innings

Two Sides to every coin

For every pitcher that throws an inning-ending strikeout, there is a batter who returns to the dugout with his head down.

The leader in that category this season is Mike Napoli, who so far has 27 inning-ending strikeouts.