As the 2016 baseball season speeds toward a conclusion, we have been privy to an incredible month of baseball. While trends in October rarely carry over to the next season, we are seeing some novel and well-executed bullpen use out of the Cleveland Indians. This all centers around their use of Andrew Miller of course, and utilizing him as a fireman rather than tying him to the ninth inning and wasting his abilities when he could be more useful.
The Indians’ opponent in the World Series have a relief pitcher just as good, some even say better than, Miller in Aroldis Chapman. While second guessing the moves of such a revered manager as Joe Maddon is often a fool's’ errand, it must be said that unlike Terry Francona, he’s wasted a chance to show the world the true might of Chapman. He could have been everything Andrew MIller has been.
When you look at Chapman, you look at a physical marvel. He does something nobody else can do, throw a ball consistently, and easily, 103-105 mph. I’ve never seen a pitcher make that velocity look so easy. When he throws the ball up in the zone the hitter basically has no chance to hit it with any authority. This is the type of guy that should be getting the Miller treatment. Instead, he’s on track to pitch nearly half the innings of MIller, while his inferior ‘penmates like Justin Grimm, Mike Montgomery (Chapman is a lefty, remember) or even Pedro Strop get to make appearances.
It’s not even like he’s never gone more than an inning or two in his career. Between his time in Cuba and the minors he’s started eighty-two games most recently in 2011 with the Triple-A Louisville Bats. While that’s not that recent, neither are MIller’s stints as a starter. As we saw on Sunday night, it doesn’t seem like a few innings hurts his velocity any, he was hitting 103 in the ninth too. That’s on a colder night, after an entire year of pitching too. The physical ability is there.
It has to be simple hubris and bullheadedness that has robbed the people of more Chapman, and perhaps the Cubs of a quicker or easier road to the Series. He demands to be the last man up, and has been vocal about being there to end the game. It’s resulted in near-disaster for the Cubs at times. In the NLDS they had the chance to go to Chapman and let Alex Wood dig a hole first. Chapman earned the blown save, but the ball got rolling with Wood and other lesser pitchers. Losing one game in a five-game series can be backbreaking, and this is what happened when the Cubs had to march to Chapman’s schedule. It behooves Maddon to keep his closer happy, but at the same time he’s got a title he wants to win.
You’d think that Chapman would want the Miller treatment, too. If we're approaching 30 innings pitched in the postseason with something like 70 strikeouts as he comes to the end of a contract, you know some desperate or silly rich team would dump a Brinks truck on him. He’s still going to get an unconscionable amount of money from someone, but just imagine if he’d demonstrated that kind of versatility in these biggest of moments. A rich contender would be quick to snatch him up and he could have years to come off bright lights and big stages to dance on. Instead, he’s been upstaged by Miller and Kenley Jansen. For a man who seeks to be a star and be one of the biggest names in the game, he’s certainly not doing himself any favors sticking to his guns.
There are two points to this that must be addressed of course. He’s been touched already this year, both times outside of the ninth inning. Not that there’s some magic to the ninth that he’s somehow tapped into that makes the ball incorporeal, but it’s something. Nothing actually real, but something. Then there’s his warmup routine. It could just be that, since he’s a physical freak that is essentially coiled steel, as Joe Maddon called him, made flesh maybe all his weird preparations are vital to his performance. But he came into the seventh inning in Game Five, so it can’t be that time based. He should be able to be the first guy out, or at least be used to start any inning the team calls for. Shoot, he might leave anyway. Why not get the milage out of him?
Making a big deal out of this could be a bit much. But this is the playoffs. One or two games makes all the difference. He might not have had an impact in the first couple games, but the run the Indians scored in Game Three came late. In a scoreless tie the Tribe went to their big guns and got to scrape out a run off Carl Edwards Jr. Tribe fans everywhere celebrated the moment that guy came out of the bullpen. That’s the difference between being up 2-1 or in a hole. Whoever is to blame, it’s quietly a minor travesty that we haven’t seen more of Aroldis Chapman. For fans of the Cubs and the game alike.