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Aroldis Chapman wants to close

Mar 16, 2013, 9:40 PM EDT

Aroldis Chapman AP

Perhaps the biggest debate of the off-season, at least after the AL MVP award was handed out, was the benefit or detriment of the Reds’ desire to move Aroldis Chapman to the starting rotation. Chapman, behind a high-90’s fastball, finished the 2012 season with a 1.51 ERA and 38 saves. However, the Reds signed Jonathan Broxton, giving them the flexibility to push Chapman into the rotation.

Here’s the latest wrench in the whole debacle. Chapman says he wants to close, according to Danny Knobler:

What was perhaps most interesting about the day was how strongly Chapman spoke when asked what he wants the Reds’ decision to be.

“I would like to be a closer, but that’s not in my hands,” Chapman said.

General manager Walt Jocketty and pitching coach Bryan Price have favored making Chapman a starter, while Baker has been considered the strongest advocate of leaving him in the bullpen.

The Reds are expected to decide in the next few days what Chapman’s role in 2013 will be, closing or starting. He tossed four innings in his most recent spring training outing, but his spring training use is no indicator of his regular season use as he was worked as a starter last spring as well.

  1. Kevin Gillman - Mar 16, 2013 at 10:01 PM

    Seriously, why didn’t Chapman even say anything before he started in games? Or did Dusty pay him money to say that?

  2. rodster213 - Mar 16, 2013 at 10:27 PM

    All I will say is this:Felize.for the Texas Rangers.
    $$

  3. andreweac - Mar 16, 2013 at 10:32 PM

    Somebody should tell Chapman he could probably land a $170 million deal when he reaches FA if he’s a proven #1. He wouldn’t come close to this as a closer.

    • gabrielthursday - Mar 16, 2013 at 10:51 PM

      Closing (for now) may be in Chapman’s best interests. He’s not even arbitration-eligible yet, and while he’ll be better off as a starter heading into free agency, it’s reasonable for him to think that he’ll be a less risk of injury and less risk of his stuff declining if he throws 70 innings a year rather than 200 for the next couple years.

      Then, two years before free agency, he can convert to the starting rotation, giving him enough time to establish himself as a starter and reap the big contract.

      • paperlions - Mar 16, 2013 at 11:00 PM

        I don’t think Chapman is ever going to be arbitration eligible. He signed as an international FA; once his deal is up, he’s a FA.

      • jwbiii - Mar 16, 2013 at 11:37 PM

        He’ll be arb eligible this season unless the Reds option him. He has an odd contract. The way it is structured, if he is arb eligible after this season, his $3M 2014 salary become a bonus.

    • Ben - Mar 16, 2013 at 11:57 PM

      It’s also not worth the risk. He’s been insanely effective as a closer, and the downside of moving into the starting rotation is pretty extreme. See Bard, Daniel, for just one example. He’s got a great shot of a 70 million dollar payday, or the chance of a 170 million dollar payday. Personally, I’d play it safe.

      • paperlions - Mar 17, 2013 at 2:18 AM

        Samardzija and Sale disagree. Again, the list of successful transitions from the bull pen to the rotation by pitchers with elite stuff is far far longer than the list of pitchers who had arm problems during the process. If Chapman fails, so what, they can always move him back to the pen.

      • Ben - Mar 17, 2013 at 10:53 AM

        There are a ton of examples on either side. Here, I’ll add a couple for you–John Smoltz and Pedro Martinez. But it’s a risk. I’m not finding any good data, but my guesstimate is that it’s essentially 50/50 chance of success. The problem is that that downside 50% is pretty extreme. These guys break. The point is, it’s a risk with no real way of projecting success or failure. Why has one pitcher been more successful moving than other? We don’t know.

      • paperlions - Mar 17, 2013 at 11:30 AM

        Pitching is a risk. For a guy with good stuff, multiple plus pitches, and a good mechanics, it is not a risk. Do you really think MLB teams evaluated the relative risk and reward of using a guy for 70 innings versus 200+ innings?

