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Aroldis Chapman: Everything You Need to Know

November 19, 2009 BY ALEX EISENBERG 15 Comments

With the start of free agency upon us, I thought it would be a good idea to profile the most talked about player on the market…a player that will be amongst the most sought after, but a player in which relatively little is known about. That player is Aroldis Chapman, the 21 year old left handed Cuban who defected earlier this year.

Bidding for Chapman’s services is expected to get as high as $60 million and will likely be no less than $40 million. Teams that are interested in Chapman include the Seattle Mariners, Baltimore Orioles, Chicago White Sox, Chicago Cubs, Detroit Tigers, New York Mets, Atlanta Braves, San Francisco Giants, St. Louis Cardinals, Toronto Blue Jays, Oakland Athletics, and of course the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees. I’m sure there are others, but those are the teams I’ve heard about the most.

*Edited on 1-10-09 – Chapman signed with the Cincinnati Reds for a reported $30 million over five years

As with most Cuban defects, the hype tends to be extremely strong and often overstated. Is that also the case with Chapman? Let’s explore…

Body Type – Lanky, projectable, and athletic. He possesses very long legs and arms.

Stuff

Fastball – Chapman’s fastball is typically clocked in the 93 – 96 range and will occasionally touch 97 – 99. Every once in a while, Chapman will hit 100 on the radar gun. However, on some days, Chapman’s fastball will actually be clocked between 90 – 93.

The pitch has tremendous life and carry through the zone with some natural tail. Chapman’s control will vary from start-to-start. On average, his control of the pitch is decent and will often be at least around the strike zone. But commanding the pitch is a different story. Pitching to a right handed hitter, the catcher’s mitt might be positioned on the inside corner and Chapman’s ball will often end up right down the middle.

With that being said, Chapman has flashed an ability to put a mid-90′s fastball on the black, to the right hand side of the plate. When he does this, the pitch is virtually impossible to hit.

However, Chapman struggles to command his fastball to the left hand side of the plate (inside to lefties, away from righties). I’ve seen him do it only a couple of times before. Most often the pitch ends up down the middle or way outside off the plate.

Curveball – A good change of pace offering with a solid two-plane brake. However, Chapman will sometimes slow his arm down when throwing the pitch. It’s clocked as low as 69 mph, getting as high as 75.

Slider – Chapman’s most effective off-speed offering…I’ve heard the pitch can hit 90, but I’ve only seen it come close to that mark once and I’m still not sure the pitch was a slider. I’ve typically seen his slider in the 79 – 83 range. The pitch has major consistency issues and can rate anywhere from below average to plus.

The pitch plays up because it comes in on the same plane as his fastball and hitters have very little time to identify the pitch. It breaks sharply away from left handed hitters at its best. Chapman has shown an ability to backdoor both his slider and curveball and I’d argue that he commands his breaking ball to the left hand side of the plate better than he does his fastball.

To give you an example of Chapman at his best, the clip below is from the 2009 World Baseball Classic. On the left, Chapman is placing a 96 mph on the black, while on the right is Chapman backdooring a 79 mph slider for the strikeout. I pause the clips at Chapman’s point of release, which I’ll get into in just a bit.

aroldis-chapmanaroldis-chapman-slider
*Credit to MLB Advanced Media

Change-Up and Cutter – Chapman possesses both a cutter and change-up, neither of which he uses often. I can’t say I’ve identified either pitch in the games I’ve watched and I can’t really offer a description either because reports on both pitches are extremely vague.

Release Point and Arm Slot

Chapman’s release point is inconsistent and it will vary with each pitch type. The fastball and slider are typically released from a 3/4 arm slot. However, the arm slot rises when he wants a bigger break or when he goes back door with the pitch. You can see the difference between Chapman’s arm slot in the graphics above.

The biggest differentiation in terms of arm slot comes when Chapman throws his curveball. It’s pretty obvious when Chapman is coming with a breaking ball of a softer velocity because his arm slot is always higher. Below is an example of this. Chapman is throwing a 92 mph fastball on the left and a 75 mph curveball on the right:

aroldis-chapman-arm-slotaroldis-chapman-curve
*Credit to miamicubanito

I pause the graphics at Chapman’s point of release…the difference is clear.

Either he learns to throw a breaking ball from the same arm slot as his fastball or he throw some fastballs using a higher arm slot to throw hitters off and keep them guessing because high level hitters will exploit this weakness.

Mechanics

There are no obvious flaws in Chapman’s delivery. Chapman has to coordinate a lot of moving parts however, and that will naturally lead to an inability to consistently repeat his mechanics though he has the athleticism to do so.

