What has helped Chapman already is his slider. Before departing via free agency after last season, reliever David Robertson helped Chapman tweak the grip on his slider, which led to sharper movement, and it proved successful in the second half.
Chapman used his slider a career-high 25 percent of the time last season, partly at the Yankees’ urging. Opponents hit .106 against it, and whiffed 62 percent of the time they swung — the highest rate for a slider among relief pitchers in baseball last season, according to Baseball Prospectus.
And so far this season, the third of Chapman’s five-year, $86 million deal with the Yankees, he is using the slider even more: about 31 percent of the time entering Friday. He said he had never felt better with it.
“That’s why the slider is not only a pitch here and now while he still has electric stuff, but I think, as long as he wants to do this and he’s healthy, that gives him a pitch that’s going to give him longevity,” Yankees Manager Aaron Boone said last month, adding later: “It really impressed me last year when he started to use it more. There were times he was able to strike that pitch better than his fastball.”
That is not to say that Chapman’s trademark pitch is feeble just yet. After seeing fastballs of 95 and 96 m.p.h. from Chapman in the ninth inning of an April 6 game, Baltimore Orioles outfielder Trey Mancini struck out on a 98 m.p.h. offering down the middle of the plate.
“It seemed even harder,” Mancini said. “I thought that it was probably 100, just from the eye test. It’s still an electric pitch. He’s a really tall guy and when he releases it, the ball seems like it’s right on top of you.”
Two days before that, Mancini saw three sliders from Chapman, lining out on the final one.
“A lot of people don’t know: His slider is a pretty darn good pitch,” Mancini said. “And with age or anything like that, that slider is still going to make that fastball look really hard, even if it’s slightly less hard than it used to be.”