Albertin Aroldis Chapman de la Cruz
(Cuban Missile or Cuban Flame Thrower)
- Bats Left, Throws Left
- Height 6' 4", Weight 200 lb.
"There is no violence at all in his motion; he's like the anti-Bob Gibson in that way. Just a slow beginning, a fluid motion, and BLAMMO the ball just fires out like the Batmobile rolling out of the cave." - Joe Posnanski
Aroldis Chapman is a six-time All-Star and possessor of one of the game's greatest fastballs. He shares the record, with Jordan Hicks, for highest recorded mph on his heater, cranking it to 105.1 mph. A Cuban defector, he was perhaps the top relief ace of the 2010s, holding the MLB record for most consecutive relief appearances with a strikeout (49).
Chapman's paternal grandfather came to Cuba from Jamaica. By and large, Afro-Cubans with English surnames are of Jamaican descent. Aroldis debuted with Holguín in the 2005-2006 Serie Nacional, going 3-5 with a 4.33 ERA. He played for Cuba in the 2006 World Junior Championship, then put on an excellent show in the 2006-2007 Serie Nacional with a 4-3 record, 7 saves and a 2.77 ERA. More impressively, he struck out 100 and allowed just 59 hits in 81 1/3 innings. He led the league in strikeouts, five ahead of runner-up Adiel Palma, though he also ranked 6th in walks (50). In the 2007 Pan American Games, he pitched one scoreless inning, striking out two for the Gold Medalists. He was a star in the 2007 Baseball World Cup, in which Cuba won Silver, fanning 9 in 7 innings in a win over South Korea and whiffing 11 while allowing only 3 hits and a run in eight innings in the semifinal win over the Japanese national team. He was named to the tournament All-Star team as the top left-handed pitcher. Chapman's success in international events did not carry over for the 2007-2008 Serie Nacional. He was 6-7 with a 3.89 ERA despite a .200 opponent average and 79 strikeouts in 74 innings. He tied Norberto Gonzalez for 7th in the league in strikeouts. On December 20, 2008, Chapman broke Maels Rodríguez's record for fastest pitch in Cuban history when he reached 102 mph on the radar gun.
Chapman pitched for Cuba in the 2009 WBC, going 0-1 with a 5.68 ERA despite 8 strikeouts in 6 1/3 innings. He dueled Travis Blackley evenly in Cuba's 5-4 win over Australia; after 3 solid innings, he gave up a Luke Hughes double in the 4th, balked him to third and allowed a single to Ben Risinger to tie the game at one. He got the start in a key match against Japan and hit 100 mph on the radar but struggled in a loss to Daisuke Matsuzaka. He helped his own cause by picking off Michihiro Ogasawara and Seiichi Uchikawa after walking them in the 2nd. In the third, he gave up singles to Kenji Johjima and Akinori Iwamura. Ichiro Suzuki bunted back to Chapman, who threw to third for a force. Yasuyuki Kataoka singled and Chapman was yanked in favor of Norberto González, who let all 3 inherited runners score. Chapman went 11-4 with a 4.03 ERA in 2008-2009, striking out 130 in 118 1/3 innings. He led the Serie Nacional in strikeouts, 11 ahead of Yunieski Maya, tied for 4th in wins, was 5th with 62 walks and tied for the most wild pitches (14). While Chapman won the headlines with his flame-throwing, Maikel Folch was named Cuba's best left-handed pitcher that year.
Chapman defected from Cuba just before the 2009 World Port Tournament started. He established residency in the small European principality of Andorra, making him a free agent eligible to be signed by any MLB team. After auditioning for several teams, he signed a contract with the Cincinnati Reds on January 11, 2010, worth $30.25 million over six years. The deal was comparable to the package offered by the Washington Nationals to Stephen Strasburg, the top pick in the 2009 amateur draft. Until he defected, his birth date was listed as September 11, 1987; he declared a different birth date at that time, which made him six months younger. The Reds assigned Chapman to the AAA Louisville Bats. In his debut, he hit 101 mph three times on the radar gun and fanned 9 in 4 2/3 innings versus the Toledo Mud Hens, allowing only one run. He gave up five singles and one walk, but Toledo manager Larry Parrish said "Today, he walked one. In the big leagues, he would've walked eight." He was 9-6 with eight saves and a 3.57 ERA for Louisville, striking out 125 in just 95 2/3 innings. He allowed a .218 average but walked 52 and threw 14 wild pitches, showing the same high-whiff, high-walk totals he had back in Cuba. He was also 4-for-10 with a double and a walk at the plate.
