Royals Take a Chance on Former All-Star Reliever Aroldis Chapman

The Kansas City Royals have a new reliever in town, as the team has reportedly come to terms on a one-year deal with former AL Reliever of the Year Aroldis Chapman. The deal puts an official end to Chapman’s tenure with the Yankees, one that ended on a sour and very ugly note.

Related: 2022-23 MLB Offseason Recap: Pittsburgh Pirates

A Look at Chapman

Former Yankee reliever Aroldis Chapman was arguably the game’s most dominant reliever of the 2010s. A seven-time All-Star, Chapman has recorded 315 career saves, and eight 30+ save campaigns. The hallmark of Chapman’s arsenal has been a plus slider, alongside a devastating fastball that consistently hit triple digits.

Chapman has always dealt with control and command problems throughout his career — the 34-year-old possesses a career BB/9 rate of 4.5. However, things have become much more problematic over the last two seasons.

Chapman dominated throughout the first two months of 2021, as the lefty gave up just one earned run and struck out 38 over 20 innings. Once June came around, Chapman’s numbers collapsed. The 34-year-old lefty’s ERA jumped from .45 at the end of May, to 3.77 by the end of June. Chapman finished 2021 with a 3.36 ERA, 30 saves, and 97 strikeouts over 56.1 innings. The lefty’s BB/9 rate, however, ballooned to 6.1, a 3.0 jump from his 2020 figure.

Last season, Chapman’s BB/9 rate continued to climb, up to 6.9. The left-hander’s Whiff% rate dipped six percentage points down to 33.8%, and his batted ball metrics were his worst since the implementation of Statcast. The left-hander’s struggled, coupled with the rise of Clay Holmes, Jonathan Loáisiga and Wandy Peralta, pushed Chapman out of the closer’s role and late-innings picture with the Yankees.

Besides Chapman’s command problems, the left-hander’s velocity continued to dip. While Chapman still possesses above-average velocity, it isn’t what is was. Chapman’s average four-seam velocity dipped .8 MPH, somewhat of a trend. It’s not a shock to see that dip given his continued usage and age, but it’s worth repeating that the lefty did have an average velocity of 100.0 just five years ago. Entering 2023, it’s clear that Chapman’s stuff is not what it once was in the past.

Aside from the command and velocity concerns, Chapman shot himself in the foot last fall when the left-hander skipped out on pre-MLB Playoffs workouts to go to Miami. After that news was released, the Yankees announced that Chapman would be left off the ALDS roster.

What it Means

It’s been a relatively quiet offseason for the Royals, a team in a rebuild but does have a number of interesting young players up at the MLB level. Adding another arm makes sense for a Royals team that did receive inconsistent performances from some of its relievers last season. However, don’t expect Chapman to be thrust into the eight and ninth innings.

Kansas City already has a reliable closer in Scott Barlow. The 30-year-old righty accumulated 24 saves for the Royals last season, alongside a solid 2.18 ERA and 9.3 K/9. Aside from Barlow, fellow-right hander Dylan Coleman settled in nicely in the Royals bullpen, as he struck out 71 over 68 innings for Kansas City.

Chapman will join left-hander Amir Garrett in a Royals bullpen that doesn’t necessarily need another late-inning option, but rather fill out the rest of the group. As documented, the seven-time All-Star, much like Garrett, has struggled with command throughout most of the past two seasons. Sure, Chapman showed that he can make hitters whiff, but a lack of control and command makes it much easier for the Royals to settle him into a middle relief role.

Don’t expect Chapman — a wild card on and off the mound — to get much in the way of late-inning work. But if the lefty can get his act together in Kansas City, it’s plausible that Chapman could garner interest in the summer for a rebuilding Royals team.

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