Chapman is an excellent example of rotational velocity. You can read this article by Paul Nyman for a much more thorough explanation of rotational mechanics.

But to be as simple as possible, it’s the act of rotating certain aspects of the body to generate velocity.

Let’s start with the stride. First, I like how Chapman leads with his hips, generating momentum from early in his wind-up. Notice how the leg rotates around into foot plant.

aroldis-chapman-side
*Credit to MLB Advanced Media

The most used example of rotational mechanics involves the separation between the torso and hips. Chapman gets tremendous hip/torso separation. Check out the clip below. It’s of Chapman’s 100 mph pitch at the WBC. I start the clip out slow because you can see the separation occuring. I pause it at the point where separation is at its peak:

aroldis-chapman-velocity
*Credit to MLB Advanced Media

Look at all the misdirection going on with Chapman’s body…the hips are opened toward home plate. The torso is pointed in the direction of first base. The shoulder and arm are stretched almost behind his back. Chapman gives us another excellent example of scap loading, or the pinching of the shoulder blades. You can see as the torso is uncoiled, the shoulder blades unpinch and the gloveside stabilizes. One thing Chapman could use some work on is stabilizing that glove out in front. It’s not terrible, but he could do a better job of firming up that front side to prevent himself from flying open.

You have all this torque created, all this stretching of elastic muscle tendons and fibers. All these different parts are to be rotated in sequence as a kinetic chain. The hips, the torso, the shoulder, the humerus, the forearm, the wrist, and the finger tips — it’s all a sequence. If you go back and look at the arm slot graphics, you can better see how the arm is rotated into release.

When Chapman is off his game, it’s often because there is a hiccup in his kinetic chain where something is out of sync. Even the slightest change to a pitcher’s timing can result in significant velocity loss.

Injury Risk

As I said before, there are no obvious red flags to his delivery. Some will look at the amount of external rotation he puts on his elbow. By external rotation, I’m referring to the point where his forearm appears to “lay back”. The below picture should explain it:

aroldis-chapman-mechanics
*Credit to Reuters News

The more force applied to a pitcher’s elbow during the period of external rotation, the more stress is applied to the elbow. I believe that’s the theory….I think there is more to it, but I’m simplifying it here. It’s a common trait in the hardest of throwers. I’m not sure what the exact correlation is or if there have been any studies done to test the theory, but I do think it’s worth mentioning.

The bottom line is that Chapman throws extremely hard. Naturally, his injury risk is going to be higher than your Jeff Suppans or your Jaime Moyers of the world.

Translated Numbers

Lastly, there is a sabermetric component to explore in predicting Chapman’s success at the professional level.

Clay Davenport translated Chapman’s numbers (Insider Access Only) in Cuba to what he would in the United States. He based it on what other Cuban defects have accomplished and adjusted for Cuba’s level of competition. The results? Very mixed, but generally not good. It’s enough to give me some pause if I were a team ready to pay a big sum of money to Chapman.

Bottom Line

Chapman is going to be a risk for whatever team signs him. His upside is tremendous, but he’s raw in every sense of the word. Does he have the mental capacity to turn himself into a pitcher and not be just a thrower? Does a team’s development staff have a good track record in developing a talent like Chapman? Does Chapman have what it takes to put it all together and develop into a legitimate number one starter? We’ll eventually get our answers, but some team will have to shell out millions of dollars before getting them.

Best Case Outcome – No. 1 starter

More Likely Outcome – Power arm closer out of the bullpen

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  • 15 Comments »

    • RZ said:

      I wonder if he could be bigger than Dice-K in 07?

      At his age, some time in the minors isn’t out of the question but he obviously has the stuff to start in the majors next spring. Looking at your scouting report, the reason for a minor league is to develop those off-speed pitches.

      Very nice article Alex.

    • BigGuy said:

      Great job as always !

    • REVENGE said:

      Awesome work as always, I wonder what Randy Johson’s wife would say if she saw this video, jk. About the only thing I dont like regarding his delivery is his finish (off balance ala Mitch Williams or Johnson for that matter) he lands in an awful fielding position not that that might matter much with his stuff he’ll probably be striking out everyone anyways.

    • David Young said:

      I’m not an ESPN insider so I can’t see the Clay Davenport, but I have to wonder if the sample size of Cuban defectors who are pitchers is too small to be making projections from. The error range must bit fairly large.

    • mattymatty said:

      Great article and very informative. I wonder if, as you say, his likely upside is in the bullpen, he is worth the kind of money that has been reported ($40-60M).