Chapman joined the Reds on August 31, 2010, the last day on which he could be eligible for postseason play. In his debut, he pitched one perfect inning in relief against the Milwaukee Brewers, hitting 102 mph on the gun. The next day, he hit 104 mph and got his first win with another perfect inning of relief; the Reds scored six runs in the bottom of the frame to beat the Brewers, 6-1. On September 24th, he became the first hurler timed at 105 mph during a major league game. He ended the season with a 2-2 record in the majors, a 2.03 ERA and 19 strikeouts (against only 9 hits) in 13 1/3 innings. He pitched twice in the NLDS against the Philadelphia Phillies, giving up three unearned runs in 1 2/3 innings and being charged with a loss. Chapman began the 2011 season in the Reds' bullpen as the main set-up man for closer Francisco Cordero. He only gave up 6 hits in his first 13 innings over 16 games, but struggled with his control, walking 20 against 15 strikeouts for a 6.92 ERA. On May 16th, he was placed on the disabled list with inflammation in his left shoulder. He came back on June 25th, and pitched better the rest of the way, lowering his ERA to 3.60 by the time the season ended. He finished the year with a 4-1 record in 54 games, and a save, having given up a mere 24 hits in 50 innings but 41 walks. There was no doubt about his raw stuff, as he struck out 71 batters, which represents 12.8 strikeouts per 9 innings, the same as in his first season.
He was still set-up man for the Reds at the start of the 2012 season, despite Cordero's departure in free agency and his potential replacement, Ryan Madson, being lost for the season to an arm injury. It was offseason acquisition Sean Marshall who was tasked with closing out games. For his part, Aroldis pitched lights out, keeping a clean sheet over his first 17 games, during which he pitched 21 1/3 innings, allowed only 7 hits and 7 walks while striking out 38. He picked up three wins but had not yet had an opportunity to save a game when manager Dusty Baker gave him the ball to record the last three outs of a 5-2 win over the New York Yankees on May 20th for his first save. That left more questions over what his most effective role on the team should be: set-up man, closer, or even a starter, as he had been in Cuba. Just after midnight the following day, he made the news for a different reason, when he was arrested in Grove City, OH for driving 93 mph on Interstate 71... with a suspended license. Reds GM Walt Jocketty downplayed the arrest as a simple speeding ticket, stating that "He likes to drive his car fast". More serious was the news which surfaced the same day that a Cuban-American man now serving a 10-year jail sentence in Cuba was suing Aroldis for $18 million; Danilo Curbelo Garcia claimed he was arrested for human trafficking based on false accusations made by Chapman in 2008, at a time he was trying to gain favors with Cuban authorities in order to be allowed to travel abroad. More legal issues arose when a woman named Claudia Manrique claimed she was tied up and robbed of $200,000 while in Chapman's hotel room in Pittsburgh; she later failed a polygraph and pleaded guilty to making false reports to police.
