New York Yankees: Will Aroldis Chapman start to decline in 2019?

NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 03: New York Yankees closer Aroldis Chapman #54 throws against the Oakland Athletics in the ninth inning of their wild-card game against the New York Yankees in the Bronx borough of New York City on Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2018. The Yankees won the game 7-2. (Jane Tyska/Digital First Media/The Mercury News via Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 03: New York Yankees closer Aroldis Chapman #54 throws against the Oakland Athletics in the ninth inning of their wild-card game against the New York Yankees in the Bronx borough of New York City on Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2018. The Yankees won the game 7-2. (Jane Tyska/Digital First Media/The Mercury News via Getty Images) /
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Since his MLB debut in 2010, Aroldis Chapman has been one of the best closer in the league. But after a few inconsistent with the New York Yankees, is this the beginning of a mutual regression?

Between 1995 and 2013, the New York Yankees possessed the best late-inning weapon in baseball. When Mariano Rivera retired, surely fans didn’t expect his successors to post the same numbers.

But David Robertson and Andrew Miller owned respectable numbers and had several elite outings. And Aroldis Chapman was arguably baseball’s best closer when he arrived in New York.

Now the hard-throwing lefty might be approaching a decline. Yet, after an erratic 2017 season, Chapman rebounded last year with a significantly lower ERA and nearly 30 more strikeouts despite pitching just one more inning.

However, there are signs that the southpaw is reaching a critical period in his career. And it could lead to less-inspiring numbers across the next few seasons.

Chapman’s velocity remains his selling point. Since the Cuban threw his first pitch in 2010, he’s attracted teams and fans with his heat-seeking missiles every outing.

But his fastball’s speed had a significant drop between 2017 and 2018 on average. Nevertheless, the Yankees closer can still pump it in at 103 mph when needed.

Not only has Chapman lost some speed in his go-to pitch, he’s lost some control as well. During his stint in Cincinnati, the lefty was always volatile, averaging more than four walks per nine innings.

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He did more damage to himself last season, allowing 5.3 walks per nine innings. Opposing hitters garnered more walks than hits combined.

Thus, opponents were much more successful against Chapman’s fastball even though they didn’t produce more contact against it. It’s primarily concerning because his fastball sets up his slider, which is arguably his better pitch.

Chapman will enter the new season at 31 years old, which is also significant. Some of the best closers in MLB history faced a rough patch in their early 30s, including Rivera, Dennis Eckersley and Trevor Hoffman.

Rivera posted two of his worst ERAs in 2000 and 2002, when he was 30 and 32 years old, respectively. Eckersley struggled mightily after he turned 31, which is one reason why he switched to a relief role and became more dominant. Hoffman was less consistent than the other two on a year-by-year basis, but he posted his third-highest WHIP when he was 33.

Of course, the general trend seen amongst the three relievers listed is that they prevailed often against opponents during their 30s. In fact, they received 22 All-Star appearances combined across those seasons.

The most important aspect Chapman needs to consider is that he will have to alter his repertoire a bit to succeed as he ages. He will not be able to consistently toss 100-mph fastballs throughout the next five seasons, so he may need to rely more on his off-speed pitches.

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But other pitchers prove every season how they refine their pitches to suit their diminished velocity. Chapman could be just another prime example.

And Yankees fans hope that will be the case.