Aroldis Chapman to the Bullpen? Make the Right Call Walt

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

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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