Chapman's streak of scoreless appearances eventually reached 24 games and 29 innings before he gave up a 10th-inning run-scoring double to the Pittsburgh Pirates' Michael McKenry on June 7th in a 5-4 loss. That game heralded the beginning of a rough patch for Arold, who went through a seven-game stretch in June during which his ERA was 11.37 with two blown saves. When he snapped out of the funk on June 26th, striking out the side against the Milwaukee Brewers to pick up his 9th save in a 4-3 win, he celebrated with two forward somersaults in front of the mound, a bit of excessive celebration which was frowned upon by traditionalists, but understandable in the circumstances. Still, he was told in no uncertain terms by manager Dusty Baker not to do it again: "It's been addressed," Baker said. "It's over with. It won't happen again, ever." Chapman was named to the All-Star team for the first time in 2012 and regained his dominance quickly. On August 12th, he registered his 28th save, having saved all three games of a weekend sweep of the Chicago Cubs. At that point, he had recorded a save in his last 16 appearances, breaking the Reds' team record of 15 set by Jeff Shaw in 1997, and had not been scored on in 22 straight appearances. Not counting interleague games, his ERA was 0.17 (overall, it was 1.26), he had recorded at least one strikeout in 52 of 53 outings, and had 106 strikeouts against a mere 25 hits in 57 innings. He was well ahead of the record pace of 15.99 strikeouts per 9 innings set by Carlos Marmol in 2010. He began to show signs of fatigue in early September, with his velocity down, and the Reds decided to rest him, as they held a sizable lead in the NL Central. He pitched on September 11th, then rested until completing a 6-0 win over the Los Angeles Dodgers that clinched the division on September 22nd. He finished the year with 38 saves and a 1.51 ERA, striking out 122 in 71 2/3 innings against only 35 hits and 23 walks. He tied Jonathan Papelbon for third in the NL in saves, four behind co-leaders Craig Kimbrel and Jason Motte. He was not much of a factor in the postseason, giving up one run over three innings without a decision as the Reds were beaten by the San Francisco Giants in five games in the NLDS.
Going into 2013, the Reds decided to convert Chapman to a starting role in order to maximize his value. That was how he was used in spring training; however, he came out and said that he would have preferred to remain as a closer but that the matter was out of his hands. In the end, the Reds relented, announcing on March 22nd that Chapman would again be their closer, and that Mike Leake would take the vacant fifth starter spot. In the 2013 All-Star Game, Chapman relieved Jose Fernandez in the top of the 7th with a 2-0 deficit. He walked Nelson Cruz but got Edwin Encarnacion to hit into a double play then struck out Adam Jones; Kimbrel relieved him in the 8th. Chapman finished 4-5 with 38 saves, a 2.54 ERA, 37 hits, 29 walks and 112 strikeouts in 63 2/3 innings. He tied Sergio Romo for third in the NL in saves, behind Kimbrel and Rafael Soriano. Chapman finally met his now four-year-old daughter, Ashanti, before the start of the 2014 season. She had been born to his wife, Raildelmi, after Chapman's defection, and the two were finally allowed to leave for the United States after four years of wrangling. His marriage had fallen victim to the long wait, as he and he his wife were no longer a couple, but being able to see his daughter and know she and her mother were safe was a huge relief. His parents had successfully made it out of Cuba a year earlier, and Chapman was now taking care of the needs of all four close family members. On March 19th, he suffered a scary injury while pitching in the 6th inning of a routine Cactus League game against the Kansas City Royals. He had been laboring with his control all inning when he threw a 99-mph fastball to Royals batter Santiago Perez, who hit a screaming line drive up the middle. Chapman had no time to react as the ball struck him flush in the face, sending him tumbling to the ground. He had to be evacuated on a stretcher and to a hospital where he was diagnosed with fractures above the left eye and in his nose and multiple lacerations. The two teams decided to stop the game at that point, with the blessing of home plate umpire Chris Guccione. Given the force of the blow, Chapman was lucky to escape with only a couple of fractures, as it could have easily resulted in a serious eye or brain injury. Still, he was expected to be out of action for two months and, slightly ahead of schedule, made his debut on May 11th, when he struck out the side and flashed his trademark 100 mph fastball in picking up a save in a 4-1 win over the Colorado Rockies. He continued as if nothing had happened, earning a third straight All-Star berth. On July 11th, he set a record when he recorded at least one strikeout in his 40th straight relief appearance, striking out the side and picking up his 20th save of the year over the Pittsburgh Pirates. Bruce Sutter had set the previous record with at least one strikeout in 39 straight relief outings in 1977. Chapman recorded his 100th career save on July 29th in a 3-0 victory over the Arizona Diamondbacks and, at the same time, extended his streak of appearances with at least one strikeout to 45; in a typical effort, 15 of his 20 pitches were timed over 100 mph. The streak finally ended at 49 games while picking up his 26th save against the Rockies on August 15th. He established a new record for most K/9 IP for a pitcher with 50 or more innings, with 17.67; he also set marks for most strikeouts per hit allowed (5.05) with 106 strikeouts in 54 innings, while allowing only 21 hits and 24 walks. His record was 0-3, but with an ERA of 2.00 and 36 saves in 38 opportunities.
