There’s nothing like the comfort that a reliable — and untouchable — closer brings, and while the New York Yankees have employed one of the game’s best in Aroldis Chapman for the past several seasons, it often hasn’t felt like it.
Sure, when every outing comes in the highest possible leverage situation, it’s easy to trick yourself into believing that even the best of the best always fail or are always shaky. The problem with Chapman isn’t that he is never dominant. The problem is that every fan knows from first pitch exactly what type of outing they’re in for, and rarely if ever does a mid-inning reversal or return to form come along to save the day.
In fact, want a depressing thought exercise? Try to recall a Chapman outing where he retired the first two batters of an inning before things fell apart … other than Game 6 of the Yankees and Astros’ 2019 ALCS. Depressing, right? Shows just what a rare varietal of blown outing that really was.
Entering free agency after 2022, Chapman’s Yankee career is reaching its natural end point. The Bombers did not cut bait on the 34-year-old even though he gave them more than enough reason to both on and off the field. They stuck with their closer through forgettably thick and memorably thin, and are now in the midst of their most aesthetically pleasant stretch in years without him; Chapman’s been on the 15-Day IL for weeks with an Achilles issue.
Could the Yankees use another high-leverage reliever or two? Yes. Absolutely, after losing Chapman, Jonathan Loaisiga and Chad Green in a short period of time. But when they get Chapman back, are they … sure … they want to hand him the ninth inning?
The Cuban Missile’s first bullpen session back, on the mound at Yankee Stadium on Tuesday, officially started the clock on answering that difficult question.
Do Yankees want Aroldis Chapman back as closer over Clay Holmes?
Just as Chapman’s cold snap from April and May won’t last forever, neither will Clay Holmes’ white-hot stretch of silent baseball. But that doesn’t account for the 180 difference in the way both men handle their business.
Both blessed with impossible velocity, Holmes has spent the past year in the Yankees’ system learning to harness and embrace his natural zip. After a dreadful first half in Pittsburgh in 2021 (1.429 WHIP), Holmes showed up under Matt Blake’s tutelage and immediately uncorked a second-half WHIP of 0.786 and an 0.663 mark through 27 games in 2022.
Chapman? Perhaps no one has been as stubbornly unchanged as the devastating left-hander, whose WHIPs rose to 1.314 last season and 1.643 in limited duty this year. In 2021, he developed a devastating splitter that completely changed his arsenal; he just as swiftly abandoned the pitch when he hit a rough patch, though, blaming a mysterious “finger injury” that lingered forever.
During this otherwise astounding first half, nothing’s felt worse than the realization that every big Yankee game, no matter how hard you fought during the regular season and how many wins you piled up, is eventually going to come down to Chapman standing between victory and defeat.
Having Chapman lined up and flexible in a bullpen full of stars is the best-case scenario. On an off night, that would make him far less likely to be the last line of defense.
Handing him back his old closer’s gig when so much has changed, though — and after an offseason where Aaron Boone claimed the two parties had decided to be more lenient with his official role — would be an unfortunate midseason pivot.
According to Boone on Wednesday afternoon, Holmes will remain the most likely option for the opponent’s best trio, whether that battle comes in the seventh, eighth, or ninth. Hell, it might even lead to some closer opportunities; we’ll believe that when we see it, though.
The team stands by Chapman; that much has never been in doubt, signified by the championship belt.
But there’s “faith” and there’s “folly,” and New York can’t afford to mess with the latter by repeating their mistakes of the past.