March 5, 2013; Tempe, AZ, USA; Cincinnati Reds relief pitcher Aroldis Chapman (54) throws in the fourth inning during a spring training game against the Los Angeles Angels at Tempe Diablo Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Rick Scuteri-USA TODAY Sports

Aroldis Chapman to the Bullpen? Make the Right Call Walt

As sands through the hour glass, these are the troubling times of Aroldis Chapman. Since the end of the 2012 season all we have heard is that Chapman will be a starter in 2013. Many, if not most Reds fans (myself included) thought that it was a mistake.

We reasoned that it would be impractical to take, arguably the best closer in the National League and turn him into a starter. At that point in time I believe Chapman said that he would like to be a starter. No problem, we all thought, let’s give it a shot and see what happens.

Mike Leake had been the fifth man in the Reds’ rotation, and 2012 notwithstanding, has been a good, quality pitcher. For his career he has a QS (quality start) rate of 62 percent. That means that Leake will give you a QS nearly two out of three times. That is not bad, considering MLB average is 53 percent.

Leake and Chapman have been having a spirited competition so far in the Spring. They were pitching well until they both blew up on Saturday. Until he imploded in the fourth inning against the Angels, Leake had an ERA of 1.80 in two outings. Things change when you are tattooed for 10 hits and five earned runs in less than four innings.

Chapman did not “blow up” exactly. He lost track of his control and walked three batters in four innings. He also surrendered one ER and gave up two hits. That control problem had not reared its ugly head until then. Could all of the media hype and talk become a distraction to the Cuban fireballer?

Well, after the game on Saturday, Chapman, via interpreter Tomas Vera said, “I would like to be the closer, but that’s not in my hands.” That is the first public indication that there is trouble inside the think tank in Reds HQ.

The vacillation continues as GM Walt Jocketty had something to say. Mark Sheldon reports that upon hearing what Chapman voiced, he said, “It would certainly be considered, but we don’t let every player tell us how they want to be used.”

Generally speaking, baseball players, as most other employees, do not put their best foot forward when they are not doing the thing they think they do best. Still with me?

I would like to be the closer,

but that’s not in my hands.

- Aroldis Chapman

If Chapman would be in the rotation, Leake would either be sent to the bullpen, or even worse, to Triple-A Louisville. Jonathan Broxton would close, and as I have pointed out before, he is not the most competent closer by far. To me that sounds bad right from Jump Street.

The Reds have already signed closer Broxton through 2015 for $21M. That is a lot of jack for what could become a setup man. Also, if Chapman were sent to the pen, one of the other relievers would have to go. Logan Ondrusek perhaps? My colleague, Josh Bresser has written a very solid article about his chances here.

Chapman’s strikeout rate, yea his velocity is missing already this Spring. So far he has sent only four men to the dugout shaking their heads in disbelief, in eight innings of work. That is easily computed to a 4.5/9 strikeout rate, which is a far cry from his career mark of 14.1/9.

Certainly he can’t just rare back and blow it by guys for six or seven innings, so he has to rely more on finesse than he has in the past. Finesse is for pitchers who can’t throw hard, ala Tommy John, Greg Maddux, etc. We are talking about the man who struck fear in the hearts of ninth-inning batters all across the fruited plane last year.

It really comes down to this. Do you want a pitcher on the mound who can keep you in a game for six or seven innings (Chapman) and hand the ball to a man with a sub-par conversion rate (Broxton)? Or would you rather have a man who can give you six or seven innings (Leake), and turn the lights out with one of the best in the business (Chapman)?

I hope Jocketty does the right thing.

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  • Josh Bresser

    Great article, Cliff. I think with Chapman wanting to close, his ‘meh’ numbers as a starter in the past, and with how Mike Leake is doing this year (scouts were apparently impressed with his pitches and velocity this spring), I’d say he should stay in the closers role. He’s just way too similar to guys like Joba, Feliz, Bard, etc. and less like guys like Chris Sale. I just hope they don’t pull the plug on him starting immediately if he struggles, because that would shatter his confidence (which, as we’ve seen with Chapman, is kind of a big deal.)

    Also, thanks for the mention!

    • Cliff@RedsToTheBone

      Thanks Josh. I agree, his confidence level can wane badly when things begin to go awry. I hope Walt decides soon, it is getting ridiculous. Lol

  • Steve Douglas

    While I love Leake’s hitting and overall athleticism, I’d much rather have Chappy as a starter rather than in the pen. Wouldn’t you rather had Chappy starting last year vs. the Giants than Leake? Chappy had zero effect for the Reds in last year’s playoff. Let him start and have Leake for long relief, pinch running and pinch hitting.

    • Cliff@RedsToTheBone

      That’s no good. If a starter wins 20 games any more he is golden. A closer will save 30-45 games. Why tempt fate my good man?

    • beeker

      His dominance as a closer does not automatically translate over to being a starter (which is why I’d rather leave him as the closer). It might, and it might not. As a closer he can survive on pure heat; but as a starter he can’t.

      • Cliff@RedsToTheBone

        Amen. It is nice to have a flame thrower for the ninth inning. No guarantees about his starting, and I will say it again, Broxton is not a world class closer, IMO.

        Thanks friend

  • Guest
    • Cliff@RedsToTheBone

      He certainly is not the first.

  • metalhead65

    you are making a big assumption in thinking Chapman is going to give you 6 or 7 good innings. if I remember correctly he barley made it 5 when he started in the minors because of control issues. and so far in relief he pitches lights out only when pitches the 9th. he struggles with control if has to pitch 2 innings and must be shut down for a couple of days if he is used 3 days in a row. none of that makes me think he will give you 6-7 good innings. there is a big difference between starting in cuba and doing the same in the majors. if they are not careful this going back and forth will lead to arm problems along the lines of joba chamberlin. what it boils down to imo is that jocketty paid him starters money and is bound and determined to make him one whether is better as a closer or not.

    • Cliff@RedsToTheBone

      Yes the decision needs to be made and adhered to. This is no longer the age of being a starter and reliever. Even if Chappy gives you five innings you still will have Brox closing and…I will need my Maalox

      Thanks my friend.