The Reds, and especially their bullpen, struggled in the first half of 2015 - but not Aroldis. He picked up 18 saves, to go along with a 3-3 record and a 1.61 ERA to be named to the All-Star team for the fourth straight year. During the game, he struck out the side in his only inning of work, hitting 100 mph on every one of his pitches. At that point of the season, he had thrown more pitches of three-digit velocity than all other major league pitchers combined! On July 19th, he set another record in recording 5 strikeouts over 2 innings in his first outing of more than one inning of the season, becoming the quickest pitcher to reach 500 strikeouts. Number 500 came in his 292nd inning of work, beating the record of 305 innings set earlier that season by Craig Kimbrel. He finished the year at 4-4, 1.63, with 33 saves and 116 strikeouts in 66 1/3 innings. One astonishing statistic was that he threw the 77 fastest pitches in the major leagues that year. The pitcher who came closest to him was Nathan Eovaldi, whose fastest offering hit 101.6 mph on the radar gun. Chapman threw 336 pitches measured at 100 mph or more, while the rest of the major leagues combined for 226.
With a year remaining on his contract at the end of the season, and the Reds rebuilding, he became the subject of speculation regarding a possible trade to a contending team. On December 7th, a number of sources announced he had been traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers, but that deal fell through. One of the reasons is that, that same day, reports emerged Chapman had been involved in a domestic violence incident on October 30th during which a number of shots had been fired and, while no charges had yet been laid, the matter was still being investigated by authorities and could lead to a suspension by Major League Baseball under its new domestic violence policy. On December 28th, the Reds did find a taker for Chapman as he was traded to the New York Yankees for four minor leaguers: infielders Eric Jagielo and Tony Renda, and right-handed pitchers Caleb Cotham and Rookie Davis. He was joining a bullpen that already featured two power arms in Andrew Miller and Dellin Betances, leading to speculation that the trio could put up ungodly strikeout numbers together. On January 11, 2016, manager Joe Girardi made a surprise announcement, telling reporters that Chapman was his closer heading into spring training. A week after that, the Broward County, Florida, State attorney's office issued a statement saying that after completing their investigation, they would not be filing charges against Chapman after the domestic violence incident. Still, Commissioner Rob Manfred judged the incident to be sufficiently serious to justify a first suspension under MLB's domestic violence policy. The suspension, announced on March 1st, was for 30 games from the start of the season and was worked out in consultation with the Players Association. For his part, Chapman admitted that his actions had been regrettable and announced he would not appeal it. His claim that he had not harmed his girlfriend in any way drew criticism from advocates for victims, who pointed out that intimidation and psychological harm caused in such an incident was significant and should not be underplayed.