      One small quibble: When discussing Release Point and Arm Slot you say, “Chapman is throwing a 92 mph fastball on the left and a 75 mph curveball on the left” The curveball is on the right. (Hopefully this is obvious, but its probably worth changing anyway.)

      Thanks for the great article.

    • pat said:

      Not a bad article but it’s fairly obvious that you haven’t seen Chapman pitch many games at all and I wouldn’t be surprised if you’ve only seen him pitch in the WBC. You explain much of what you don’t know by saying “I’ll make it simple” or “to keep it simple.” If you’re going to do an analysis on a pitcher with a lanky build then you need to post video from start to start of throwing the same pitches with different results in velocity. Comparing his curveball release to his fastball release is only effective for comparing arm slots, which change day to day anyway.

    • Alex Eisenberg (author) said:

      Thanks for the kind words everybody.

      David, that is definitely a fair point. Chapman doesn’t lay out his sample size…this is what he does say:

      “By comparing the statistics of players who have left Cuba and come to the US — such as Yuniesky Betancourt, Kendry Morales and Alexei Ramirez — in terms of what they’ve done there and their subsequent accomplishments in the majors, we can get a good idea of the level of play in Cuba. The changes in their statistics suggest that the Cuban level of play is similar to the Low-A leagues here in the U.S., something like the South Atlantic or Midwest Leagues.

      Allowing for that level of play, over four years at the major league level in the United States, Chapman would project out with a 10-23 won-loss record, tossing 303 strikeouts in 294.2 innings of work and an ERA around 6.66.”

      If you take his translated numbers, some of his comparisons include Adam Bostick, Brian Fuentes, Mike Gonzalez, Oliver Perez, Scott Linebrink, and Carlos Hernandez.

    • Alex Eisenberg (author) said:

      Mattymatty, I fixed the error. Thanks for the heads up.

      Pat, to address a couple of your concerns.

      1. I’ve collected all the video I can find of Chapman…that includes his 2009 performance at the WBC, a 2009 start in preparation for his time in the WBC, and a start from 2007.

      The great thing about using Quicktime to watch Chapman’s starts (or any pitcher’s start for that matter), is that I can go pitch by pitch comparing the consistency of his release point.

      2. There are two instances where I say I’ll “make things simple”. The explanation of rotational velocity and the theory about the more force applied during external rotation, the higher the injury risk. Those are different topics in and of themselves and I could write a series of articles on both topics if I chose to do so. An in-depth exploration into either topic is not something that fits in this article on Chapman

      3. There are only so many graphics I can put in the article. The article is based on what I saw of Chapman as a whole. The graphics illustrate some of those points I saw of Chapman when I watched him.

      The video of Chapman is out there for all to see. You can watch it and develop your own conclusions. They may be different from mine.

      4. Arm slots shouldn’t change from day-to-day all that much. And in the video I saw of Chapman, his arm slot was consistently higher when he threw his breaking ball, it didn’t matter which start it was. The question you can ask however, is exactly what impact will that have on his performance as he faces higher levels of competition? Will it even make a difference and can he make the adjustment if he needs to make one?

    • Everything you need to know about Aroldis Chapman | The iYankees Blog - A New York Yankees Blog said:

      [...] over at Baseball-Intellect has a great piece out on Cuban phenom, Aroldis Chapman. In it, he analyzes Chapman’s [...]

    • beau said:

      welcome to toronto chapman! well take care of you and let you work on your craft outta the hype of the media day and day out like yud have to deal with in ny or boston.

    • Is Chapman Worth the Risk for the Jays? | Jays Journal | A Toronto Blue Jays Blog said:

      [...] read a breakdown of his delivery and stuff at Baseball-Intellect which does a good job of analyzing what we do know about Aroldis, but we just don’t know [...]

    • Roto Addicts » Chapman the Red (signed by Cincinnati) said:

      [...] don’t quite go his way (ala our boy Z in Chicago).  There is an excellent, comprehensive post at Baseball Intellect written by Alex Eisenberg, detailing a scouting report complete with stop [...]

    • Reds Signing of Aroldis Chapman « thexsection.com said:

      [...] Here is the excerpt on each of Chapman’s pitches, as rated by Baseball Intellect: [...]

    • Chapman debut today for Reds « Sittin' in the Catbird Seat said:

      [...] of scouting reports on him, one from last year when he was pitching in the World Baseball Classic, one from the offseason when teams were wondering about his potential, and one from his intrasquad appearance last week. [...]