Aroldis Chapman and His Mind-Numbing Fastball Impressive in Debut

[Editor’s note: this post was only allowed to be published after I picked up Aroldis Chapman in every one of my fantasy leagues.]

Turns out urban legends just might be true after all.

Bigfoot is very much alive and well. Area 51 indeed exists. Los Chupacabras is a threat to suck the blood out of your family pet in the middle of the night. Somebody can offer one a drink at the pub and next thing he knows he wakes up neck deep in ice in a bathtub with a note nearby that his kidney has been harvested.

And Aroldis Chapman really does throw well over 100 miles per hour…

aroldis-chapman-105-mphWe had heard the stories, with skepticism, in recent days about Chapman, during one of his last appearances with the Cincinnati Reds AAA affiliate, being clocked at a mind-numbing 105 MPH. Conventional wisdom says those kind of reports from down in the minors can get slightly fabricated, or that the gun used to clock Chapman was borrowed from a Kentucky State Trooper.

You can see one of Chapman’s bullpen sessions from Louisville here, and wonder what his catcher needed to ice his hand in afterwords…

The first offical taste of Chapmania in The Show occurred Tuesday night with a shock-and-awe eight pitch (all strikes) display against the bottom of the Milwaukee Brewers batting order. And suddenly the rest of the National League is bracing for a Cuban Missile Crisis, with possible targets in a Reds October including St. Louis, Atlanta, Philadelphia, and possibly even an American League venue in the World Series.

Here is Tuesday’s blow-by-blow description…

Jonathan LuCroy

  • Pitch #1 – 98 MPH fastball, called strike. Ardolis is just warming up as the first pitch ball is taken out of play.
  • #2 – Bending 86 MPH slider that catchers grabs just off the ground while LuCroy hopelessly whiffs.
  • #3 – 102 miles per hour, fouled off just over first base dugout.
  • #4 – Slider at 87, very similar to second pitch, again Lucroy is helpless, striking out swinging.
Hat tip: SBNation.com

Craig Counsell

  • #5 – Looks at a 100 MPH heater.
  • #6 – Grounds out 6-3 on a pitch recorded by Fox Sports Ohio/Wisconsin at 103…

Carlos Gomez

  • #7 – Watches a 101 MPH pitch go by.
  • #8 – Ardolis ‘takes something off’, only 99 MPH, Gomez grounds out 4-3. But Carlos is still willing to tell anyone who bothers to listen that he’s an exceptional talent.

For those scoring at home, Chapman’s six fastballs AVERAGED 100.5 MPH

Personally watching those eight pitches on TV, I can say easily that this was as hard as I have ever seen anyone throw a baseball.

It should get a bit more fun this weekend as the Reds go to St. Louis for a huge, possibly decisive four-game series with the Cardinals. Suddenly Albert Pujols and company have more to worry about than what Brandon Phillips might say in the media.

And I have a feeling the Reds attendance might finally get a boost from their recent 15,000 or so they typically have been drawing for mid-week games.

After signing a $30 million dollar contract with the Reds after defecting from Cuba last summer, the road to the bigs for Chapman was not exactly as smooth as expected. Ardolis had an up and down season as a starter and struggled with some control problems. At mid-season the organization decided to give him a look as a reliever, which yielded much improved results and finally led to his August 31st call-up.

Meanwhile, another organization might now second-guessing whether they should have handled their own once-in-a-generation pitching phenom a little differently.

Yes, in a much smaller news item, Stephen Strasburg is set for Tommy John surgery at the end of the week and is not due back until the beginning of the 2012 season.

It can easily be argued that the Washington Nationals did everything possible in handling Strasburg with kid gloves, and already had an innings limit set for him, a trend now commonplace among promising hurlers such as San Diego’s Mat Latos and the Blue Jays Brandon Morrow.

Strasburg’s Major League debut remains one the highlights of the 2010 MLB season, when he struck out 14 Pittsburgh Pirates in seven innings. Yet, it has to be wondered how much that showcase took out of his prized right elbow.

It was not like the rest of Strasburg’s 11 other outings were bad; there was only one start in which he gave up more than three earned runs, his ERA finished at 2.91, and he averaged 12+ strikeouts per nine innings.

However, maybe pitching 5-6 innings per start and throwing 80-100 pitches at his stage of development may have proved to be too much. Perhaps Strasburg would had better been served, especially after getting the call to the show, throwing 1-2 innings every few nights, as the Reds eventually decided that this was the workload Ardolis Chapman was best suited for right now.

BUNNING
Jim Bunning

However, there is still the old school that will talk about the old days, when pitchers went every fourth day and routinely logged 300+ innings per year and there was no such thing as a pitch count.

Senator Jim Bunning mocked Strasburg after the first time the phenom’s arm barked before an aborted start in July. Bunning noted that he made 500+ starts in the majors and never once refused the ball. The Bunnings and Bob Fellers of the world are kind of like grandpa talking about the days of trudging through the snow to get to school and surviving with televisions that only picked up three network affiliates and a couple of UHF channels. You can’t argue with them, but the baseball business and the diagnosis of injuries is a different world today.

And then there was Nationals TV commentator Rob Dibble, who suggested that Strasburg was going to need to learn how to pitch through discomfort. Last time I checked wasn’t Dibble a career reliever?? How much experience did he have in the majors going seven strong and throwing 100+ pitches?

Chapman’s role for the rest of September, and ideally for the Reds during most of October and maybe even into November, is as a key situational reliever in the middle of a pennant drive. What happens afterwards is anyone’s guess. Perhaps Ardolis becomes the Reds closer next year, or they eventually work him into a starting role. But after just eight pitches in the majors, it’s possible that even Jim Bunning and Bob Feller might be impressed…

About the Author

Kurt Allen

Have written/blogged about sports since 2000, along with starting my popular Twitter feed in 2009. I also closely follow fantasy sports developments, along with events such as the NFL Draft.