The Reds deserve credit for attempting to get the most out of Aroldis Chapman. Their slender closer just put together an outstanding season in relief, moving into the closer’s role and dominating over 71.2 innings, posting a 1.55 FIP and 1.52 ERA. He struck out 44% of the hitters he faced, which is a lot. The third highest rate of all time.
Given his overwhelming dominance, the Reds thought re-converting Aroldis Chapman back to a starting pitcher would be a good idea. Why contain that domination to 71 innings when it could stretch out, probably not as dominantly but still good, over 200 or so innings?
A good idea in theory but one that just hasn’t worked out as planned. After some hemming and hawing, it appears the Reds will move Chapman back to his preferred role in the bullpen for the coming season.
For all our nerdy leanings, there is no metric to value the impact of asking a player to do something he clearly has no interest in doing. When Aroldis Chapman told The Knobler flat out “”I would like to be a closer, but that’s not in my hands”, it didn’t really force the Reds hand. He is their employee, he should earn his not insignificant pay check as they see fit.
But Aroldis Chapman is a living, breathing man. If he doesn’t think he can perform at his best as a starter, that may well contribute to him not performing at his best as a starter. When his manager joins the “Chappy to the pen” chorus, it pretty much spells the end of the Chapman in the rotation experiment.
Which is a shame, I suppose. There is no reason to suggest Chapman would be anything other than a terrific starter. He’s very good at throwing baseballs in short bursts and he did start for the Reds in his first minor league stint after defecting, posting a 27% K rate against a 4.20 ERA and 14% walk rate in 13 triple-A starts (while still getting his feet wet in a new country.)
Lots of red-faced Reds fans might raise their skinny fists to the sky over their well paid bullpen but the Reds are fortunate to have starting depth to carry such a pricey bunch of relievers. Was it short-sighted to re-sign Jonathan Broxton to a three-year deal this winter? Without knowing how Chapman’s transition would pan out, you could make that case.
You could also make the case that paying Big John Brox gives them so much talent and the ability to shorten games significantly, a combination which worked to great affect in 2012. The starters made all their starts and also pitched, as a group, the second most innings in the NL last year. If the starters falter, the minor league depth and deep pen might keep the Reds ahead of the pack in the competitive NL Central.
I tend to agree with what Mike Axisa wrote earlier this week: the Reds were smart to give Chapman every chance to become a starter. It hasn’t worked out exactly as planned, but they took their shot. They can always try to convert him back to a starter again next year…right? RIGHT?!