Joe Girardi’s Aroldis Chapman defense exposes bullpen woes

The counterpoint to cries demanding that Aroldis Chapman be, well, relieved, even if temporarily, from his role as the Yankees’ closer is to cite the difficulties the other power arms in the bullpen have experienced this season.

And that, not even obliquely, is what Joe Girardi did a couple of hours before Monday’s Subway Series opener against the Mets when the manager was questioned again about his commitment to the electric lefty in the aftermath of Chapman’s blown ninth-inning save the previous night in what became a gut-punch, 10-inning, 3-2 defeat.

Girardi was asked whether he would consider shaking up the natural order and sliding Chapman — 4¹/₂ months into a five-year contract worth $86 million — into a different role while perhaps Dellin Betances or David Robertson could take over in the ninth inning?

“No, because now you’re asking me to try to go with the hot hand, and you know there are times during the season that everyone’s had a tough time in our bullpen,” Girardi said. “I have a lot of belief in him. He’s our closer.

“If a move needs to be made, you make the move. But I would ask everyone in here, if you look at all the guys in the bullpen, in the last month, six weeks, have you seen only one guy struggle? Right?

“They’ve all had their struggles at some point in the last six weeks, whether it was giving up a game-tying home run, a home run to put them ahead, or walked a couple of guys,” the manager said. “We have high quality arms down there. They’re not going to be perfect. As much as we want to say they’re never going to give up a run the rest of the year, that’s not reality.”

Truer words were never spoken, even if it was somewhat a surprise that the words came out of Girardi’s mouth rather than a churlish newspaper columnist’s. Believe it or not, the bullpen has conspired to blow 20 saves, second most in the AL to Seattle’s 22. The 54.55 percent conversion rate is also 14th, better only than Texas’ 51.43.

And Betances as the savior … or saver? A month ago, there was a clamor to give Big 68 the bum’s rush out of his set-up role into lower leverage, fifth- and sixth-inning duties.

Dellin BetancesGetty Images

What was it exactly that team president Randy Levine said in February following the Yankees’ salary arbitration victory against Betances after the right-hander had presented himself as a closer after assuming that role for the final two months of last season?

This is what he exactly said: “It’s like me saying I’m not the president of the Yankees, I’m an astronaut. I’m not an astronaut and Dellin Betances is not a closer.”

All righty then.

Still, though, even if Girardi has reason — and that contractual commitment — on his side in sticking with the lefty as his closer, there is no doubt that Chapman has been a diminished force this time around in The Bronx.

Common wisdom cites Chapman’s workload through late October, in which Chicago manager Joe Maddon went to the whip on his stallion as their team ended the 108-year championship drought. Girardi is not buying it.

“I don’t necessarily believe that,” he said. “Every year is not necessarily going to be as good as the year before or the one’s that’s going to follow next year as well.”

Chapman can still bring it. Indeed, according to MLB Statcast, he has thrown the 16 fastest pitches of the season, ranging between 102.3 and 103.5 mph. And get this: Lefty Rafael Devers’ opposite field blow on Sunday off a 102.8 mph four-seamer was the first hit Chapman had yielded on such a high-octane offering.

But he is not quite bringing it with the same frequency he did last season, when he threw 52 recorded pitches of at least 103.6 mph. And he does not quite project the same intimidating aura and mystique from the mound. Some of that might be owed to the preponderance of power arms who routinely light up radar guns with triple-digit readings.

“I think there’s something to that,” Girardi said. “There’s some truth to that, I think.”

There is more than some truth to the Yankees’ dependence upon Chapman to be a lock-down force. More than some truth to the fact the Yankees will not be able to succeed with Chapman in a diminished and vulnerable state.

The rest of this season? Unlikely, but maybe. But the next four seasons? That would be like saying I am not a newspaper writer but an astronaut.

Source link