      • Ben - Mar 17, 2013 at 11:40 AM

        Of course it’s a risk. And of course teams evaluate the risks. The point is, it’s essentially unpredictable as to who is going to thrive and who is going to crash and burn. When you’re talking about somebody as incredibly successful as Chapman, it doesn’t seem like it’s worth the risk.

        No one other than the front office things he should be starting. He doesn’t want to. His manager doesn’t want him to. The scouts think he’s going to flame out as a starter.

        Neftali Feliz matches precisely the criteria you laid you. To a T. Tommy John surgery after 7 starts. It’s unpredictable, so why mess with what’s working? Sure, his elbow could go pop his first inning out as a reliever, but why tempt fate as a starter?

  4. sportsnut101 - Mar 17, 2013 at 2:35 AM

    What I don’t get is would u rather have a starter who pitches once a week for 6 innings or would u have a closer who can pitch 4 days a week on 8 innings Closing the 9th is the hardest not everyone can do it

    If he’s saying he wants to close then that’s it Let him close. He did awesome Job last yr why ruin it So what if they signed broxton. Use him for 7th n 8th More bullpen depth never hurt anybody. It’s a long season

    U see what happen to joba. Yanks didn’t know what to do with him back n forth they ruined his career

    • jm91rs - Mar 17, 2013 at 12:50 PM

      Would you rather have a guy with nasty stuff sitting in the bullpen all post season, while mike leake gets a start, or would you rather run chapman out there for 5 or 6 innings and tell leake to stay home?

  5. hitdog042 - Mar 17, 2013 at 11:28 AM

    When was Pedro a closer.

    • asimonetti88 - Mar 17, 2013 at 1:55 PM

      Pedro was a reliever for the Dodgers.

  6. jonrox - Mar 17, 2013 at 11:33 AM

    Even if we determine that being a starter is not in Chapman’s best interest, his best use would not be as a closer anyway. For one, Chapman struggled last year when he didn’t get a day or two of rest between appearances. Also, a closer ordinarily comes in the ninth inning with no one on and with a lead, which is a “low leverage” situation (we would not expect a loss when a lead needs to be preserved for an inning). Realistically, most pitchers would have a high success rate in such a situation, because nearly all pitchers give up, on average, less than one run per inning. This is part of the reason why Francisco Cordero and Aroldis Chapman had an identical save success rate in the past two seasons for the Reds, and that saves are converted at approximately the same rate today (despite bullpen specialization) as they were in similar situation 30 years ago.

    Chapman, based on his low WHIP and his insanely high strike-out rate, is much better designed to be inserted in, and convert on, high leverage positions. Grounders and fly balls don’t always prevent runners from advancing or scoring, but strikeouts do. As a result of his nature as a pitcher, Chapman is best utilized in high stress positions with high leverage, because he will be able to get the Reds out of the jam much greater frequently than anyone else on the roster (and with much greater frequency than Sam LeCure, whom the Reds used almost exclusively in those situations last year).

    Chapman, if not a starter, should be the Reds’ super reliever, designed to come into the tough situations when the Reds are in a jam. Being as good as he is, no one on the Reds is better at stopping the bleeding than Chapman. Moreover, now that he is “stretched out” he can have game appearances that last longer than one innings, which could allow him to increase his overall usage.

    • jonrox - Mar 17, 2013 at 11:35 AM

      Tl;dr: Even if you think Chapman shouldn’t be a starter, he’s not optimally used as a closer either. He should be used as a reliever during the toughest moments of the game, such as when a previous pitcher has left the Reds in a jam with baserunners on.

      • cur68 - Mar 17, 2013 at 12:44 PM

        WAS long: did read. Agree. This was Posnanski’s argument and has been backed by analysis, which you mention, that the most effective use of your best arm that isn’t a starter, is as a high leverage reliever. As this idea gains traction I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see Chapman used just that way. There’ll be screams of outrage, of course. There always is when Baker does something unconventional with a pitcher, even if its successful.

  7. silverdeer - Mar 17, 2013 at 11:54 AM

    I think they should trade him to the Tigers for Porcello and a player TBNL.

  8. thomas844 - Mar 17, 2013 at 11:57 AM

    Mark Prior should be the closer.

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