Aroldis Chapman made his return to the mound Monday night after completing his 30-game suspension for a domestic violence incident that occurred last fall. Chapman represents the final head of the Yankees’ bullpen Ghidorah, joining Andrew Miller and Dellin Betances to form a three-faced monster intended to tear through the back end of ballgames.
One of the unique challenges in having three of the five best relievers in baseball at your disposal is in developing a hierarchy. Manager Joe Girardi has already done so in regards to the closer’s role, which Miller will cede to Chapman. Should he, though?
We know both of these guys are great. To draw lines between them is to nitpick, as just about every other team would happily turn their ninth-inning reigns over to either one of them. The endgame is easily the most intriguing thing about the Yankees these days though, so let’s pick some nits. Let’s figure out who should close games with a round of point/counterpoint.
Point: Chapman spits hot fire.
What are we even arguing about? Chapman’s fastball averages 100 mph. It’s registered as high as 105. An Aroldis Chapman filter had to be installed on MLB.com’s velocity leaderboard because he was literally the only name that showed up otherwise. He is the most dominant reliever in the game, and it’s not close.
Miller’s 14.7 K/9 over the past three-plus seasons is absurd. Chapman has struck out nearly two more batters per nine over the same timeframe. When it comes to throwing a baseball, Aroldis Chapman is inhuman. He was created in a lab at Cyberdyne Systems, outfitted with a rocket launcher in place of a left arm and sent back in time to blaze holes in every Louisville Slugger on the planet. There is no pitcher more intimidating to stand in with, no pitcher likelier to crush an opponent’s ninth-inning dreams.
Counterpoint: Miller, though.
You can’t conjure up a better start to a season than the one Miller has had this year. He hasn’t allowed a single earned run in any of his 12 appearances. He’s striking out 47.6 percent of his batters and has walked just one. He has broken the FIP statistic altogether, with a mark of -0.21. Sure, we’re talking about less than 12 innings so far, but Miller has been one of the best relievers in the game for years now, and yet he’s facing demotion.
If I told you that those were Chapman and Miller’s last two full seasons, could you tell me which line belonged to which pitcher? Miller’s velocity and strikeout numbers might be slightly less Herculean than Chapman’s, but he’s achieved virtually the same results anyway. While everyone has been fawning over Chapman’s Sgt. Pepper, Miller’s quietly been over here writing Revolver.
(Season A: 2014 Chapman, Season B: 2014 Miller, Season C: 2015 Chapman, Season D: 2015 Miller)
Point: The Yankees need to maximize Chapman’s trade value.
Fine. Performance-wise we’ll call it a wash. There are still more compelling reasons to make Chapman the closer, the biggest being that there’s a pretty significant chance that the Yankees are going to be selling at the trade deadline for the first time in over two decades. You never want to throw in the towel on May 10th, but with a 12-18 record, things have been less than stellar. Chapman further bolstering the bullpen might help turn that around, but it won’t do much to help a floundering offense or a starting rotation that continues to be a complete roll of the dice. With Chapman due to hit free agency this offseason, he’s one of the few movable pieces the team has. They’ll want to do everything they can to maximize his value.
Counterpoint: Chapman closing could do more harm than good.
As a baseball community we talk a lot about teams being slaves to the save statistic, but you can’t possibly expect me to buy that teams are going to think less of Aroldis Chapman if he’s not closing for the next few months. Teams know who Aroldis Chapman is and what he can do. If anything, thrusting him back into the closer’s role right away has a greater chance to backfire.
Coming to New York carries enough scrutiny as it is, particularly for an established star like Chapman. Now throw in the further (warranted) scrutiny he’ll receive due to the nature of what he’s returning from, the fact that the team is struggling and seeking a savior, and that he’s taking the job from a guy who’s been literally perfect. How well does this play out for Chapman and the Yankees if he’s not his dominant self right out of the gate? What will the back pages look like if Aroldis coughs up a save opportunity or two early on? Ease Chapman back into things by letting him pitch an inning that’s not likely to set New York ablaze with hot takes should he falter. Throwing him directly into the fire is asking for trouble.
Point: It’s better to keep Chapman happy.
Greater than the risk of Chapman failing in the closer’s role is the risk that Chapman rejects the idea of setting up altogether. Sure, the number of saves Chapman racks up in the next few months will probably have little effect on his trade market, but his attitude very well might. His off-field issues tanked his value over the winter, which is the entire reason the Yankees were able to acquire him in the first place. If the Yankees expect to get something more valuable than what they gave up for him, he’ll need to stay out of trouble both on and off the field. Right now we know that Miller is willing to change roles. We don’t know that Chapman is. It’s not a particularly flattering reason to go with Chapman, but it matters. Baseball is a business, and no team recognizes that more than the Yankees.
Counterpoint: Why not reward the good guy?
The fact that Miller has been so open to changing roles is precisely the reason he should be left to close. It would be completely understandable if a pitcher with his credentials threw a fit at the prospect of demotion, yet he’s embraced the change and repeatedly claimed that he wants to do what helps the team. Shouldn’t an attitude like that be rewarded?
We know that there’s nothing inherently special about the closer’s role or the save statistic. We know that the ninth inning isn’t actually more important than the seventh or eighth. It does matter to the players, though. It is an honor for them. So, if there is no discernible difference between them in terms of performance, why not reward the good guy? Kowtowing to Chapman because he might be more of a jerk otherwise isn’t a respectable position, particularly for a Yankee team that does enough unlikeable things as it is. The only thing that has outshone Miller’s spectacular performance on the field is his attitude off of it. Let him keep his job.
Lead photo: Anthony Gruppuso / USA Today Sports