September 02, 2012; Houston, TX, USA; Cincinnati Reds catcher Ryan Hanigan (29) congratulates pitcher Aroldis Chapman (54) after defeating the Houston Astros 5-3 at Minute Maid Park. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Former Starter-Closer John Smoltz Agrees with Aroldis Chapman Closing


If you were going to have a life-changing operation from whom would you seek counsel? Would it be a friend, a neighbor, or perhaps someone in the next neighborhood? Or would it be better to listen to someone who has gone through the same procedure and pulled through?

A similar case exists in the Cincinnati Reds organization with Aroldis Chapman. Nearly everyone has gone to their bully pulpit and said what they thought, or as some have, merely regurgitated what others have said and criticized their opinion.

Now an authority on the subject, former Atlanta Braves great, John Smoltz has joined in the fray and weighed in on this subject.

Smoltz, a former CYA winner had an illustrious 21-year career in MLB. In 1996 when he won the highest award for pitchers, he won 24 games which was the best in the National League and also led the league in innings pitched and strikeouts as well. His resume shows 213 wins and 154 saves.

He started 356 games for the Braves from 1988-1999. He missed the entire 2000 season due to injuries and when he came back he began a second career as a closer. Smoltz picked up all of his saves in a four-year stretch from 2001-2004. After that he was reverted back to a starter and won 50 more games before retiring after the 2009 season. He led the league in wins with 16 in 2006.

According to Terence Moore of MLB.com, Smoltz was on the phone and had this to say about Chapman. “I’ll be honest. When I first heard they might make him a starter, I said, ‘Oh, my God. They’re going to take the most dominant left-handed closer in the game and put him in a role that has a lot of ifs, ands or buts.’”

Did you read that closely? An authority on this subject called Chapman ‘the most dominant ‘ left-handed closer in the game. The GAME. Can you hear me?

Ken Rosenthal from Fox Sports said that a rival scout (no names given) thought that he is not a starter. “I hope they do start him, but they’re crazy if they do,” said the scout, who works for another National League club. “It’s Joba Chamberlain all over again. His velocity dropped off in the second inning. He couldn’t get his off-speed stuff over the plate consistently. No question in my mind, he’s the closer.”

Rosenthal went on to report that Hal McCoy said manager Dusty Baker and pitching coach Bryan Price prefer that Chapman remain a closer.

So what should the Reds do? Instead of putting the best foot forward and going after the pennant in full vigor, should they attempt to fulfill someone else’s dream instead?

Smoltz went on to say that, “You move him out of that closer’s role, you run a risk. People say that if it doesn’t work, they can just put him right back in the bullpen. I don’t think that’s a fair assessment.”

Sure, it worked for Smoltz, but he went the other way around. He was a starter throughout the first half of his career. Chapman hasn’t started a game in his three-year career. I know he started for Cuba, blah, blah, blah. That was not MLB.

Proponents of Chapman becoming a starter make all sorts of references to speed-ballers Justin Verlander, Randy Johnson, et al. Again, to be fair, Verlander never closed a game in the big leagues. Johnson did but not because he was the closer.

Look at what makes Chapman tick. Is it his expert, pinpoint control? No. Is it the finesse he possesses? No. It is that 100+mph missile that he projects that goes by batters unseen. Sheer intimidation and blinding domination in the ninth inning is what Chapman is all about.

What will it hurt to try to convert the young man? I could only guess perhaps a lack of confidence if failure would ensue. To be honest I didn’t think Chappy had the mental toughness to be an effective closer. He clearly showed me he did. He does.

Can he get by throwing 99 mph fastballs through even five innings? Not according to Smoltz, “…this won’t be the guy who throws 97, 98, 99 mph for seven innings, I don’t think. He’s got to learn his cruising speed, and he has to learn a lot of other things.”

Baseball fans love the dominant closers. From a marketing standpoint, would it be better to trot the lanky southpaw out every sixth game, or have him come out three or four times in a row?

As a starter the best you could hope for is maybe, maybe I say, 30 games for Chapman. As a closer, he will be there whenever the need arises.

What are your thoughts?

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Tags: Aroldis Chapman Cincinnati Reds Spring Training

  • bluenotebacker

    As a Cards fan, I hope they start him, rather not see him out of the bullpen. As a *baseball* fan, I say they gotta leave him as their closer. Dude is filthy at the end of games.

    • Cliff@RedsToTheBone

      Thanks Sean. It is good to get a fresh opinion from someone who is not tied to the Reds emotionally.

  • Steve Douglas

    Very good points, I’ve also read that Bronson and LeClure both think he should stay in the pen. I just have to hope that the Reds make the best decision and everything works out!!

    • Cliff@RedsToTheBone

      Thanks for weighing in Steve. It sounds to me that the only ones wanting him to start are Walt Jocketty and Broxton. :-)

  • beeker

    To me, this whole thing–on a smaller scale–is like arguing that the Yankees should have made Rivera a starter. Chapman has the potential to be one of the top closers of this decade. The skills that make him a great closer don’t automatically translate into making him a great starter. But ultimately, there is only one man’s opinion that counts in this matter.

    • Cliff@RedsToTheBone

      Your comments always make sense. Always appreciate your feedback. Thanks my friend

  • Dan Zielinski
    • Cliff@RedsToTheBone

      Thanks for your comment Dan. Care to speculate?

  • Bob Barker

    Keep him as a closer. There hasn’t been as much fun for a Reds fan as Chapman coming in to make top pro players look silly almost ever close as the radar sign hits 100+ with consistency in a long time. The Ken Griffy Jr. experiment failed the excitement, please don’t mess with the chemistry and fun now, as well as the best chance of winning the World Series.

    • Cliff@RedsToTheBone

      It is very exciting to have someone at the end that you have confidence in, and not have to sweat blood like with Coco.Thanks for commenting.

  • http://www.facebook.com/tylerduma Tyler Duma

    Looks like he’ll be staying in the pen. Good news for the Reds. Never should’ve been a question in my opinion. I know people talk about overvaluing closers but it’s hard to understate the value of a guy like Chapman closing out games. There’s only one other pitcher (two because we don’t know how Rivera’s age and return from injury will impact his performance) in the game who has the same effect as Chapman and that’s Craig Kimbrel.

    Good work Cliff.