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Scout on Aroldis Chapman starting: “Joba Chamberlain all over again”

Mar 15, 2013, 8:32 PM EDT

Aroldis Chapman AP

Ken Rosenthal talked to a rival scout about the chance of Cincinnati Reds lefty Aroldis Chapman joining the starting rotation, and the scout wasn’t exactly a fan of the transition:

“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.”

Chapman averaged 97.7 MPH on his fastball last season, the second-fastest among all relievers, trailing only Kelvin Herrera of the Kansas City Royals (98.5). He finished the year with a 1.51 ERA and 38 saves in 71.2 innings of work.

The scout is referencing the Yankees pitcher who bounced between the bullpen and the rotation since making his Major League debut in 2007. The Yankees went to great lengths to protect his arm, which led to the moniker “Joba Rules” for their refusal to use him on consecutive days.

Though a closer more often than not pitches in some of the most important situations during a game, it is hard to overcome the value of pitching 175-200 innings. John Smoltz, a common point of comparison for starters-turned-relievers or relievers-turned-starters, posted 1.1, 3.2, and 2.2 Wins Above Replacement as a reliever between 2002-04 according to Baseball Reference. Despite the aggregate 2.47 ERA and 144 saves, his best season as a reliever (2003) ranks as his 12th-best season by WAR.

Chapman would have to become more or less average as a starter for the Reds to lose value moving him to the rotation. The average National League starter posted a 4.04 ERA last season.

  1. johnnyb1976 - Mar 15, 2013 at 8:46 PM

    This “scout” obviously works for the cardinals.

  2. prosourcetalk - Mar 15, 2013 at 8:50 PM

    I bet this scout isn’t a fan of WAR either

  3. 13arod - Mar 15, 2013 at 9:02 PM

    i like that they are starting him look at what chris dale did last year and future hall of famer jhon Smoltiz

    • gmfw7 - Mar 18, 2013 at 12:32 AM

      chris sale had a really good year last year, that’s true. however, john smoltz is a once in a lifetime example, and not a very good one seeing as how he was only a reliever when he hit his mid to late 30s after a long time as an incredible starter for the braves. his path was more like brett myers, who is a starter, but someone realized that he could ramp up his velocity for one inning as a late reliever and that combined with his nasty curve worked…but at the end of the day he was a starter and that’s why he was able to make the transition back and forth pretty easily. the reds have the second best closer in the league, behind kimbrel, and if they’re smart they’ll stick with him as the closer and not have to worry about the 9th inning for the next decade

  4. js20011041 - Mar 15, 2013 at 9:07 PM

    Regardless of whatever move the Reds make with Chapman this spring, the real mistake was made three years ago. He should have been a starter from the beginning. Whenever you have an elite talent, you start him until he proves that he’s a reliever because the difference in value between the two is massive. He’s not going to provide the value he could have because they’re going to have to limit his workload and build him up. And that’s not to mention the fact that if you look at recent history, he’s probably looking at some type of injury and surgery this year. Chamberlain-ruined. Bard-ruined. Feliz-hurt. The back and forth ruins these guys. Just let them develop as starters in the minors. If they prove they can’t handle it, then you move them to the pen and leave them there.

    • brewcrewfan54 - Mar 15, 2013 at 9:55 PM

      I read an article on him on Deadspin and that article lead me to believe they already know he is nothing more than a reliever. I’m guessing they may just be giving him this chance because they promised they would at some point.

      • gmfw7 - Mar 18, 2013 at 12:35 AM

        they didn’t promise him anything. he has made it clear for a while that he wants to be the closer. they’re just trying to see if he can be an elite starter, and if they’re not careful they might hurt him, like texas did with neftali feliz last year.

    • Ben - Mar 16, 2013 at 12:16 AM

      You do realize he put up more WAR in 71 innings than most starters do in 200 innings, right?

      • dan1111 - Mar 16, 2013 at 4:50 AM

        He was 23rd in pitcher WAR last year. Certainly that is good for a reliever, but it shows the limitation of how valuable a reliever can be. He had a monster season, with a 1.51 ERA, 282 ERA+, and striking out more than 15 batters per 9 innings, but he still was not one of the top 20 most valuable pitchers.

        Long term, one can’t expect him to be quite that dominant every season. If he regresses to merely very good, a very good season from a closer is worth about the same as an average season from a starter.

      • Ben - Mar 16, 2013 at 1:54 PM

        Moving from the bullpen to starting breaks pitchers more often than it’s a success. Daniel Bard, Neftali Feliz, Joba Chamberlain etc. The track record is simply not good. 3.3 WAR > Tommy John. When you have a pitcher that insanely successful, why mess with it when the downside is so extreme?

