Yo! On today’s show, I get into the awkward psychology of Brandi Rhodes’ work at Fight for the Fallen, the somewhat flat babyface run of Hangman Page, Chris Jericho’s good but familiar heel work, the astonishing Dustin Rhodes and more. Then, I gush over my favorite wrestler, Kazuchika Okada, and look forward to his battle with Will Ospreay. Finally, I ponder the possibilities with Jay White and grin at the zaniness of Jon Moxley.
You can find the show on iTunes and the below links.
Aroldis Chapman throws the baseball very hard. At his hardest, maybe no ever has thrown one harder. Now, as mileage and innings take their toll, he doesn’t throw quite as hard, but make no mistake, he’s still a flamethrower.
It’s become a bit of a topic de jour for the YES Network to mention Chapman’s declining velocity. It’s true. He doesn’t throw as hard as a 31-year-old as he did as a youngster, especially in Cincinnati. I don’t mean to pick on the broadcast team — hey, you gotta fill time — but Chapman’s velocity is hardly a cause for major concern. Among qualified relievers, his average fastball velocity is fourth-best.
Ah, heavy is the head that wears the crown.
The thing is, Chapman does seem aware that he’s lost just a bit of velocity, and that’s where this story picks up steam. Because he perhaps doesn’t feel as safe just blitzing every opposing batter with heat, he’s turned to his slider more and more the last two seasons. It was always at least a tantalizing pitch, but as we’ll see in the breakdown, when he is commanding the zone with the slider, he remains as lethal as ever.
Consider Fangraphs’ pVal metric. It tells us that for the last two seasons, Chapman’s most valuable pitch has been the breaking ball, not the well-known heater. The fastball remains quite a handful — and when Chapman is on his sequencing game, probably lifts the slider. The combination of the two, mixed around the zone with confidence and command, have kept Chapman among the game’s elite relievers even as age tries to draw its fee.
Chapman closed out the 2019 All-Star Game with epic flair. Let’s take a look.
Chapman’s slider can be downright filthy
When you’re nicknamed the Cuban Missile and you’ve been known to touch 105 MPH, people just expect to see the fastball. It’s electric in the stadium with Chapman on the mound; partly because of his stuff, partly because he gets tons of strikeouts and, well, because he’s a little wild.
Chapman still throws his heater a lot — over 60 percent of the time — but he’s begun to use the slider to change eye level and add some timing wrinkles to his approach. No matter if you’re throwing pure gas like Chapman or junk balling like Jason Vargas, the name of the game never changes: pitching is disrupting timing. That’s it.
Chapman’s delivery is breathtaking, a powerful unfurling of bat-breaking heat. The way he is able to bend his shoulders back right after separating his hands never ceases to amaze me. Chapman’s velocity doesn’t just happen; he wrenches it out of his body with every pitch. It truly is a sight to see Chapman arch back and unfurl those long arms in person.
Up first for the NL is J.T. Realmuto. Chapman starts the Phillies catcher off with a fastball belt high and away for called strike one. 97 MPH.
Chapman moves down in the zone but stays on the outside corner with another fastball, this one also a called strike.
Being down 0-2 to Aroldis Chapman a few years ago meant you could pretty much expect a hard fastball up. Maybe it would be in the zone; maybe not. Good luck figuring it out in enough time.
The 2019 version of Chapman still has enough power to beat you with the heat, but now he can twist you around with the slider, too. Realmuto surely knows this, and while he probably wanted to resist the shoulder-high fastball, it’s damn near impossible.
Classic Chapman. 100 MPH. One down.
Don’t be too hard on Dodgers infielder Max Muncy for this flinch. Do you know how scary it must be to think for even a second that an Aroldis Chapman fastball might be bulldozing its way to your head?
Yikes. Oh, and Chapman has a reputation for wildness. Great! Alas, no worries here: Chapman tilts a slider into the zone for ball one. All humor aside, this is exactly how tunneling works. Muncy has every reason to believe this is a high-and-tight fastball … until it isn’t.
Chapman wisely continues to use the whole strike zone by dropping a slider down and away. You can see the ball plummet from the top-left corner of the zone right into catcher James McCann‘s glove. Unbelievable.
Muncy basically had two options. One, hope it misses for a ball or two, foul it away. It’s not going to be easy at all to drive this.
Note too that Chapman’s showing confidence in his own stuff by going slider here. If he misses, Muncy has the count advantage at 2-0. Then again, when you’re Aroldis Chapman the count is really always in your favor, isn’t it?
