Aroldis Chapman’s new pitch is called a “split change.”
But there’s nothing new or changed about the results he is getting: a lot of empty swings.
As the Yankees’ hitting, fielding and starting pitching came up small during a disappointing 16-game start, the bullpen lived up to the hype. And a retooled Chapman led the way at the back end with five scoreless innings, because batters who showed signs of catching up to his slider in recent years now have one more thing to consider as the ball leaves his hand.
“It’s a pitch that I always liked using,” Chapman said of the split change through an interpreter before the Yankees’ 4-1 loss to the Braves Wednesday at the Stadium.
“It goes back to when I started pitching. Unfortunately, when I was playing for the Cincinnati Reds, I guess they didn’t like me throwing that pitch. Maybe because I was younger at the time and they felt that it wasn’t necessary. After practicing with it going back to last season, and getting back in the habit of throwing the pitch, it’s there for me now.”
Through his first five appearances this season, Chapman threw nine splitters averaging 90 mph, after throwing three last season and none from 2010-18, according to Baseball Savant. Hitters whiffed on five of six swings this year, and all five batters who saw a splitter struck out.
“It goes to how comfortable I feel using the split,” Chapman said. “I couldn’t say I’m completely surprised by the reaction of the hitters, but I am extremely happy with the results. I think it’s about using it in specific counts in certain situations.”
Chapman earned his second save Tuesday night in his first appearance since April 12. It was the 29th save of his career in the first month of the season, but maybe it felt a little different than most low-pressure games because it snapped the Yankees’ five-game losing streak.
“There are stretches like that where things are not working out the way you want them to,” Chapman said. “You understand that and you feel that. You have to see it as just another save. You can’t add or take away from it. What’s really important is getting that victory to get everybody back on track and the right mind-set and the right path.”
The bullpen is the right place to turn to right the ship. Need proof? How about a 2.29 ERA (compared to a 4.54 ERA for the starters) with 11.2 strikeouts-per-nine-innings. Chapman, was unscored upon, while Chad Green (0.87), Luis Cessa (1.17), Darren O’Day (1.50), Jonathan Loaisiga (1.64 ERA) and Justin Wilson (2.08) had stellar ERAs.
Chapman’s fastball velocity is up a tick from early last season, when he was returning from a bout with COVID-19. He allowed just two hits through Tuesday and appears in vintage form.
“Who I looked up to growing up was Jose Contreras,” Chapman said of his fellow Cuban, who pitched for the Yankees in 2003-04. “He had a really good split. If I could have any split, it would be his.”
There’s no reason to trade in his own right now.