Too hot to han­dle

The Hamilton Spectator - - SPORTS - PAUL SKRBINA Chicago Tri­bune

Think of Cubs’ Chap­man as a math prob­lem in a base­ball uni­form //

There are fast­balls and there are faster balls.

Then there are Aroldis Chap­man’s fast­balls, con­sid­ered the Lam­borgh­i­nis of mod­ern-day pitches. So sleek they are that mlb.com has a “Chap­man Fil­ter” on its web­site to weed out the slower pokes who can’t com­pete with Chap­man’s speed.

Con­sider: Of the 702,307 pitches thrown in ma­jor league games last sea­son, the Cubs’ con­tro­ver­sial new closer with the de­signer arm hogged the top 77 spots for fastest thrown. Seventy-seven. The av­er­age ve­loc­ity of his fast­ball hov­ers a smidge un­der 100 m.p.h.’s hit ma­jor lea­guere­cord 105.1 on the radar gun more than once. He’s a math prob­lem in a base­ball uni­form — for hit­ters and catch­ers alike.

For ex­am­ple, his 105.1-m.p.h. pitches trav­elled at 154.15 feet per sec­ond. With 60 feet, 6 inches sep­a­rat­ing the pitch­ing rub­ber from home plate, a bat­ter has 0.392 sec­onds to re­act. Fac­tor in that Chap­man’s re­lease point hov­ers around seven feet closer than that, and the per­ceived speed to the bat­ter and the catcher goes up, in this case to 105.5 m.p.h., de­creas­ing re­ac­tion time even more.

“It’s def­i­nitely dif­fer­ent,” Cubs short­stop Ad­di­son Rus­sell said. “That’s a good thing we have him, so we don’t have to face him down the line.

“I’ve seen 100 (m.p.h.) — not many times — but you kind of get a gen­eral idea. When you add those 5-6 miles per hour ... that’s a whole dif­fer­ent ball­park. That’s an up­per-ech­e­lon pitcher.”

Rus­sell, though, owns one of the 19 home runs Chap­man has al­lowed in his seven sea­sons in the ma­jors. That’s out of 1,395 bat­ters faced. No player has hit more than one against him. Rus­sell grinned when he was re­minded of that ninth-in­ning stroke of what he de­scribed as luck against his new team­mate Aug. 31, 2015, when Chap­man was with the Reds. “It was pretty crazy,” Rus­sell said. “We were down a pretty good amount (13-5). I think he was try­ing to get some good feel for his fast­ball. Just a short sweet swing and caught it on the bar­rel.”

White Sox right fielder Adam Ea­ton had no such luck against Chap­man, strik­ing out in his only at-bat against him. But Ea­ton, who called Chap­man “a special arm,” re­mained stead­fast that tim­ing is ev­ery­thing, even if time is in very short sup­ply.

“Any hit­ter will say you can time up an F-16 if you give him enough looks,” Ea­ton said. “You have to put a good swing on it, you have to get a good strike and swing hard just in case.”

The 28-year-old Chap­man at­trib­uted his ve­loc­ity to me­chan­ics. But sci­ence hardly can be­gin to ex­plain how of the 1,158 pitches he threw in 2015, a stag­ger­ing 453 were at least 100 m.p.h. at al­most six times as many as the next- clos­est pitcher and rep­re­sen­ta­tive of nearly 50 per cent of 100 m.p.h. fast­balls thrown in base­ball all year, ac­cord­ing to mlb.com.

“I don’t know the ve­loc­ity, but I just work hard ev­ery time and pre­pare my­self very good,” Chap­man said through an in­ter­preter. “I guess 105 miles an hour is not easy.”

Chap­man just makes it look that way. Of his 524 pitches this sea­son, 254 have reached 100 m.p.h., more than 48 per cent. Braves rookie Mauri­cio Cabr­era’s 103.8 m.p.h. pitch is the next fastest, and is tied for Chap­man’s 10th-fastest.

Speed can be dif­fi­cult to con­trol, though. Chap­man’s walk rates are proof. He’s al­lowed 4.2 per nine in­nings in his ca­reer. Then again, he’s al­lowed just 189 hits in 351 and 1/3 in­nings. Be­fore his de­but with the Cubs on Wed­nes­day, dur­ing which he struck out two White Sox in one in­ning, his ca­reer strike­outs-per-ninein­nings sat at 15.2. He peaked in 2014 with a 17.7.

But catch­ing him can be tricky. Miguel Mon­tero ex­pe­ri­enced his first glimpse — if he could see it — of a Chap­man fast­ball when he caught him dur­ing the 2014 All-Star game. He said fa­mil­iar­ity will make things a bit eas­ier.

“He can be a lit­tle com­pli­cated,” Mon­tero said of ad­just­ing to the an­gles and the move­ment of his pitches. “He’s a hard-throw­ing left-han­der, a cross­fire type of thing. He’s com­ing in hot. You don’t have much time to ad­just.”

CHARLES REX AR­BO­GAST, THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Chicago Cubs re­lief pitcher Aroldis Chap­man hogged thetop 77 spots for­fastest pitches thrown last sea­son.

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