In the end, he was given permission to return after 29 games, because one of the Yankees' scheduled games had been cancelled, making it back on May 9. On July 18, he recorded a speed of 105.1 mph on the gun while facing J.J. Hardy of the Baltimore Orioles, matching his own record for the fastest pitch in major league history. It was a ball, low and inside, forcing Hardy to bail out. Hardy then flied out and Chapman recorded his 19th save. As the end of July approached, rumors of an upcoming trade multiplied, as it was clear that the presence of three top-tier relievers on the Yankees was not an optimal use of resources with other areas of the teams in need of improvement. The Chicago Cubs were the team most mentioned as a likely destination for Aroldis. The rumored deal was completed on July 25th, with the Yankees receiving a nice haul in return: outfielders Rashad Crawford and Billy McKinney, infielder Gleyber Torres and pitcher Adam Warren. Chapman was 3-0, 2.01 with 20 saves in 21 opportunities in his 31 games for the Yankees. He made his first appearance for the Cubs on July 27th and delivered a perfect 9th inning in front of a pumped-up sellout Wrigley Field crowd, although there was little pressure given the Cubs were leading the crosstown Chicago White Sox, 9-1, at the time. It was a typical performance, as he threw 12 pitches of 14 pitches over 100 mph, the other two being nasty sliders, and struck out two batters while former teammate Todd Frazier could only manage a weak grounder to shortstop. He picked up his first save as a Cub the next day when he recorded the last four outs of a 3-1 win over the White Sox. He went 1-1 with a 1.01 ERA and 16 saves in 28 outings for the Cubs, giving him a combined mark of 4-1, 1.55 and 36 saves with 90 strikeouts in 58 innings. In the postseason, he played a key role in the Cubs clinching their first World Series title in 108 years as he recorded 3 saves in 4 appearances against the San Francisco Giants in the NLDS, won a game against the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NLCS, and recorded another win and save in the Fall Classic facing the Cleveland Indians. He was used for much longer stretches than he was accustomed during the postseason, and was clearly showing signs of fatigue by the time Game 7 of the World Series rolled around. In that game, on November 2, he came out with two outs in the 8th, a runner on base and the Cubs leading 6-3, but gave up a double to Brandon Guyer and a homer to Rajai Davis to tie the score. Still, he returned to pitch a perfect bottom of the 9th, setting the table for the Cubs' winning rally in the top of the 10th and was credited with the historic series-clinching 8-7 win.
Chapman became a free agent after the 2016 season and, on December 8th, he cashed in on the high demand for proven closers, returning to the Yankees on a five-year deal worth $86 million. After his departure, Dellin Betances had had some struggles as the team's closer, prompting the Yankees to splurge. After the signing was complete, Chapman told the media: "Personally, I don’t agree with the way he [Joe Maddon] used me [in the postseason]." He was referring in particular to what he felt was an unneeded outing when the Cubs had a huge lead in the final innings of Game 6, resulting in his coming in tired in a crucial situation in Game 7. Whether or not it was linked to his overuse, Chapman went on the disabled list on May 14, 2017, with inflammation in his left shoulder. He was 1-0, 3.55 in 14 games with 7 saves at the time, but had given up 4 runs in his final two outings before going on the DL after only giving up 1 in his first 12 appearances. He missed over a month of action, returning on June 18th, but was not his usual dominant self. This was apparent in a crucial series against the Boston Red Sox in early August, when he gave up 3 walks and a run before saving a game on August 11. Then, he blew a save three days later when he gave a game-tying homer to rookie Rafael Devers in the 9th, and the winning run in the 10th, at a point when the Yankees could have closed in within 2 1/2 games of first place. This immediately prompted calls from armchair quarterbacks to demote him to a set-up role and let Dellin Betances or David Robertson take over. After a couple of other difficult outings, on August 19th, Girardi relented and stated that he was going to go with a closer by committee. That only lasted so long, and Chapman finished the year with a record of 4-3, 3.22 and 22 saves in 52 outings. He was solid in the postseason, pitching a scoreless inning to close the Yankees' win over the Minnesota Twins in the Wild Card Game and contributing 2 saves with a 0.00 ERA in their upset win over the Cleveland Indians in the Division Series. In the ALCS against the Houston Astros, he was charged with the loss in Game 2 on October 14th when he replaced David Robertson in the bottom of the 9th with the score tied at 1 and, after striking out Josh Reddick, allowed a singled to Jose Altuve and a double to Carlos Correa that ended the game. He saved a 6-4 win in Game 4 in his only other outing, his usage being limited by the fact that this was the only late-inning lead to be saved for the Yanks in the entire series.
