Closing Speed

Aroldis Chapman can throw fast. REALLY fast.



The last time I wrote about Cincinnati’s fire-throwing lefty Aroldis Chapman, I noted that he had just walked four batters in a game for only the second time in his career. Fortunately, that version of Chapman hasn’t reappeared since, so we can get back to the Queen City’s favorite pastime: marveling over the superhuman brilliance of the Reds closer.

At age 26, Chapman is putting together a season for the ages. I’m not only talking about his statistics, though Chapman’s raw numbers are great: 2.44 ERA, 29 saves, 0.85 FIP, 148 adjusted ERA+, his third All-Star Game selection. If we dig deeper, however, some amazing things come to light.

Let’s talk velocity. If you’ve watched many Reds games this season, you probably have a lingering headache. Also, you’ve likely noticed that Chapman’s fastball seems to have more pop than in previous seasons. That’s really saying something, since Aroldis’ insane fastball has been the talk of the league since his debut in 2010. Remember last year, when Chapman blew a 106-mph fastball past Pittsburgh’s Andrew McCutchen, the fastest pitch ever recorded? That was fun.

No, I’m not trying to tell you that Chapman has thrown a 107-mph fastball this season (his best in 2014, as far as I can tell, has been 103.8, a four-seamer on which he struck out Arizona’s Paul Goldschmidt back in July). But this season’s fastballs have just seemed, to the naked eye, to be more consistently in the triple-digit range.

Turns out my lyin’ eyes haven’t failed me this time. The other day, I saw this tweet from Darren Willman, the creator of the brilliant Baseball Savant site:

Sure, the PITCHf/x era doesn’t date back to Walter Johnson’s time, but that’s impressive, nonetheless. How impressive? Well, Darren also notes that, as of August 30, fully 22% of Chapman’s pitches have been 101 mph or higher. Only two other pitchers in baseball have thrown even one pitch that registered 101 mph. Think about that for a moment; it’s almost impossible to fathom.

Also consider that Chapman’s slowest fastball was 95 mph. Bronson Arroyo weeps at the thought.

Take a look at this chart. Chapman’s average fastball in 2014 has been 100.29 mph. The next best in the PITCHf/x era is Chapman’s 99.64 mph average back in 2010. Number three on the list is Bruce Rondon, who averaged 99.29 last year (in 28.2 innings pitched).

It gets better, if you can believe it. Aroldis has thrown 331 pitches that were 100 mph or higher this season. Every other pitcher in baseball—combined—has thrown 117 such pitches. It’s incomprehensible, especially when you consider that Chapman has only thrown 781 total pitches this season. Second to Chapman’s 331 triple digit fastballs: Kelvin Herrera, with 46. Aroldis is, quite simply, in a league of his own.

So yes, Aroldis is throwing the ball at a historically-significant pace. The results of that work have been impressive, as well. Chapman has struck out 52.1% of the hitters he has faced in 2014. The next best strikeout rate in baseball (for pitchers who have thrown at least 40 innings) is 41.2%, by former Cincinnati farmhand Brad Boxberger. If Aroldis can finish at that rate, it would be the highest strikeout rate in baseball history.

Over at Redleg Nation, Steve Mancuso had some comparisons, to give us perspective on just how good Chapman has been, in terms of striking out opposing hitters. Mariano Rivera’s highest single season strikeout rate was 30.6 percent. In 1990, the Nasty Boys (Rob Dibble, Randy Myers, Norm Charlton) were each in the top five in baseball in strikeout percentage. Their average K% was 30 percent. Clayton Kershaw is striking out 32.1% of the batters he is facing this year.

During Joey Votto’s 2010 MVP season, I had an annoying habit of telling Reds fans to enjoy Votto while they could, since they were watching a historically-great performance. If you haven’t concluded that I consider Aroldis Chapman to be a unique figure in Reds history, you aren’t paying attention. Enjoy watching this guy pitch, Reds fans. He’s amazing.

Chapmania, indeed.

Chad Dotson is a contributing writer to our Reds Blog. He is also the founder of Redleg Nation and a contributor to ESPN’s SweetSpot blog.

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