  5. multiplemiggs - Mar 15, 2013 at 9:14 PM

    I AM A NEW YORK YANKEE!!!!

    • mazblast - Mar 16, 2013 at 8:40 AM

      And you have a Caps Lock issue.

  6. dwrek5 - Mar 15, 2013 at 10:20 PM

    For all the Joba examples, I gotta an Adam Wainwright for ya. If Joba played for KC, it would have been back page news.

    • Kevin Gillman - Mar 16, 2013 at 12:00 AM

      Wainwright had Tommy John surgery too. You can’t keep doing this to a pitcher, start him, releive him, start him, relieve him. Go in one direction, and stay there.

      • dwrek5 - Mar 16, 2013 at 12:59 AM

        Wainwright closed in ’04. TJ in 2011. Nice try…

      • paperlions - Mar 16, 2013 at 12:53 PM

        It was 2006, but yeah.

        The missing point here is that most of these guys were starters all through their lives until their major league team needed a relief pitcher more than a starter and also didn’t want to give the guy 200 IP at such a young age. These are not guys that never started before….and guys that make these kinds of moves don’t have arm problems any more often than guys that stay in the same role do.

        People acting like this type of move in and of itself leads to arm problems have selective memories. Pitching is what leads to arm problems, not the changing of roles….plenty of guys that stay in the same role develop arm problems, and they do it at the same rate as guys that change roles based on team needs.

  7. mkd - Mar 15, 2013 at 10:36 PM

    Bill, digging your stuff and glad you’re writing for HBT, but if I may offer a gentle critique, this sentence: “The scout is referencing the Yankees pitcher who bounced between the bullpen and the rotation since making his Major League debut in 2007,” is totally unnecessary. I get why you put it in there, better to err on the side of too much information than too little, but HBT readers know who Joba Chamberlain is. There were a half dozen posts chronicling his txting drama with Kevin Youkilis. His condition after the trampoline accident was updated practically on the hour. I think you can assume that if they play in the NE we know who they are.

    Anyway, stick around awhile, you’re making the site better…

  8. sabatimus - Mar 15, 2013 at 11:17 PM

    If he becomes a starter, I predict Tommy John surgery within 6 months.

    • paperlions - Mar 16, 2013 at 12:55 PM

      If he doesn’t have any arm problems in 6 months or 6 years, I predict that you will ignore that fact make the exact same prediction the next time this issue arises.

  9. tfbuckfutter - Mar 15, 2013 at 11:43 PM

    This drove me nuts with the Red Sox sticking with Papelbon as a closer.

    I know it’s not a good measure, but still….apples to different kind of apples….I will take a 15-20 game winner over a 35-40 save closer any day.

    Good closers are easier to find/develop than really good pitchers.

    The Red Sox screwed up by not making a starter out of Jon.

    • Kevin Gillman - Mar 16, 2013 at 12:02 AM

      Papelbon proved he wasn’t a starter. The Red Sox also proved they had no closer, until he regained that position.

      • tfbuckfutter - Mar 16, 2013 at 12:00 PM

        When did he prove he wasn’t a starter?

        He’s had 3 starts at the major league level and 4 starts at AAA.

        He moved to closer out of necessity, but like I said…they could have found someone else who maybe wasn’t AS good a closer but a great starter is still more valuable.

        Whether or not Jon would have been a sub-3 ERA starter, I don’t know….no one does because he was never given the chance (although as a starter he only posted an ERA above 3.00 once in the majors or minors and it was his first season in the minors).

      • Kevin Gillman - Mar 16, 2013 at 12:19 PM

        But in those 3 starts, he didn’t even last 6 innings. He also walked too many hitters, which shows that he can go 1, or 2 innings, but hitters will lay off some of those pitches, and Pap is more built as a closer. He can throw full tilt, and doesn’t have to pace himself. Something that Chapman would have to learn how to do too.

      • tfbuckfutter - Mar 16, 2013 at 12:25 PM

        He was 24 years old and getting his first exposure to the major leagues.

        I’m pretty sure giving up 4 earned runs over 16 innings across 3 starts in your first exposure to the majors qualifies you as a potentially solid starter.

        To never start a game after that, because you are pinched into the bullpen out of absolute necessity, is crazy.

      • Kevin Gillman - Mar 16, 2013 at 12:37 PM

        He walked some men too, which put more of an emphasis on his pitch count. Just because a guy does well as a starter never means they can do it in the Majors. He IS a closer, case closed.

      • paperlions - Mar 16, 2013 at 12:58 PM

        During his first 3 starts in the majors, Greg Maddux pitched 19 innings, gave up 10 runs (9 of them earned) and walked 8 guys. Would that have been enough for you to conclude that he had “proven he couldn’t start”?

