Aroldis Chapman is best known for throwing ridiculously hard. Last season, he averaged 99 mph with his fastball according to BrooksBaseball.net, and he frequently reaches over 100 mph. While 2013 was a lesson in regression for Chapman and his fantasy owners, he still struck out over 40 percent of batters faced, saved 38 games, and posted a 2.54 ERA. Even if that isn’t as good as his superlative 2012, nobody is going to complain about $13 of value from a reliever.
Let’s start with the good. Chapman is the king of generating whiffs with his fastball; batters swing and miss 17 percent of the time against the heater. As far as I can find, that is the best rate of any pitcher. Unsurprisingly, he uses his fastball frequently, he almost always throws the pitch when he’s behind in the count. Really, he pretty much sticks with the pitch in any count, although he’ll turn to his wipe out slider when ahead or even in the count. That slider comes with a 23 percent whiff rate, which again is a seriously epic. Just in terms of whiffs, Chapman’s slider compares favorably to Brad Lidge‘s invisible slide-piece.
Chapman’s velocity got stronger as the year wore on, ranging from an average of 97.66 mph in April to 100.11 mph in September. In September, batters whiffed at over 27 percent of his fastballs. That’s almost certainly a small sample size fluke. The pitch wasn’t suddenly moving more and his velocity was fairly stable from July through September, despite the change in whiff rate only showing up in the latter month. However, this is all a very good sign that Chapman didn’t wear down in 2013. That was the story in 2012, when his fastball declined nearly two mph in September (it later recovered in the postseason).
In an article comparing Chapman to Bruce Rondon, FanGraphs’ Jeff Sullivan discovered that Chapman was much more effective with his 100 mph fastballs. Against Chapman’s most elite heat, batters made contact only 54 percent of the time and managed to put only 17 percent of those pitches in play. The scatter plot of Chapman’s fastball locations shows that he throws higher in the zone than Rondon, although generally speaking, it appears that Chapman doesn’t have much control over those super-heaters.
Speaking of control, that’s where Chapman experienced regression last season. His walk rate increased about three percent (8.3 BB% to 11.2 BB%). From a fantasy perspective, that gave opposing teams more opportunities to score runs and led to his WHIP increasing from 0.81 to 1.04. Throughout his career, Chapman has been quite erratic with his walk rates, they’ve ranged from 8.3 percent to 19.8 percent. A rate similar to last season should be expected.
The increase in Chapman’s ERA can also be attributed to a high HR/FB ratio of 14.6 percent. He’s never shown himself to be home run prone in the past – in fact he’s shown just the opposite. So even though the borderline control issue may be present next season, his home run rate will probably regress to league average or better. For what it’s worth, his xFIP was 2.07 in 2013.
Chapman is going to cost a lot. Not as much as Craig Kimbrel, but he may be the second most expensive reliever in fantasy drafts. As Brett Talley discussed in regards to Kimbrel yesterday, the decision to pay for elite closer has a lot to do with how active you are on the waiver wire. If you’re the kind of owner who bought Greg Holland and Glen Perkins for peanuts in the draft and then snatched Koji Uehara and Mark Melancon off waivers before your rivals, then it might not make sense to shell out $15-18 for Chapman. But if you tend to draft your team and then only replace injured or really bad players, buying saves and elite ratios makes a lot of sense.
That’s really only considering the saves category. Every owner should be willing to use Chapman as part of their strategy, especially if they missed out on the top tier or two of starting pitchers. That’s because an elite reliever’s skill set can be leveraged. Consider this, Chapman plus Doug Fister cost the same amount as one Felix Hernandez. Here’s how they stack up.
|Chapman and Fister||272.1||18||38||271||3.11||1.24|
The hypothetical owner of Fister and Chapman had more wins, saves, and strikeouts for the same amount of money. Their combined strikeout rate was only slightly worse than Hernandez and ERA was roughly the same. WHIP is the only category where the combination truly trailed Hernandez. Basically, the Fister/Chapman owner got an additional 70 innings of a fantasy ace plus 38 saves to boot. That’s a good use of resources even if it does take up an additional roster spot.
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