Aroldis Chapman wasn’t the same Thursday night during an epic meltdown that resulted in the Yankees’ stunning 7-5 loss to the Twins at Target Field.
His velocity was down, as was his spin rate (wink, wink).
So was something missing? You know, that sticky-stuff advantage that’s dominated the baseball landscape this week?
It’s what everybody wonders now, especially after Chapman completely unraveled in the span of only nine pitches: single, Josh Donaldson homer, single, Nelson Cruz homer, with the final three hits coming in a three-pitch span. Boom. Boom. Game over.
"I understand the question," Chapman said through his interpreter. "But I’ve never used any stuff throughout my career — early in my career or even right now. My routine was the same. Like I said, I understand the question, but it really doesn’t pertain to me."
Fair enough. And while it’s probably safe to assume that no pitcher is going to admit right after a game to dumping his Spider Tack or Pelican Grip with the impending crackdown on those products, we have to ask. That’s just the state of the game at the moment, and Chapman was so efficiently terrible, on a career-worst scale, that it was the kind of performance that raised eyebrows.
We’ll start with velocity. Chapman’s four-seam fastball maxed out at 97.8 mph, according to Statcast, and his 96.5 average was considerable below his 98.8 mark for the season. As for the spin rate, the smoking gun for the sticky-stuff detectives, his four-seamer dropped by 129 RPMs and the slider plunged 194 RPMs.
While that’s hardly iron-clad evidence of any wrongdoing, it fits the profile. And if Aaron Judge says 95% of pitchers are using illegal substances, based on the crazy movement and odd behavior he’s seen, then everyone can’t be in that innocent 5%, right?
The timing for Chapman wasn’t so great either. The night after Gerrit Cole quieted his accusers with a solid, if not spectacular, six innings — striking out nine without a walk while keeping his spin rates stable — Chapman basically imploded on a never-seen-before scale.
He became the first Yankee ever to blow a save by giving up four runs and two homers without recording an out (hat tip to stat guru Katie Sharp) Chapman also teed up multiple home runs without getting an out for the first time in his career, and he’s never had four hard-hit balls of that magnitude since the Statcast era began in 2015.
Closers have off nights. But this was off-the-charts bad when you consider Chapman entered Thursday night with a 0.39 ERA, 43 strikeouts and seven hits allowed in 23 innings, and had converted 12 of his 13 save opportunities.
This was more than a glitch. It was a total malfunction, enough so that Boone also was asked if he believed the additional sticky-stuff scrutiny may have caused Chapman to alter any of his typical practices, such as any illicit use of grippy products.
"I don’t think so," Boone said. "I just thing it wasn’t coming out as hot as normally he does. We see that every now and again . . . A lot of times usually he’ll find the velocity within the course of the outing or he’s able to still locate and command and make pitches while he’s kind of ramping that velo up."
Chapman wasn’t around long enough for that to happen. The only sliders he threw were the first two pitches to Jorge Polanco, who led off the ninth, and both were balls. From there, Chapman was practically defenseless as the Twins hunted his lower-octane fastball and got very hittable pitches that strayed way too far into the strike zone.
Polanco hit Chapman’s fifth pitch for a single, but the other ABs were over in a blink. Donaldson destroyed a 96-mph fastball, his second pitch to him, and the next two Twins jumped on the opening heaters, with Willians Astudillo ripping a single and Cruz mashing a 98-mph fastball for the walk-off homer.
Donaldson’s blast traveled 438 feet and Cruz airmailed his 457 feet, a pretty good indication they got every bit of those pitches. They also were the longest ever teed up by Chapman in the Statcast era.
So was this just one of those nights for Chapman? He’s blown plenty of saves before, and this obviously won’t be the last time, either. But this was a very loud implosion, when everyone’s radar is up, and now Chapman will face that extra scrutiny when he next takes the mound, just as Cole pitched with a brighter spotlight on him Wednesday night at Target Field.
"Because he’s been so much cleaner with his delivery, usually he’s crisp with his stuff more consistently now," Boone said. "But tonight I think he was searching for it a little bit."
Everyone will be looking for a reason if it happens again next time.