Category: Baseball

Ode to a Pitcher: With the velocity still strong, Aroldis Chapman finds his slider

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Power.

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.

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Ode to a Pitcher: Tyler Skaggs, 1991-2019

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Rest in peace.

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.

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Ode to a Pitcher: Walker Buehler strikes out sixteen Rockies

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Walker Buehler makes fools of anyone who dares miss his starts.

It’s a real treat to face the Los Angeles Dodgers lately, ain’t it? A real picnic. First, you have to hope your pitching isn’t lit up by Cody Bellinger, Joc Pederson, Justin Turner and the rest of the boys in blue. In the somewhat unlikely event you don’t give up six homers, your offense has to face what’s becoming a rather frightening collection of starters.

First, you have the current favorite for the National League Cy Young, Hyun-Jin Ryu. (We profiled him a few weeks ago. Spoiler: He’s awesome.) Ryu will carve you up with every trick and technique in the book; he changes speeds, moves around the zone, messes with timing and generally gives batters fits. But hey, maybe you avoid Ryu. Great!

Clayton Kershaw is a future Hall of Famer and is coming off one of the greatest peaks a hurler has ever had. Uh oh! But, by the grace of the scheduling gods maybe you avoid him too. Phew!

Enter Walker Buehler. Your luck has probably just run out. Buehler, on the later side of 24, flashed elite potential in his nearly 130 innings last year, punching out more than a man per nine and pitching to a 3.04 FIP. Pretty darn good. The stuff is special; his fastball sits in the upper 90s and has elite spin. He throws it a lot and hitters are managing a meager .217 batting average against it. That heater elevates two pretty damn good breaking balls to elite status, especially the curve; hitters are missing 45 percent of the time against it.

Buehler took to the Dodger Stadium mound on Friday, June 21 and turned in an epic performance against the Colorado Rockies. Let’s study that ninth inning, where Buehler managed an epic climax to his evening.

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