Chapman fools Muncy again, throwing a third consecutive slider, this one in the zone for a called strike. The location isn’t great, but because of the tunneling, Muncy flinches again. This is easily the best pitch to hit in the at-bat, but because Muncy has to respect the fastball he isn’t ready to pounce.
Chapman has two strikes on Muncy and can expand the zone to his heart’s content. Maybe another fastball above the belt, like with Realmuto?
Nah. All sliders. Chapman spins another, moving around in the zone again, this one right at the knees for a beautiful swinging strike three. This was a pitching clinic; Muncy absolutely had to be ready for the fastball, and because of that he was never prepared to handle the slider, which Chapman moved around the zone with confidence.
Brilliant. Two down.
Look at the tilt on this thing. (Also: Chapman finishes his delivery so well. It’s picturesque.)
The last hope for the National League is Brewers catcher Yasmani Grandal. Chapman greets him with a slider that Grandal bounces foul.
Still leaning on the breaking ball, Grandal swings and misses at a slider down and away to run the count 0-2. I hate to sound like a broken record, but when Chapman is locating his pitches around the zone and in sequence, he’s darn near impossible to beat. Tonight, he has his command and we see the results.
We’ve seen Chapman climb the ladder and work below the knees in 0-2 counts. What will he do with Grandal? The former, and Grandal just barely holds up his swing for ball one. Smart pitch and a great take.
Consider what the pitcher has done here. By going above the belt, you give Grandal the chance to swing and miss. That’s the optimal outcome. But if he doesn’t, you’ve still shown him a high fastball that he has to be worried about with the next pitch. This is why so many pitchers go hard inside and soft away.
Grandal has a lot of strike zone to cover as Chapman readies the fourth pitch of the exchange. However, he doesn’t have to do much more than keep the bat on his shoulder as Chapman air mails a fastball to bring the count to 2-2. Chapman’s first real miss of the evening.
Will Grandal get a pitch to drive? We haven’t seen anyone make anything resembling hard contact off the Yankees closer.
Aaaaaaaaand … we won’t. Chapman unleashes an incredible slider that Grandal can’t resist. Strike three. Inning over.
Chapman’s slider might help him age gracefully
Aroldis Chapman is signed for two more years with the Yankees. If his velocity continues to hold and the slider proves to be this lethal, the Bombers will have a tough question on their hands that winter. Aging closers are usually not good bets for long term deals, but if you’re going to push your chips in, might as well be for one of the true greats.
Chapman’s velocity will like always be an asset for him, but the emergence of his slider gives him new ways to attack hitters. Any pitcher can benefit from that.
Fangraphs Senior Writer Dan Szymborski joins me on the latest episode of The Adam Adkins Show. We discuss the 2019 MLBAll-Star Game, wonder how the Red Sox might try to improve, ponder how fun the trade deadline might be if the Nats blew it up, shake our heads at the Indians and celebrate the glory of Mike Trout.
You can find the show on iTunes and the below links.
Some of my fondest childhood memories involve nothing more than a glove, a ball and a wall. I would conjure up fun scenarios — two on, no out, bottom of the ninth! — find my favorite patch of grass and get to work. Sweat pouring down my face on those hot summer afternoons, I’d start attacking imaginary hitters with my vast repertoire. I did this frequently; as it turns out, I would wear out patches of dirt all over the place.
As a youngster, like 7 or 8, I convinced myself that if I put three fingers — index, middle and ring — on the ball I’d be throwing a curveball. And it was a good one. (Don’t fact check that.) It doesn’t have to make sense when you are a kid, it just has to keep up the dream.
As I grew up, I tried to simulate actual pitching motions and again found myself plucking baseballs off walls. I never had much interest in actually going out for the team — that wasn’t my crowd, plus I had a job and cash was nice — but I had plenty of fun spinning wiffle balls in the backyard. I tried to throw sinkers and sliders; the results were mixed.
What joyous memories. My love of baseball was cemented.
I say all this because, in many ways, Tyler Skaggs was living the dream of 18-year-old me. He wasn’t just throwing wiffleball curves in his backyard; he was twisting big league hitters into knots with the real thing. He was able to do things I can’t imagine. Skaggs had the talent to succeed and the drive to put it all together. He was doing it. He was pitching in the Major Leagues. How freaking cool. I hope he was living his dream; it isn’t an easy life, but it sure must be a memorable one.
