“We were spoiled watching Mariano.”
That was the initial response from John Flaherty when I asked him about Yankee closer Aroldis Chapman’s struggles in the past two post-seasons. Chapman has yielded a pair of dramatic home runs to Houston’s Jose Altuve in 2019 and Tampa Bay’s Mike Brosseau last season, so I was wondering if the Yankees’ trust in their closer has waned a little.
Flaherty was my guest on “Karpin’s Korner” (Sunday nights, 8 pm on 365sportscast.com) this past Sunday and I asked him when Chapman is “in that spot again, will they [Yankees] be holding their breath?” The former big leaguer who caught the great Rivera and also saw him from the broadcast booth, said, “Now, we’re kinda getting the reality of what every major league team feels every night when they bring their closer in.”
As great as Mariano was, he did have three dramatic post-season disappointments, but in only one of those instances did he give up a home run. Heck, Mo only gave up two post season home runs in 141 post season innings pitched. Chapman has given up three in his post season career, but he’s not getting any younger and his fastball is not getting any faster.
Flaherty said Chapman has reached a point in his career where he’ll need to make adjustments and cannot just rely on the fastball anymore. “He’s getting a little older, a lot of innings, a lot of wear and tear on that arm,” he said, “It’s not over a hundred every time he comes out now, it’s upper 90’s, which is still, obviously, plenty to be successful at the big league level.”
Chapman’s slider is nothing to write home about but Flaherty said he’s working on a splitter to add to his repertoire. “The slider is kind of a hit and miss depending on whether he has it or doesn’t have it, depending on what night he comes in there,” Flaherty said, “but if you start thinking about, from a hitter’s perspective, ‘Okay, I gotta think about 98, 99, possibility of a slider and now he has a split, just the thought of that makes that fastball a little bit better.”
The Yankees made a smart move exercising the 2022 team option on Zack Britton’s contract, otherwise he would’ve become a free agent after last season ended. Britton gives them an insurance policy in case Chapman struggles. They also added to their depth in the pen by signing Justin Wilson and Darren O’Day.
Flaherty said he “doesn’t expect there to be a problem with Chapman,” but the splitter is something to watch for in spring training. It could be a pitch that helps enhance Chapman’s career.
According to defensive metrics, Kevin Pillar’s outfield defense is on the decline, particularly in center field. His defense is what kept him in the lineup in Toronto as an everyday center fielder. The 32-year old may be the best defender, this side of Willie Randolph, to have never won a gold glove.
Pillar has provided many highlight reels with his athletic/acrobatic play in the outfield. He’s relentless and it has led to some injuries, including a serious collarbone injury three years ago as the result of a diving play.
No matter what the metrics say, Pillar is the best defensive center fielder on the Mets’ roster and he may just be an asset for the teammate that plays to his right, which is actually left. (That’s not an Abbott and Costello routine)
I expect Dom Smith to be a much better outfielder this season. “I’m getting comfortable out there. I know that I can do it,” Smith said in the opening days of spring training. “I’m a ballplayer. I’m a versatile ballplayer who is gonna help you win games. I’m in the lineup, I don’t care where I play. I pride myself on defense,” he said.
We didn’t need any metrics to know what we could see with our eyes, the 25 year old had some struggles, but that does not mean he cannot improve and I think he will improve.
Smith has played less than 70 games in the outfield but he will benefit from having Pillar next to him. When Smith was playing first base, he showed good hands and was pretty good on balls in the air.
I’m of the belief that Smith is the best hitter on the Mets and needs to be in the lineup.
Sunday nights at 8 pm, tune in for my Karpin’s Korner show on 365sportscast.com.