I hate to be a hater, but sometimes the role is necessary. Two weeks ago, I used this space to sound the fantasy baseball alarm bells about Marcus Semien. I received some criticism that I was overreacting to early season data, but here we are in the middle of May and Semien is still hitting .157 with a .428 OPS. Today I’m going to go in a similar direction with Yankees closer Aroldis Chapman.
Chapman has eight saves. He has zero blown saves. His ERA is 1.54. So, why am I so concerned about a pitcher with 314 career saves who is holding the closer’s role on the team with baseball’s best record? Let’s dive in on Chapman’s issues.
This is where the problems start for Chapman, who has lost 1 mph on his fastball and slider this season. There is a chance that he will do better with his radar gun readings by the summer, but we shouldn’t count on it from a 34-year-old who is in his 13th Major League season. Looking back, the last time Chapman lost 1 mph was in 2018, and he has never regained that velocity. This appears to be a second step down for someone who once averaged 100 mph on his fastball.
Issuing free passes has always been a problem for Chapman, but he has taken that deficiency to new levels of late, having posted a 15.6 percent walk rate last year and a 17.3 mark this season. Throughout his career, the flamethrower worked around his control issues by striking out batters at an elite rate, but perhaps due to his diminished velocity, his K rate has dropped sharply to 23.1 percent this season. His 5.8 percent K:BB rate is a poor mark for any pitcher, let alone a close
The Yankees bullpen is flush with effective relievers who could handle the closer’s role or vulture some save chances. Clay Holmes (0.49 ERA), Miguel Castro (1.46 ERA) and Michael King (1.59 ERA) have all posted terrific numbers across more than 10 appearances. And the club has two mainstays (Chad Green, Jonathan Loaisiga) who haven’t been at their best so far this year but have a track record of high-leverage success. Yankees manager Aaron Boone has many options in the event that he wants to try a different stopper.
Chapman is in the final year of his contract, which negates any long-term ramifications if the team needs to try a different closer. To be clear, Boone and the front office would like nothing better than for Chapman to keep his current role, thereby allowing them to deploy their array of effective middle relievers in a variety of ways. But if Chapman can’t turn things around by the summer, the team could trade for a more effective closer or promote someone from within their own relief corps. Make no mistake about it: The Yankees are in it to win it this season.
This is a great time to trade Chapman. He has plenty of saves, and there will be several teams in every fantasy league who need a closer. Chapman should fetch a hefty return on the trade market at the moment, which may not be the case in a few weeks. Also, managers may want to add some Yankees relievers, as they provide ratios help and may get more saves than expected.