      • Kevin Gillman - Mar 16, 2013 at 1:12 PM

        No, but obviously the Red Sox saw something to change Papelbon, and NOW he can’t be changed back. I do know that Jonathan was working out to be a starter in 2006, but didn’t he struggle in ST? I know the stats don’t count, but you have to pace yourself. You bring up Greg Maddox. Greg never threw 97 MPH, and he was always a control pitcher, so it’s easier for him to work through his problems, because of his pitch to contact, just like Tom Glavine had done.

        There are always the exceptions to the rule, such as John Smoltz, but a pitcher that throws hard needs to learn how to pace themselves. In the Reds case though, they won 96 games last year with Chapman as their closer. But even he had his problems in the middle of the season, with his location. You can throw 97 MPH, but if you can’t locate it, it means nothing. If he starts, he will have more problems, and don’t give me “He started in the minors” because that is lazy. We all know hitters in the minors tend to go after lower pitches, which gives them an easier out. This is the big leagues, and if he’s struggling in spring training with his command, or if anyone has doubts, that should be a sign.

  10. jwbiii - Mar 16, 2013 at 12:16 AM

    So Chapman should stay from trampolines.

  11. atltoarizona - Mar 16, 2013 at 12:20 AM

    I was worried that they meant Chapman would grow a pedophile stache like Joba.

  12. sfm073 - Mar 16, 2013 at 3:37 AM

    Wainwright pitches his entire professional career as a starting pitcher. Chapman started 13 games in the minors before being moved to the bullpen.

    • thomas844 - Mar 16, 2013 at 9:51 AM

      But he also started 63 games in Cuba before defecting and coming to the USA.

  13. sfm073 - Mar 16, 2013 at 3:51 AM

    Adam wainwright 785 innings pitched as a starter in the minors before switching to the bp for one season. Aroldis chapman had all of 13 starts before being switched the bp. Good try though

    • paperlions - Mar 16, 2013 at 1:00 PM

      You do realize that Chapman pitched over 300 innings in Cuba before defecting and that he was nearly always used as a starter, right?

  14. thomas844 - Mar 16, 2013 at 9:49 AM

    He could possibly be another Joba, but how do you know he couldn’t be another Chris Sale or Lance Lynn?

    • paperlions - Mar 16, 2013 at 1:03 PM

      Or CJ Wilson or Derek Lowe or Matt Morris or Pedro Martinez (yes, fucking Pedro Martinez….anyone want to argue he should have stayed in the pen?) or David Wells or Bud Black or Storm Davis or Ken Forsch or Pete Vuckovich or any other number of guys that moved to the rotation, excelled, and didn’t have any arm problems.

  15. stephenolszewski - Mar 16, 2013 at 9:54 AM

    Hate to sound like a broken record here but should’ve just kept him as a closer…

  16. macjacmccoy - Mar 16, 2013 at 12:20 PM

    “Chapman would have to become more or less average as a starter for the Reds to lose value moving him to the rotation. The average National League starter posted a 4.04 ERA last season.”

    Thats not accurate. They also would lose value if the guy he replaces in the rotation produces at the same level as Chapman as a starter but is not a good reliever . Meaning all they would get out of the swap would be a much worse bull pen. And yea you could say the guy he replaces in the rotation doesnt have to be Chapman’s replacement in the bullpen. And thats true but they would have to go find someone to play in the bullpen. And that guy would have to be at least as good as Chapman as a reliever for the Reds to break even in value. They certainly dont have that guy in their system. So they would have to spend a boatload of money to sign, or a boatload of picks to acquire a guy like that. While still having the guy under contract that Chapman replaced doing nothing but collecting a check. Doing all that just to get Chapman in the rotation definitely wouldnt be good value to the Reds.

    The only way the Reds get value out of moving Chapman to the rotation is if hes a strong upgrade over someone they have starting now. Or if they have someone under team control already that could step into his bullpen spot and be only a moderate downgrade then they could get away with him being only a moderate upgrade in the rotation.

    • jwbiii - Mar 16, 2013 at 6:57 PM

      The Reds signed Jonathan Broxton to a 3/$21M, so there’s the moderate downgrade in the back of the bullpen. That’s significantly more than they tend to pay set up men. They have Mike Leake listed as their fifth starter.

  17. macjacmccoy - Mar 16, 2013 at 12:29 PM

    God people you cant just say starters have more value then relievers so he should be a starter. It means nothing unless you take into account the value of the guy hes replacing and the value of the guy replacing him and if its going to cost the team prospects or money to make it happen.

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