Prior to the Reds final game in a series against the New York Yankees, manager Dusty Baker made an announcement: Aroldis Chapman will be his closer. While a portion of Reds fans applauded and cheered this move, there were some stipulations attached. The club will continue to monitor and manage Chapman’s usage in consecutive days and the number of innings he pitches.
With that as a background, it should be of no surprise that Chapman hasn’t gotten the ball in every save situation since Baker made his startling decree. Last night’s game should be such an example. Logan Ondrusek came on in the ninth to procure the save and Reds win. If you’re honest with yourself, it’s not necessary to use Chapman on what some deem as a “save situation” when you have other capable arms down in the ‘pen.
I’m sure Dusty will be catching some heat for this decision somewhere, but no one can argue with the recent results. Baker has a good problem here: four guys that can close out games. That’s right, four. And he’s used all of them. And what makes this more of a problem, especially to opponents, it that those four have a different means of shutting down the bats.
We’re not seeing the blazing 100+mph fastball as we did in 2010. We’re not even seeing it as we did last season. That’s actually a good sign. Chapman is taking a little off his fastball and hitters still cannot square up the bat to the pitch. In 2010, Chapman’s four-seam fastball averaged 99.6 mph. In 2011, that dipped to 98.1. This season, another drop to 97.1
But this is also curious. It’s a general feeling that a pitcher should have roughly a 10 mph difference between his fastball and changeup. Chapman is less than half of that. His changeup averages 93.3. While it is his least effective pitch (wCH of 0.8), he is still winning the battle against opposing hitters.
Perhaps the most compelling part of Chapman’s development is how much more control he owns. You needn’t look any other place then his BB/9…and compare to his SO/9 and SO/BB ratio for this.
This added control has hitters at the ready. Chapman is finding the zone more than he did last year, so opposing batters are swinging more. In comparison, in 2011, Chapman found the strike zone on 44.4% of his pitches. This year, he’s been in the zone 51.5% of the time. For this season, opponents swing at 44.8% of his pitches. Last year, that number was 43.1%.
Another issue is that even when opponents do swing, they aren’t squaring up to the pitch and it hasn’t mattered which pitch! Overall, opposing batters are making contact only 60.3% of the time, a decrease from 67.7% last season. The whiff rates are: fastball – 18.6%, slider – 24.1%, changeup – 23.1% That’s just nuts. This is, too.
Within the strike zone, opponents hit a Chapman pitch 65.3% of the time, down from the 77.2% in 2011. Clearly, Chapman is missing the bats. That’s his edge. But what about the “others”?
When the Reds traded for Marshall’s services, he was to be the primary set-up man. After Ryan Madson was submitted to having Tommy John surgery (not by his choice, mind you), Marshall was tabbed as the closer. It was a role he was thought to take over maybe in 2013, but not in 2012. The road has been a bit on the rough side for him, but he has managed to keep a professional approach to being re-assigned to setting up.
Looking at Marshall’s straight line numbers, they don’t exactly impress. You see the 4.50 ERA and begin wonder of his effectiveness. Check out his FIP of 2.60, tERA of 2.95 and xFIP of 1.93. They show that Marshall has been effective. What has gotten Marshall is the crazy high BABIP of .444. The BAA of .319 is alarming, so how is this related to Marshall perceived lack of success?
To further confuse you, his GB/FB rate is up, LD% is down, GB% is up and FB% is down. Add that the contact rate is down, too. With the BAA what it is, opponents are hitting him, but not blasting the ball. If there was one pitcher that has bad luck, Marshall oozes it.
So how is he even getting batters out? Even with owning only a low 90’s fastball, he’s striking out more hitters. His SO/9 this season is the highest it’s ever been at 12.38 with 22 SO. He’s not walking people either. He’s only issued four walks in 16 innings of work. That translates to a BB/9 of 2.25, second lowest of his career. And his SO/BB ratio is the best it’s ever been at 5.50.
Yes, the HR/9 is much higher than last season (1.13 in 2012, 0.13 in 2011). Finesse? Highly probable here.
At the onset of 2011, Ondrusek dazzled us. For April and May, he was almost as unhittable as unhittable could be. June and July weren’t quite as good, but it was toward the end of July and into August that we knew something wasn’t right. Ondrusek hit the DL and he wasn’t quite the same for the remainder of 2011.
One thing I have noticed thus far in 2012 is that the 6′ 8″ Texan is more confident. He’s also added a little giddy-up to his fast ball. His average fastball speed is up from 92.2 last season to an even 93.0 this year. As of late, we’ve seen Ondrusek hit 95, 96 on the gun. With his height, that 95,96 may appear to be a couple mph faster than what the radar tells us. That found speed has transferred to his other pitches as well…except for his changeup which is actually slower.
The one area of conern was the increase in walk rate. In his rookie season of 2010, Ondrusek’s BB/9 was 3.07. Last year, it increased to 4.11. While his rate of 3.66 this season isn’t as low as in 2010, he has partially offset that with an increase in his strikeout rate. That is up from 6.02 last year to 6.41 this year. His SO/BB rate has slightly increased (1.46 to 1.75) as a result
If you want to chat about contact rates, look at Ondrusek: 81.4% last year, 76.3% this year. Not as big a difference as Chapman, but it shows that he’s missing a bat or two, or batters can’t find his pitches. Glass half empty or full. Whichever way you want to look at it, I suppose. What has also helped is that he’s finding a strike more on first pitches. So far this year, he throws a first pitch strike 59.5% of the time. That’s up from 56.7% last year…and Ondrusek did have a good 2011 despite how his last month-plus went.
After Madson was lost for the season, I did read a tweet or two saying that maybe Ondrusek should get the chance to close. Well, it may not be every closing situation, but Baker has shown he has confidence that Ondrusek can get the job done.
When Arredondo stormed onto the MLB stage in 2008, some thought he could be the heir apparent to Francisco Rodriguez as the closer for the Angels. As we know, it didn’t quite turn out that way. In 2009, Arredondo didn’t perform as well as he had the previous season. He missed most of June and all of July. After the 2009 season had ended, it was discovered that he would need Tommy John surgery. The Angels granted him free agency and the Reds swooped in. Yes, the front office knew that he would be gone for all of 2010, but reclamation projects can be of value. He had moments, but his 2012 is noteworthy.
When Arredondo reappeared last season, he wasn’t the same pitcher he was from ’08. He didn’t have quite the same zip on his fastball, but there was something else: his splitter. It has become his out pitch. According to TexasLeaguers.com, batters miss the splitter 16.2% of the time. Thus, his contact rates are down like the others listed here.
He might not have the velocity of Ondrusek or Chapman, but he does own the one pitch that can make a difference. His GB% won’t blow you away (42.6%), but his strikeout rate will: 10.38. He has also found his control although not to extent which Chapman has. His BB/9 is still high at 4.98, but his SO/BB ratio of 2.08 is the highest it has been since his rookie season of 2008.
As I noted the other day, Arredondo has been particularly effective against left-handed batters. That to the tune of a BAA of .057. And May has been good to the Dominican. In 11 innings, his BAA is .111 and his ERA is 1.64. He has also performed well in high leverage situations with opponents only batting .125 against him.
So Dusty has options. He has four. Chapman will blow you away. Marshall will buckle your knees. Ondrusek will use his increase in velocity to have you whiff on a cutter or sinker, and Arredondo will have you either hitting the ball into the ground or striking out. Depending on if Chapman is not fresh and/or ready, Baker still has a trio of arms that can readily close out a game.