Chapman had an outstanding first half for the Yankees in 2018, even if some new blood, most notably Jordan Hicks, was challenging his position as the hardest thrower in the majors. He put up an ERA of 1.38 during the first half, with 25 saves, and was named to the All-Star team for the fifth time, his first as a representative of the AL. He decided to skip the game in order to rest a bothersome left knee. On August 22nd, he was placed on the disabled list because of a flare-up of the tendinitis in his knee; he had to leave a game the preceding day after making just 6 pitches in the 12th inning trying to preserve a 2-1 lead over the Miami Marlins. Tommy Kahnle stepped in and recorded the save, and the Yankees had a number of experienced former closers on hand, but it was yet another injury to a key member of the team, after those that had put Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez on the shelf for extended periods. He finished the year at 3-0, 2.45 with 32 saves, then did not give up a run in 3 postseason appearances. He had another solid season in 2019, making his 6th trip to the All-Star Game and winning, for the first time, the Mariano Rivera Award as the best relief pitcher in the AL. He went 3-2, 2.21 with 37 saves during the season with 85 strikeouts in 57 innings. It all ended in tears; in Game 6 of the NLCS against the Houston Astros, he gave up a series-ending two-run homer to Jose Altuve with two outs in the bottom of the 9th, after the Yankees had managed to tie the game on a two-run homer of their own, by D.J. LeMahieu, in the top of the inning. He had not given up a run in 4 appearances in the postseason prior to that, picking up a pair of saves. On November 2nd, he announced that he had signed an extension to stay with the Yankees for three more years, for $48 million. He could have opted out of the final years of his contract at that point.
On July 11, 2020, it was announced that he had tested positive for the coronavirus and would need to be absent from the field for the foreseeable future, even though he experienced only mild symptoms. He was the third Yankees player to test positive, following LeMahieu and P Luis Cessa. As a result, he only made his first appearance of the year on August 17th and had pitched only three times by the end of the month. He did play regularly in September, but in total, he compiled just 11 2/3 innings in 13 games, with a record of 1-1 with 3 saves and an ERA of 3.09. On September 1st, he was involved in an incident in a game against the Tampa Bay Rays in which he threw a 101 mph fastball near the head of Mike Brosseau. He was handed a three-game suspension, but appealed it and did not have time to serve it before the season ended (after the season, the appeal was finally heard, and the suspension was reduced to two games). Ironically, Chapman faced Brosseau again at a critical moment in the 8th inning of Game 5 of the Division Series, and after a prolonged at-bat, Brosseau hit a two-run homer that basically eliminated the Yankees, as they were unable to score in the top of the 9th and lost the game and the series. It was the second straight year that Chapman had served up a gopher ball at the worst possible time in the postseason.
- 7-time All-Star (2012-2015, 2018, 2019 & 2021)
- Mariano Rivera Award Winner (2019)
- 30 Saves Seasons: 7 (2012-2016, 2018 & 2019)
- Won one World Series with the Chicago Cubs in 2016
- Japanese wikipedia entry
- Cuban Institute of Sports, Physical Education and Recreation
- World Baseball Classic
- Moriah Balingit: "Companion of Reds pitcher charged with lying to police pleads to disorderly conduct", Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, November 28, 2012. 
- Ted Berg: "Aroldis Chapman threw all 77 of MLB's 77 fastest pitches in 2015", For The Win, USA Today Sports, December 29, 2015. 
- Pete Caldera: "Aroldis Chapman: Cubs manager Joe Maddon misused me during postseason", USA Today Sports, December 16, 2016. 
- A.J. Cassavell: "Girardi names Aroldis the Yanks' closer", mlb.com, January 11, 2016. 
- Bryan Hoch:`"Wrigley's relieve it or not: Chapman to Cubs? Closer, Yankees teammates would like him to stay in New York", mlb.com, July 24, 2016. 
- Bryan Hoch: "NY's Chapman tests positive with mild symptoms", mlb.com, July 11, 2020. 
- Bob Nightengale: "Aroldis Chapman now a toxic asset to many MLB clubs", USA Today Sports, December 9, 2015. 
- Bob Nightengale: "In Aroldis Chapman case, MLB acted decisively, even without all the answers", USA Today Sports, March 2, 2016. 
- Bob Nightengale: "Owner Hal Steinbrenner says Yankees fans love Aroldis Chapman", USA Today Sports, February 2, 2017. 
- Mike Petriello: "Speed Chap: Aroldis is on everybody's radar: Has highest strikeout rate, lowest batting average against since 1901", mlb.com, November 29, 2015. 
- Joe Vardon: "Chapman electrifies Toledo in U.S. debut", mlb.com, April 11, 2010.