Chicago Cubs: Aroldis Chapman’s struggles continue as New York Yankees’ closer
By Jake Misener
After carrying a heavy workload for the Chicago Cubs last season, New York Yankees closer Aroldis Chapman has been roughed up all year in the Bronx.
Love him or hate him, the Chicago Cubs probably don’t win the World Series without Aroldis Chapman. Forget the game-tying home run in Game 7 for just a moment. Down the stretch, he pitched to a sub-2.00 ERA and did everything asked of him in the postseason for Joe Maddon.
And, this winter, he criticized Maddon for just that – a workload that far exceeded what you see from most relievers today. The most oft-criticized decision of Maddon’s tenure came late in the Fall Classic. With Chicago up big in Game 6, Chapman came out for the ninth inning.
That night, he threw 20 pitches, on top of the 42 he tossed in Game 5. As he later noted, by the time Game 7 rolled around, he was running on fumes. And he certainly didn’t beat around the bush when those questions arose last offseason.
"“Personally I don’t agree with the way he used me,” Chapman told the media after inking a new deal with the Yankees last winter. “But he is the manager and he had the strategy, you know?”"
As pointed out in a December New York Times article, there was a great deal of uncertainty in the Cubs’ bullpen – at least for the guys not used to Maddon’s decision-making.
"“Not really knowing when you’re coming in — that was the hardest thing, the unpredictability,” Adam Warren told reporters in July after he was traded back to New York in the Chapman deal."
A hangover spanning a season?
The Yankees, who are set up for another dynastic run with a system full of top-tier talent, brought Chapman back on a five-year, $86 million with the hopes he would dominate as he always has. But 2017 brought out a very different kind of Aroldis Chapman on the mound.
In Sunday’s showdown with the AL East-rival Boston Red Sox, rookie Rafael Devers squared up a Chapman fastball for a game-tying home run in the ninth. He came on in the tenth, as well – in a game Boston won by a 3-2 final.
Here we are, in mid-August. The flamethrowing left-hander has just 15 saves this year. By contrast, he had 20 by the time the Yankees traded him to the Cubs at the deadline last summer. His earned run average skyrocketed – up from a career 2.19 to 3.48 this year, the worst mark of his career.
There are plenty of folks ready to move on from Chapman in the ninth – and with good reason. New York features several other attractive arms capable of nailing things down late. The Yankees’ closer, however, is staying focused – despite his struggles.
"“The key here is to keep fighting,” Chapman said. “I have high expectations of myself, and the last couple outings haven’t been what I would like them to be. So you definitely feel bad when you lose a game like that. You put that on your shoulders.”"
Learning to pitch
In the above article in the New York Post, there’s a mention of ‘learning to pitch.’ And, when it comes down to it, that’s exactly what Chapman lacks. He rarely pitches – he rears back and throws. He tries to force fastballs past hitters and, believe it or not, people are picking up on that.
The role last year’s deep postseason run and heavy workload have on him remain to be seen. Clearly, something is wrong with Aroldis Chapman. But, as far as the Cubs go, they did what they had to do. Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer knew when they traded for him that he wasn’t coming back in 2017.
So Maddon used him as-such. He pitched him as much as he needed him, relying on him for high-leverage outs, even before the ninth inning. Now, with control problems plaguing him, Chapman is facing mounting pressure.
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Given his competitive nature, he’ll learn to adjust -how long that will take? That’s anybody’s guess. But if you’re the New York Yankees, you hope it’s soon. Because you’re going to need him ready and willing come October.