As you probably know, Skaggs died last week in Texas. He leaves behind a wife; they were married last offseason. Not a single word I type here can do anything for Skaggs’ family, but what I can do is celebrate a young man — younger than me — who loved the game I also love.
Maybe in a different life we could have shared a coffee and talked about baseball. I would have liked that. (I also would have almost certainly annoyed him with incessant questions. Alas.)
Today, we are going to look at Skaggs’ final start, which came on Saturday, June 29 against the Oakland Athletics.
Skaggs could spin a gorgeous curveball
The majesty of this sport is incomparable. Football, basketball and hockey have nothing like a well-spun curveball and let me tell you, Tyler Skaggs could spin one, man. It was a beauty. We’re gonna see it in full glory here, and we’re going to celebrate it.
Up first for the A’s is Chad Pinder. Skaggs starts him with a fastball on the inner half for a called strike. Notice how Skaggs comes up and over with his delivery; beautiful curveballs that way come.
My goodness. What a beauty of a pitch. Skaggs drops a hammer on the outside corner and Pinder swings right over it for strike two. That’s how you draw it up, man; this breaking ball is a whopping 17 MPH slower than the fastball before it. Dominant. Sequencing, kids!
It’s 0-2. Skaggs has options. He’s already shown Pinder he can work both sides of the plate, and his curveball just ate the poor guy’s lunch. Oh, what to do, what to do.
Why not the hammer?
Skaggs returns to the curve and buries it inside, drawing another feeble swing. I’m not sure what Pinder could have done in this at-bat; Skaggs has it working, man. This was clinical.
Look at that tilt! Damn thing just falls right out of the sky. Are we sure Dr. Strange didn’t drop this out of a different dimension or something?
Ramon Laureano is up next. Skaggs goes back to this magical hammer — when it’s working, why go away? — and spins it in for strike one. Just as an aside, Skaggs reminds me of Washington Nationals lefty Patrick Corbin. Similar motion — ball hidden below the back, high-arching release — and a gorgeous breaking ball.
Skaggs moves to the outside corner with the changeup and earns a whiff. Both Pinder and Laureano have just been flat out fooled by the Angels lefty. They look like hitters who don’t have a clue what’s coming.
If Laureano had whiffed on a curveball in front of home plate, we might have had to just shut down Ode to a Pitcher. The rest of the piece would just be garbled nonsense as I went delirious with utter bliss.
Alas, the A’s outfielder takes it for ball one.
Well sequenced here. Skaggs has worked every which way but up to Laureano, so he wisely goes with the high heat in the 1-2 count. The fastball ends up at shoulder level, but this was a good pitch. Look beyond the count and consider the tactics. With firm control of the count, Skaggs bounced a curveball and fired a fastball above the wrists; in other words, the hitter has a whole lot of strike zone to think about. That’s always good.
Skaggs decides to go off-speed but leaves the changeup over the plate for Laureano to bounce foul. This is a healthier swing than before; I’m sure Skaggs realizes this. Probably time to go for the punchout, and that means one thing.
The hammer of the gods
Will drive our ships to new lands
To fight the horde
Sing and cry
Valhalla, I am coming
On we sweep with threshing oar
Our only goal will be the western shore
We come from the land of the ice and snow
From the midnight sun where the hot springs flow
(Sorry — just felt like I had to get the Led out after that curveball. Good heavens.)
Because Skaggs was evidently a merciful hurler, he walks the next batter — Stephen Piscotty — on four pitches. We’re skipping right past that to watch him attack Jurickson Profar.
The Angels lefty comes inside with a very well-located fastball for strike one. Working inside like this against righties is absolutely critical for any lefthander. Yankee fans will no doubt remember Andy Pettitte and CC Sabathia bashing hitters with cutters on their hands. Well, they did so for good reason. If the hitter has to watch the inside of the plate and be conscious of not getting jammed, suddenly the pitcher has a bounty of options. Against talents like Skaggs, that’s no bueno. Remember, disrupting timing is the name of the game.
Skaggs returns to the changeup and gets another whiff in the zone. The A’s hitters are having serious trouble picking up what he’s throwing, a testament to his delivery and the quality of his stuff. Good stuff and consistent deception make for a quality big league starter.
With Profar 0-2, what are we hoping for? Well, I can’t speak for you, I guess, but I’d like a hammer, please.
Mr. Skaggs delivers, channeling the power of Thor and punching out Profar on a curveball well below the zone. Profar tries his damnedest to hold back but can’t. Punchout.