Reds 5 at 5: Chapman and Leake


A little change of pace for today’s 5 at 5. We will be looking at 5 points (and there are more) where we will discuss the potential move of Aroldis Chapman to the starting rotation and the “battle” for the spot with Mike Leake.

When the Reds first signed Chapman, it was universally thought they would provide every change for the Cuban to eventually become a member of the starting rotation. In his first season in American ball, Chapman was slotted for triple-A Louisville with the hopes of not only success as a starter, but also development with his secondary pitches. During 2010, the Reds were in a pennant chase for the NL Central, and the team decided to have Chapman focus on becoming a member of the bullpen for the stretch run.

And to this day, we have yet to see Chapman start a game as a Red. In 2011, it wasn’t even a passing thought that Chapman would be a member of the ‘pen even after the Reds traded Travis Wood to the Cubs. Leake had exhibited a decent rookie campaign for 2010 and the prevailing thought was Leake had earned a spot in the rotation.

Last spring, the Reds gave Chapman an extended look as a starter and he dazzled (2-0, 2.12 ERA, 1.12 WHIP, 2 BB, 18 SO, 5 G, 4 GS) while Leake struggled (0-0, 5.14 ERA, 1.64 WHIP, 3 BB, 6 SO, 5 G, 4 GS). Due to injuries, moving Chapman to the rotation became a secondary thought once again…but it paid dividends.

As we enter 2013, this “switch” has evolved into the hot button topic for the 2013 season. Some have voiced they love the move, others are not quite so enthralled with the decision.

Feb 16, 2013; Goodyear, AZ, USA; Cincinnati Reds relief pitcher Aroldis Chapman (54) poses for a photo during photo day at the Reds Spring Training Facility. (Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports)

1. Chapman wasn’t all that effective as a starter when he played for and in Cuba as well as in Louisville.

Josh touched on this is a while back, but I think it’s a little easier to get a gauge for what Chapman did in his starts in Louisville, but there are stats available from when Chapman was hurling for Team Cuba and in the Cuban league. For his 13 starts in Louisville, Chapman was 5-5 with an ERA of 4.11 and a WHIP of 1.523. Here are a few ratios from those 13 starts:

H/9 – 8.2, HR/9 – 0.8, BB/9 – 5.5, SO/9 – 10.4, SO/BB – 1.90

These number won’t blow you away, but since 2010, Chapman has yet to start a game as a Bats pitcher. We must take one factor into consideration here: Chapman was labeled as a “project”, and while that did not seem to work in the short term, who’s to say it won’t long-term.

2. Power v. finesse

This one isn’t rocket science, as they say, but there’s no question that Chapman is the power guy while Leake offers less velocity and would deemed a finesse pitcher. For observation purposes…

Information provided by Fangraphs

But this subject brings about a couple of things.

Last season, Reds skipper Dusty Baker attempted on more than one occasion to set up his rotation so that opposing teams wouldn’t see the “same type guy” in consecutive outings. Baker hoped that by placing Bronson Arroyo in between the 1-2 punch of Johnny Cueto and Mat Latos that opposing teams wouldn’t have an opportunity to settle in at the plate.

Ideally, the rotation would have been Cueto, Arroyo, Latos, followed by either Homer Bailey or Leake. You could see it eventually regardless of who was #4 or who was #5 with either a combo of Latos to Bailey or Bailey to Cueto provided the rotation fell a certain way.

With Chapman in the rotation, the only finesse guy you have is Bronson Arroyo. The next closest would be Homer Bailey and Homer, while not on par with Chapman concerning his velocity, averaged 92.4 MPH for his fastball in 2012.

All of this point taken into consideration, it will be difficult to surmise if Chapman will be able to produce the same velocity as a starter as he did as a reliever. Leake has that experience.

Feb 16, 2013; Goodyear, AZ, USA; Cincinnati Reds starting pitcher Mike Leake (44) poses for a photo during photo day at the Reds Spring Training Facility. (Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports)

3. Health

Both Leake and Chapman have faced at least one health “concern” since donning a Reds uniform. In 2010, Leake was shut down after being rattled in a 0.1 IP bullpen outing where he surrendered 6 runs on 6 hits. A shoulder issue had developed and the Reds decided to end Leake’s season and it was the right call. Since 2010, there has been very little, if anything, noted in regards to Leake’s health.

During the 2011 season, there was a scare when the Good Guys were in San Diego concerning Chapman’s velocity…and it should also be noted his pitches were lacking their usual explosive nature. Chapman was later placed on the DL after an outing which saw him allow 4 runs on 4 hits in 0.1 IP, Included in this mess a bases loaded walk…after he loaded the bases via the base on balls.

Last season, Chapman was given a few days off after another scare due to a loss in velocity. This issue in itself has those in favor of keeping Chapman a closer most of the fuel they need to make their point. If Chapman cannot “handle” the rigors of being a closer, why should we think we can if he’s placed in the starting rotation?

4. Leake is more likely to deliver a ground ball.

It’s no secret. Effective pitching at Great American Ball Park is partially conducive to delivering a ground ball rather than the fly ball. Less fly balls mean less potential for those “cheap” GABP-driven homers.

In looking at each pitcher’s career GB% (via Fangraphs), Leake’s GB% is 48.9% while Chapman’s is 46.9%. Not much of a difference, huh? But look at what each has done in their three years:

2010: Leake – 50.2%, Chapman – 73.1%
2011: Leake – 47.7%, Chapman – 52.7%
2012: Leake – 48.9%, Chapman – 37.3%

With these, the opposite works as well as Chapman’s FB% has grown at about the same rate as his GB% has decreased. Leake is more consistent in this area.

5. The dreaded base on balls and control

Chapman made great strides in this area last season. For his first two seasons, he posted BB% of 9.8% and 19.8%. In 2012, Chapman lowered his BB% to 8.3%. That 2011 numbers simply blows your mind.

Leake’s percentages are even better: 8.1% in ’10, 5.5% in ’11, 5.4% in ’12.

Not a hard point to debate here. Or at least I don’t think. I will refer to the point about velocity and reiterate that it’s yet to be determined if Chapman can sustain those speeds in a starters role.

These five points and we did not even touch upon the issue of developing secondary pitches. Maybe another time for that.

We could dissect these points until our fingers bleed and there would still be no simple answer as to who “wins” this debate. As I stated in the opening, there could be other areas to examine here, but these were the five that hit my mind – and stuck there.

And here’s a thought that we all should keep in mind here. If Chapman should struggle, it’s a given to move him back to the bullpen. He was undeniably baseball’s second best closer last season – next to Atlanta’s Craig Kimbrel.

If Chapman sticks as a starter, we don’t know how the Reds will proceed here as Reds pitching coac Brian Price and the Reds are keeping this is a secret.

There will be no secret if Chapman doesn’t succeed as a starter.

Except where noted, all statistical information taken from Baseball Reference.