Suggesting Aroldis Chapman can be tumultuous for fantasy purposes would be an understatement. Filtering out one's feelings about his off-field life and recent injury issues limiting his time on the field, Chapman focuses on a strong 2021 campaign along with working on a new pitch to generate more strikeouts. Last year, Chapman only appeared in 13 contests spanning 11.2 innings with 22 strikeouts against four walks, a 3.09 ERA, 1.79 SIERA and 0.86 WHIP. He notched three saves but Zack Britton led the team with eight in 2020. Chapman missed time due to COVID concerns. He also missed a part of 2019 due to soreness in his left knee. Thanks to Spotrac, here are how injuries affected Chapman recently:
Because of this, it limits his sample sizes. Trying to expand them to assess his recent results and future projections, it requires taking his second half of 2019 and adding it to last year which yields:
Chapman 2H 2019-through-2020: 2-2, 16 Saves, 36 games, 34 IP, 57:17 K:BB, 2.91 ERA, 2.83 SIERA, 1.03 WHIP, 41.6 K%, 12.4 BB%, 17.8 SwStr%
There's a reason Chapman remains among the first four relievers taken in drafts, his security as the closer on the Yankees and strikeout upside. However, Chapman's strikeout rates continue to fluctuate over the last four years which can be seen in this ten-game rolling chart courtesy of Fangraphs:
Keys to being an elite closer include the ability to avoid contact, not issue free passes and produce strikeouts in key moments. And in the present major league environment, any closer with a clear path to them receives even more interest. It's difficult to predict how adding a new pitch to the arsenal impacts Chapman but it cannot hurt, especially if it misses hitters' bats.
Before delving into Chapman's new offering, viewing his batted ball data from Statcast helps build a foundation of his recent performance. Again, due to the limited sample 2020 provides, the numbers include 2019 as well. So, over the last two seasons, Chapman's allowed 141 batted ball events giving up eight barrels (5.7 percent) and a 29.8 hard hit percentage. During this time, he owned a 38.2 strikeout percentage versus a 10.4 percent walk rate.
Since the expected numbers reflect performance in season, here's how they stack up by category for Chapman:
Expected ERA (xERA) - 2.85 in 2019, 2.70 in 2020
Expected Batting Average (xBA) - .194 in 2019, .163 in 2020
Expected Weighted On-base Average (xwOBA) - .262 in 2019, .245 in 2020
Overall, pretty solid but fantasy owners need him on the mound. Another interesting tidbit emerged while researching Chapman for this profile, he threw three split-finger fastballs during 2020 along with three more in the postseason. Statcast tracks results since 2015 and Brooks Baseball covers his whole career, but these represent the first time this pitch emerged during his time in the MLB. In an article on The Athletic by Lindsey Adler, Chapman acknowledged he used to throw the pitch as a starter in Cuba and decided to bring it back seen here in his swing-and-miss chart on Statcast:
Further digging reveals Chapman used the pitch two times in a game against the Blue Jays:
Being a visual learner, seeing can be believing. This tweet captured one of the splitters thrown to Alejandro Kirk on the 24th of September:
Amazingly, all three split-finger fastballs thrown by Chapman resulted in a swinging strike in two-strike counts hence his 100 percent rates in whiff percentage, strikeout percentage and put away percent on Statcast. It can also be seen here in a tweet from February:
Chapman working on his splitter pic.twitter.com/D7FVjSGoE5— Steve Brudzynski (@_BigSteve89) February 5, 2021
Chapman openly admits he cannot ramp it up to 100 MPH on demand entering his Age-33 season in 2021. His velocity charts confirm this, but he gained speed last year:
There's no guarantee adding a split-finger fastball to Chapman's repertoire allows him to return to past strikeout levels. However, if it's effective, the splitter could insulate further regression in strikeout percentage in 2021 from his numbers in 2019 (36.2 K%) and 2017 (32.9 K%). Projection sets cannot account for changes in arsenal. Here are Chapman's last three years which help determine projections to form baseline data:
Chapman Last Three Years: 7-3, 74 Saves, 130 games, 122 IP, 203:59 K:BB, 2.36 ERA, 2.68 SIERA, 1.04 WHIP, 40.8 K%, 11.8 BB%, 15.7 SwStr%
Using Brooks Baseball charts in zone profile views, Chapman's whiff percentage during this time frame results as such:
Then breaking down his whiff percentage by pitch:
There's a path for Chapman to beat his projections if the split-finger fastball becomes a trusted pitch. With this in mind, check out his potential 2021 outcomes from different systems:
Chapman may not return to triple-digit strikeouts anytime soon. However, with health, could a new pitch allow him to thrive and reach his first 40-save season? Not sure, but this may actually be a year to buy back into Chapman for fantasy at his price point. And if one does, be sure to protect this investment by taking Britton two rounds above his average draft position just in case.
Allow others to reach for upside closer options near Chapman and profit if things come together for him this season. Especially since the key may be the new pitch. It's tough to teach old dogs new tricks, but it feels like this new wrinkle may stick.
THE BAT courtesy of Derek Carty
ATC courtesy of Ariel Cohen
ZiPS courtesy of Dan Szymborski