The first thing that comes to mind when you talk about Aroldis Chapman is 105 mph. That is what he is known for, the fastest pitcher in history. He actually threw one 106 mph recently, although I don’t know how widely accepted that one is.
The Cincinnati Reds signed him prior to the start of the 2010 season for $30 million over five years. Ever since that day, fastballs and radar guns are all we hear or read about.
As a Featured Columnist for the Reds I have written my share of pieces about him, containing mostly good, positive attributes.
As exciting as it is to see a radar gun blink triple digits consistently, Chapman is more than that. He is a man who has just turned 23.
He is a man who left his homeland in search of a free country and a better life. He still cannot speak understandable English, which puts him at a horrible disadvantage.
Much like a wind-up toy he is placed in a situation which is “white hot” and expected to strike men out with fastballs which can be heard but not seen. Can you picture that scenario?
After sailing through his first 12 appearances this season he has come upon difficult times. Through those 12 games he had pitched a total of 11.2 innings without an earned run being allowed. Only four hits coupled with 12 strikeouts made the resume look strong.
A closer look reveals that eight men reached base via a free pass. That is not an extraordinary amount of walks for a relief pitcher. He had thrown 177 pitches and 63 percent of those were strikes, compared to 61 percent by closer Coco Cordero. Not to worry, right?
In his last four games, spanning just 1.1 innings, he has walked 12 batters. He faced 19 batters, struck out three and hit a batter. He allowed 10 earned runs to score and produced a 67.50 ERA in those few games.
Skipper Dusty Baker was clearly concerned about the young man. He brought him in Sunday against the St. Louis Cardinals in a game that should have been considered out of reach. It should be a nice team to build the kid’s confidence back.
The Reds were ahead 9-2 and on the brink of a series sweep. Enter Chapman at the beginning of the ninth inning. He walked the bases full and walked in a run sandwiched between a fly out at the base of the wall. The Reds hung on to win 9-7 in a nail-biting finish.
In those last four games he has thrown 92 pitches, only 36 percent strikes, and has since been placed on the DL for 15 days.
Pitching coach Bryan Price had said earlier that mechanics were the culprit of the lanky left-hander's problems. I assume testing was done and inflammation is now the presumed cause.
Is it really? Could it all be between the young man’s ears?
By that I mean he perhaps feels he isn’t living up to expectations, therefore putting undue stress on himself to perform at a higher level.
It would appear to be stressful enough to be placed in the midst of 42,000 people, at 23, and expected to pitch magnificently. Everyone expects him to throw 102 mph on each pitch. Too much pressure!
I am not a doctor and I do not play one while writing these pieces. If the coach, however, declares that the mechanics are not according to Hoyle, then places him on the DL, something isn’t right.
Are we all as fans expecting too much of a young flame-thrower? Are unwarranted comparisons being made about him?
Some are asking if he is not in the same kettle of fish as Washington Nationals outfielder Rick Ankiel. The latter’s problems may have been the inability to throw strikes, but was clearly not as defined as Chapman’s.
Ankiel was converted to an outfielder and had a couple of decent seasons with the Cardinals. The glaring difference is that Ankiel was a hitter and we have no book on which to judge Chapman in that regard.
Others have compared him to Dontrelle Willis. That is another unfair comparison as D-Train had pitched several years in the big leagues before experiencing panic disorders.
In the humble opinion of this writer, the glaring problem is the radar gun. Chapman has even been seen looking at it after a pitch. Again I say, too much expectation and too much stress to perform at such a high level.
Will the stint on the shelf be the answer? Would a two- or three-week hiatus to Triple-A affiliate Louisville be more help?
Something had to be done in order to fill his roster spot with someone who could come in and pitch. Jordan Smith was called back up to fill that void.
Hopefully, a few days' rest will help the young man regain his form. In the meantime it would probably be best if we curtail the comparisons and allow the man enough time to heal.