What is Wrong With Aroldis Chapman?

Aroldis Chapman gave up a pair of earned runs on September 10, 2011.  On September 15, 2011, he began a scoreless streak that would carry over into the 2012 season.  In fact, the scoreless streak carried over into June of the 2012 season.  From September 10, 2011 through June 6, 2012, Chapman faced 130 batters over 33 2/3 innings pitched.  He gave up zero earned runs, nine hits, and 13 walks.  He struck out 58 batters (15.53 per nine innings pitched).  At times, he seemed unhittable.  Every time out, he was dominant.

On June 7, 2012 the streak ended with a loss against the Pittsburgh Pirates.  We all breathed a sigh of relief.  Everyone knew it wouldn’t last forever.

On the other hand, we didn’t expect Chapman to begin a new run characterized by his ineffectiveness.  In his last six appearances dating back to June 7th, Chapman has given up nine hits, eight earned runs, and three home runs in 6 1/3 innings pitched.  He is 0-4 over those six games.

A few days ago, a friend asked me to write something about Chapman’s collapse.  Baseball is a very, very difficult game.  It is truly a game of failure.  I didn’t want to be an alarmist, so I held off.

After today’s meltdown, I couldn’t hold off any longer.  This afternoon, Chapman gave up a double to Joe Mauer and a game winning homerun to Josh Willingham in the ninth inning.  That was the third homerun in the last 31 batters faced.  During his scoreless streak, Chapman didn’t give up a single homerun over 130 batters faced.

Chapman’s reversal is so stark, it is perplexing.  Let’s take a look…….

W L SV BS HLD IP TBF H R ER HR BB SO
Since June 7, 2012 0 4 2 3 0 6.1 31 9 8 8 3 2 9
Scoreless Streak 4 0 6 1 7 33.6 130 9 1 0 0 13 58

We know that he’s been battling some minor discomfort in his lower back.   “I don’t see it as an issue,” pitching coach Bryan Price told the Cincinnati Enquirer on Wednesday. “He’s gone in there and gotten treatment for his lower back, but he’d be like a dozen other guys who go in there and get treatment for something achy or stiff. I don’t think he’s ever been in a position where he’s not able to pitch.”

We know that Chapman was arrested in the early morning of 05/21 for driving with a suspended license.  The following week, Chapman arranged for a female acquaintance, Claudia Manrique, to meet him in Pittsburgh.  On 05/29, the woman, an exotic dancer, claimed she was tied up by an unknown assailant and robbed in Chapman’s hotel room.  Most of the items taken that night belonged to Chapman.  Since then, Manrique has been charged with filing a false police report.

Is Chapman injured?  Is he distracted by his off-the-field tangles?

Let’s take a look at a pair of charts from two of Chapman’s recent, more difficult outings.

On 6/10 against Detroit, Chapman faced seven batters.  He gave up two earned runs on two hits and one walk.  He threw fourteen pitches to righthanded hitters and twelve pitches to lefties.  He threw 25 fastballs and one slider.  All of the fastballs exceeded 95 mph.  It’s tough to argue that he’s injured when he continues to throw 95+ mph. Twelve of the pitches were strikes.  Eight of those twelve were elevated.

On 06/07, Chapman faced five Pittsburgh hitters.  He gave up one run on two hits and a walk.  He threw three pitches to lefthanded hitters and twenty-four pitches to righthanded hitters.  He threw twenty-two fastballs, one slider, and one changeup.  Only one fastball did not register at least 95mph.  Eighteen pitches were thrown in the strike zone.  Thirteen of those were elevated.

Now, let’s take a look at one of Chapman’s better outings in early May against Milwaukee.  He faced just three batters, retiring two on strikeouts.  He threw only fifteen pitches.  Four of them (27%) were sliders.  He threw ten pitches in the strike zone.  Six of them were elevated.

On 4/11 against the Cardinals, Chapman faced seven batters.  Five of them struck out.  He threw seventeen pitches to righthanded hitters.  He threw eighteen pitches to lefthanded hitters.  He threw three sliders and sixteen changeups! Nineteen of the thirty-five pitches were off-speed pitches.  His command was excellent.  Only twelve pitches were thrown outside the strike zone.  He threw four changeups to the bottom of the strike zone. On that particular day, his fastball sat between 93 mph and 97 mph.

Conclusion

So what’s the difference between the April/May Chapman and the June Chapman.  It appears to me that he’s fallen in love with the fastball again.  The April/May Chapman mixed in the slider and the changeup.  The June Chapman is throwing 90% fastballs.  The April/May Chapman was throwing 60-70% fastballs.  When Chapman mixes in the devastating slider and a changeup, hitters cannot sit on the fastball.  When he does not, the hitters sit dead red.  Major League hitters can hit a 98 mph fastball thrown over the middle of the plate.  Ask Josh Willingham.

If his back were truly a factor, I don’t think his velocity would still be consistently 95+ mph.  Has he lost confidence in the slider and changeup?  Probably.

Do the off-the-field issues factor in?  Baseball is a mental game.  Confidence breeds success.  It would be unusual for a young man to maintain 100% focus through that kind of public adversity.

When Chapman is able to regain confidence in his off speed pitches, he will be fine.  When he can locate and throw three pitches effectively, he doesn’t need to throw 100 mph.

I wouldn’t be surprised to see Ondrusek or Marshall get the ball in the ninth inning, however, until he gets things worked out.

Tags: Aroldis Chapman Baseball Bryan Price Cincinnati Reds MLB

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