The New York Yankees have agreed to trade flame-throwing closer Aroldis Chapman to the Chicago Cubs in exchange for four players. The 6-foot-4 southpaw was viewed as one of the most enticing trade chips on the MLB market. Now he’ll join a stacked Cubs roster looking to break the Curse of the Billy Goat by winning their first World Series since 1908.
Chapman, who was suspended for the first 30 games of 2016 for violating MLB’s domestic violence policy, remains one of the best relief pitchers in the game. He leads all relievers in strikeouts since the start of 2012, and he ranks third in saves over the same span (behind only Craig Kimbrel and Fernando Rodney).
Known for his otherworldly pitching velocity, even Chapman has ramped it up of late.
In an appearance against the Baltimore Orioles on July 18, Chapman’s fastball was clocked at 105 MPH twice in the same inning. His fastball velocity over the past week-plus has been consistently quicker than the season overall. As you can see in the visualization, even Chapman’s slider velocity has seen an uptick — with two such pitches notching 93 MPH.
What’s more, the velocity increase hasn’t translated into a lack of control. After struggling with command of his pitches for much of his career, Chapman has nearly cut his walk rate in half since last season, down to 2.3 BB/9 from 4.5 BB/9 in 2015. Meanwhile, his strikeout rate of 12.6 K/9 oddly sits at a career low, though that mark is still better than the average closer (and anyone the Cubs have on their roster).
Chicago doesn’t have many weaknesses as a group, but relief pitching was the team’s Achilles’ heel, as well as an area the front office needed to address. The Cubs’ bullpen ranked 25th in the league by wins above replacement at the time of the trade, according to FanGraphs.
By adding Chapman, whose 1.4 WAR in 31 games this season is superior to the Cubs’ collective bullpen WAR of 0.8, the Cubs get a huge upgrade who can take pressure off the starting rotation. (Incumbent closer Hector Rondon will likely move to a setup role.)
It should also be noted that Chapman hasn’t surrendered a run since June 27 against the Texas Rangers. He’s allowed just three hits in 10.1 innings in July.
The Cubs certainly gave up a haul of assets to acquire Chapman, but with the Cuban closer throwing the hardest he ever has in his career, he’s sure to be an invaluable asset as Chicago eyes a deep playoff run.