Cincinnati Reds closer Aroldis Chapman has been so dominant this season that some broadcasters and fans have prematurely called it the best pitching performance in the history of Major League Baseball.
"This man's numbers project out to make him the first relief pitcher in history with 110 more strikeouts than hits," said Jayson Stark of ESPN.com. "The batting average of the 216 hitters who have had the misfortune to step into the box against Chapman this year is an insane .127."
While his numbers are certainly impressive, Chapman has a long way to go before earning a place in baseball history. A closer inspection of those stats indicate that Chapman's season, while certainly impressive, is far from historical.
Eric Gagne, the closer for the Los Angeles Dodgers, put up similar numbers less than ten years ago. In addition to his 55 saves, Gagne had 137 strikeouts in 81 innings and a1.20 earned run average. He held the opposition to a .133 batting average, and had zero blown saves.
Chapman, on the other hand, has four blown saves so far this season. His E.R.A. is also higher than Gagne's, and his strikeout pace is just about the same.
Even though Chapman has held opposing hitters to a slightly smaller batting average than Gagne in 2003, that number seems less impressive when put into the context of the time. Back then, offensive numbers were much greater than they are now. Ten players hit over forty home runs that year, and the overall league batting average was .264. This season only a handful of players have reached even 30 homers, and the overall league batting average is just .255.
Actually, Chapman has acquired his impressive numbers by dominating mediocre hitters, but he has been quite below average when he has faced the best hitters in each league. He has faced six of the National League's top ten hitters (Andrew McCutchen, David Wright, Yadier Molina, Matt Holliday, Buster Posey, Jose Altuveo), who are 2-5 with two bases on balls against him.
Chapman's numbers against the American League's top hitters are even worse. He has faced four of them (Joe Mauer, Miguel Cabrera, Robinson Cano, Austin Jackson), and they are 2-3 with one walk against him. All in all, Chapman has faced ten of the top hitters in both leagues, and they have hit .500 with three walks. In other words, he managed to retire just four of the ten hitters.
There is little doubt that Chapman has been more dominant than most of the other closers this season, and he is exciting to watch. However, his numbers have certainly benefited from a league -wide decline in offense, punctuated by a season which featured four no-hitters and two perfect games.
When the Cuban Missile takes the mound in the ninth, fans are seeing a very good pitcher facing very mediocre hitters. On those rare occasions when a very good hitter comes to the plate, he has a better than 50% chance of reaching base against Chapman.
Doug Poe once delivered newspapers to Johnny Bench, Joe Morgan, and Tony Perez, three customers who have made him a lifelong fan of the Reds.
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