New York Yankee Player Profiles: Aroldis Chapman, what’s ahead for the closer?

New York Yankees, Aroldis Chapman

The New York Yankees have a host of problems this season; they hope Aroldis Chapman, the Yankee closer, isn’t one of them. He started the season as sharp as ever. He had a 0.00 ERA from the beginning of the season until May 23rd, when he blew his first save against the White Sox. That’s 18 games in a row. Following that, there were a few blips but nothing of concern, but the last month has been very concerning. On June 23, he gave up 2 runs to the Royals; on June 30, he gave up 4 runs to the Angels while only recording one out. Then, on July 4th, he wasn’t celebrating Independence day when he gave up 3 runs to the rival New York Mets, this time without recording an out.

Chapman’s struggles were so bad Aaron Boone was afraid to use him to close games, instead, using Chad Green, Nestor Cortes Jr., Jonathan Loaisiga, and more recently Zack Britton. It wasn’t until July 20th that Boone gave him another chance. He got the save (17), but he gave up a home run. In his last two games against Philadelphia and Boston, he seems to have rebounded. Between the two games, he gave up a hit and walked two. Last night he was not available, and the Yankee pitchers Jonathan Loaisiga and Zack Britton gave up a five-run lead causing the Yankee loss. Could that be a preview of life without Chapman?

Pitching coach Matt Blake and the Yankees have to get Chapman right; they can’t continue to have a closer with an ERA over 4.00. He lost control over his put-out pitch, the blazing fastball, and he appears to have lost his confidence as well. In previous saves, he would stare down the final out hitter. In his last save, there was no stare; he just walked off the mound. Aroldis Chapman was never a Mariano Rivera, no one is, but he has been adequate. The Yankees need to get back to the closer that they had at the beginning of the season.  For those that don’t know how Chapman got to the Yankees continue to read; it’s a fascinating story.

Chapman was born Albertin Aroldis Chapman de la Cruz in Holguin province, Cuba, on February 28, 1988. Although he is called the “Cuban Flamethrower or Missle, he is actually of Jamaican descent. His grandparents emigrated to Cuba for a better education. As a child, he played ball with other kids in his neighborhood. At the age of 15, a friend invited him to join the local Hoguin baseball team.

Even at that young age, local coaches noticed that the young boy had the potential to be a pitcher. So in 2003, he switched from first base to the pitcher’s mound.  In 2006 he joined the Cuban National Series League playing for the Holguin Sabuesos. He compiled a 24-19 record as a starter in 327 innings. His ERA of 3.74 with 365 strikeouts. He did make eleven relief appearances.

Chapman wanted out of Cuban and tried to defect but failed. Being a significant star, he met with Castro in 2008. Castro gave him a conditional reprieve but suspended him from the remainder of the season and kept him off the summer Olympics national team. He did allow him to return in 2009 to the World Baseball Classics representing Cuba. Still determined to defect, when playing in Rotterdam, the Netherlands in the World Port Tournament, he did it. One morning he walked out the door of his hotel, not to be seen again until he took up residency in Andora in the Pyrenees.

While in Andora, he petitioned MLB for free agency, which was granted. In January of 2010, Chapman signed a six-year contract to play for the Cincinnati Reds. On August 31 of that year, he made his Major League debut striking out the side with just nine pitches. In 2011 he was solely a reliever and in 2012 named the team’s closer. In 2014 he was hit in the head by a comebacker and underwent surgery to fix a skull fracture above his left eye. A metal plate was inserted into his head to stabilize the fracture.

For the 2015 season, Chapman had the highest average pitching speed in baseball at 100 mph. His record was 4-4 with a tiny ERA of 1.63 and 33 saves on the season. After the season, the Reds traded Chapman to the New York Yankees for four Yankee prospects. Before spring training, the then-manager Joe Girardi named Chapman the new Yankee closer.

Aroldis Chapman becomes a New York Yankee

Chapman didn’t start well for the Yankees; he was suspended for the first 30 games of the season due to an off-season personal conduct policy violation related to domestic violence. Then, in July, he was traded to the Chicago Cubs, bringing Gleyber Torres, Adam Warren, and Billy McKinney to the Yankees. The Cubs were going to the postseason, and the Yankees weren’t. With the Cubs, he had his fastest recorded pitch at 105.1 mph. Then, in the last inning of the last game of the World Series, Chapman went into a game-winning 10th inning, and his first World Series win.

As a free agent, the New York Yankees wanted him back, and he signed a record for a reliever an $86 million contract. His four-seam fastball had the highest average speed of any MLB pitcher’s pitches in 2017, at 99.7 mph, but a reduction from 2015. In 2018 he had a 104.1 mph pitch. Chapman has been successful for the Yankees. His record is 14-6 over five years, with an ERA of 2.54. But no matter how successful, he has failed the Yankees at key times in the postseason. Most recently when Mike Brosseau homered off him, causing the Yankees to exit the 2020 postseason.

Chapman realizes that his four-seam fastball is losing some velocity and is adding a new old pitch to his arsenal. Last year Chapman recorded an average of 98.7 mph, the lowest average speed for his fastball. I say new old because he used the pitch many years ago when he was a starter in Cuba. Chapman realizes he is getting older, and that missile fastball isn’t quite as fast. That showed up big time at about the same time that MLB began to enforce the no sticky rule. One good sign is that his velocity seems to have returned with some fastballs reaching 103 mph. Now he just needs to find that command.

Like many Yankees players, Chapman is relatively private about his personal life. However, we do know he has one daughter, Ashanti Brianna, with Mendosa Santiestelas. In addition, he had a son named Atticus in 2014. Chapman turned 33 this February.

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