Cincinnnati Reds' Aroldis Chapman Loses Aura Of Invincibility

By Thom Tsang
Frank Victores-USA TODAY Sports

Aroldis Chapman was impossibly good in 2012.

Boasting a 15.32 K/9 with a revelatory 2.89 BB/9, the Cincinnati Reds closer was just about unhittable throughout his first full year as the team’s closer, posting a 1.51/0.81 ERA/WHIP and a .141 BAA in a 3.3 fWAR season that was perhaps only bested by Craig Kimbrel of the Atlanta Braves.

After a season like that, it’s hard to imagine that the Cuban lefty would be able to match — or even top — what he’d accomplished last season.

In other words, the comedown was bound to happen. While Chapman is still undoubtedly one of the best relievers in the game, the road for the Reds in the ninth have been a little more adventurous than usual.

Take Sunday’s 4-2 victory over the Arizona Diamondbacks as the latest example. Staked to a 4-1 lead, the southpaw was asked to convert the most standard and low leverage of save opportunities on the road in the bottom of the ninth. No problem, right? It certainly didn’t look like it after he got the first two batters to ground out on a total of four pitches.

The next 20, though, were a bit of a different story. After giving up back-to-back singles to players who really should have no business hitting singles of Chapman (sorry, Cliff Pennington and Wil Nieves) to allow a run, the 25-year-old then hit Gerardo Parra on his eighth straight fastball, putting the winning run at the plate in the form of Willie Bloomquist.

The game ended six more fastballs later on a flyout and hands were shaken, but considering that Sunday was the second game in a row that Chapman had allowed a run (he blew a save by giving up a pair on Saturday), the message is pretty clear — teams do not fear his triple-digit arm as much as they used to.

That might not be saying a whole lot, considering that the closer still holds a 2.73/1.15 ERA/WHIP with a .183 BAA and a 15.27 K/9, but it’s in the control department where he’s really lost some of his dominance. He’s lost a touch off his fastball (97.5 mph average to 98 in 2012) and is not getting as many swinging strikes (14.7 percent to 17.9 in 2012), perhaps leading to his walk rate spiking to 4.36 BB/9.

More eye-opening yet might be the fact that when opposing batters make contact, they’re doing so at a career-high 27 percent line drive rate, a far cry from the 19.8 percent that Chapman allowed in 2012.

Whether any of this has to do with the team’s Spring Training experiment to try to convert him to a starter is anyone’s guess, but … so much for him being a fireball-throwing robot, I guess.

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