Generally speaking, moves involving pitchers moving from the starting rotation to the bullpen have been more favorable than those moving in the opposite direction. Pitchers who have spent time in the starting rotation have worked for years to refine four or more pitches, build the stamina to throw at 85-90% for an extended period of time and learned the entire game of baseball including how a hitter’s mentality changes from one inning to the next. Pitchers who go from the bullpen to the rotation have to make do with less. They’ll spend an entire off-season working on a change-up only to see it bounce at 56′ the first five times they throw it in April. Pitching is a process. It’s a long, arduous task which makes even the most dedicated workers crumble at the mere thought of the mountain that is ahead.
So, should Aroldis Chapman be moved from the bullpen to the starting rotation for 2011? Chapman showed signs of brilliance in his debut against Milwaukee and at times afterward. The problem came in not with his arm strength or the ability to throw an off speed pitch, but with his stamina. The greatest asset a starting pitcher has is stamina. As was recently quoted on ESPN.com, Randy Johnson told Matt Cain that his job wasn’t to get to the middle innings and pass the ball to the bullpen, his job was to get to the 8th inning. Never leave your decision in the hands of the pen because those guys may not always be feeling their best. In his first outing, several fastballs approached the 104mph mark, but in subsequent outings, he didn’t seem able to break the 98mph mark. So what’s the difference in 6mph? 2.56″ – exactly. In a game where the difference between a flyout and a home run is less than 1/4″, two inches may as well be miles.
The question then becomes how do you combat that difference? Chapman will obviously not be able to throw greater than 100mph for 8 innings. If he does, we can put his arm in gold right now and carry him around Cincinnati. If you were watching closely, there were two pitches thrown in the series against Philadelphia that looked nothing like anything he had thrown before. They were split finger fastballs that because of the size of his hands had action that was more like a traditional fork ball. This is how he’s going to be successful in the Major Leagues as a starting pitcher. He MUST master that pitch. The first one landed at about 52′ and the second dropped off the table beautifully for a called third strike. The ability is there and with Hernandez (hopefully being signed as a free agent this winter) behind the plate, we can look forward to the next several years of Chapmania in the Nati.