Aroldis Chapman doesn’t hit 103 on the radar guns any more. He does often touch 100 or 101, so it’s still a pretty uncomfortable pitch to face when standing in the batter’s box. It remains his best pitch and one of the best in the game, but it wasn’t what he threw on Monday night when the Rays' Travis d’Arnaud hit a go-ahead, three-run homer as Tampa Bay won, 5-4.
On that homer, Champan threw his second best pitch: the slider. And the ball just got over the rightfield wall, giving d’Arnaud three homers on the night and Chapman a fourth blown save this season.
It’s not exactly clear why Chapman has thrown his slider more in 2019 than in any other season. According to FanGraphs.com, the lefthander is deploying the slider 33 percent of the time. Last season he used it 25 percent of the time, which was a career high. In most of his seasons before those he threw it 12 to 20 percent of the time.
After Chapman got beaten on a slider, manager Aaron Boone said he had no issues with the pitch selection. Chapman already had thrown it effectively a few times in the appearance.
“All night the slider had been working for me,” Chapman said through an interpretor. “I was trying to surprise him there with the slider down and away. It was a little higher than I wanted and he took advantage of it.”
It’s possible that Chapman is struggling with the location on his fastball. Or that he doesn’t trust it as much now that it isn’t consistently over 100 mph (FanGraphs.com has it averaging 98.3 mph).
Boone was asked about Chapman's increased use of the slider before Tuesday's game against the Rays and said,” "I think he still throws two-thirds fastballs. I think people will underestimate what a good pitch the slider has become for him,” Boone continued. “As great of a year as he’s having, on many nights, it’s because of the slider. It’s a pitch that’s not just a nice pitch, it’s a weapon. It’s not only a pitch he’s really good at throwing for a strike, it’s also a putaway pitch for him. He pitches with both of them effectively.
“Some night’s it’s more lean on the fastball. Other nights it’s slider, other nights it’s a combination. Last night it was a little bit of a combination. We’re a strike away from [winning]….he left it up and over to a guy having a great night. Sometimes you’ve got to tip your cap. That slider is a real factor for him.
“People wondering about the use of that? I don’t see it.”
Chapman debuted in the majors in 2010 and the composition of big league bullpens has evolved since then. A pitcher with an elite fastball — Chapman has thrown the fastest recorded pitch at 105 mph — was always coveted. However the trend in the sport is to fashion a relief corps almost entirely of pitchers who throw at high velocities.
Boone suggested that Chapman’s growing use of the slider might be more about giving hitters more to think about than just the fastball.
“I think when you are a one-pitch guy, especially nowadays, even though with his delivery and how elite his fastball is, still guys are much more equipped to handle high-end velocity right now,” Boone said. “It’s hard to be a one-trick pony. Because that pitch is such a quality pitch — the slider — it’s become a real factor. I think it’s why he’s having such a special season.”