Is Aroldis Chapman’s Lack of Flexibility a Problem for the Yankees?
New closer Aroldis Chapman‘s reluctance to pitch multiple innings or in non-save situations could limit his value to the New York Yankees.
In his first public comments since signing a record-breaking five-year $86 million contract to return to the New York Yankees, closer Aroldis Chapman made the very strange choice to publicly criticize his manager with the Chicago Cubs, Joe Maddon.
Chapman pulled no punches regarding his former skipper, telling reporters (including Mike Mazzeo of the New York Daily News):
"I believe there were a couple times where maybe I shouldn’t have been put in the game and he put me in, so personally I don’t agree with the way he used me. But he is the manager and he has a strategy. My job is to be ready to pitch. As far as how my arm feels now, I feel great. I’m healthy. My arm is strong.”"
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He went on to say that he felt he shouldn’t have been used at all in Game 6 of the World Series, suggesting his usage in that game was behind his Game 7 meltdown that almost blew the championship for the Cubs, telling the media, “The important game was going to be Game 7 and basically we had (Game 6) almost won. The next day I came in and felt tired.”
Aside from these comments being a completely unnecessary public stab at his old boss (which hints at the poor personal judgement many fans worry about with Chapman), they confirm his discomfort with pitching in any situation that is not traditional for the closer role.
One of the reasons Andrew Miller was so valuable during his much-too-brief time in pinstripes was his willingness to put aside his ego and do whatever was best for the team. Whether it was closing, setting up, going multiple innings, or even coming in during the fifth as he did for Cleveland in the postseason, Miller never once gave any indication that he was rattled.
Chapman was only rarely used to pitch multiple innings during his tenure in Cinncinnati, and got more than three outs in the first half with the Yankees just twice. This is not the first time he’s made it known he’s uncomfortable doing so, which could limit his usefulness at a time when the lines are beginning to blur as to how a closer should be most effectively deployed.
The good news is, New York does have one of the other five best relievers in baseball already in their bullpen. Signing Chapman to handle the ninth allows New York the flexibility to use Dellin Betances in a fireman role, bringing him in during crucial situations earlier in the game or with men on base.
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Of course, it would be nice for the team to have the flexibility to mix and match their best pitchers as they see fit, especially when we are talking about a guy they just made the highest paid reliever in baseball history. It’s certainly not ideal and a reminder that the player the Yankees just signed may not be the nicest guy in the world.