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Reds moving Aroldis Chapman back to the bullpen

Mar 21, 2013, 10:52 AM EDT

chapman getty Getty Images

Aroldis Chapman has been preparing all spring as if he’ll be in the starting rotation, but Paul Daughtery of the Cincinnati Enquirer reports that the Reds have decided to shift him back to the closer role.

Chapman always wanted to remain in the bullpen and manager Dusty Baker wanted to leave him at closer too, so in the end their preferences won out over the front office wanting to see if Chapman could thrive in a 200-inning role instead of a 70-inning role.

Cincinnati spent $21 million on Jonathan Broxton this offseason so he could step into ninth-inning duties and make moving Chapman into the rotation less of an issue for the bullpen, but now they’re paying $12 million per season for a setup duo of Broxton and Sean Marshall.

There have certainly been several instances of a dominant young reliever struggling with a move into the rotation, due to poor performances and/or injuries, but Chris Sale is a recent prominent example of that shift working out brilliantly. Obviously having Chapman around to shut down opponents for 60-70 high-leverage innings as a reliever is hardly some disastrous scenario, but it would have been fun to see if he could follow Sale’s footsteps into No. 1 starter territory instead of becoming a career-long reliever at age 25.

  1. contraryguy - Mar 21, 2013 at 11:13 AM

    Good. Let’s get this nonsense out of the way, and hope Chappy used the extra mound time to work up a 3rd pitch.

    So then, who’s the 5th starter, Leake again?

    • jm91rs - Mar 21, 2013 at 12:35 PM

      Exactly. And Leake looks good this spring, but he’s still Leake. I don’t think he’ll ever be better than a 5th starter.

  2. umrguy42 - Mar 21, 2013 at 11:20 AM

    First of all, I had to re-read that to catch the hyphen between “career” and “long”, cuz I first read “career long reliever” and went “but he’s a closer!”.

    Secondly, maybe he could challenge Rivera’s records if he stays a closer (and a darn good one)? Dependent on not just him, I’ll grant you.

    • muscles1331 - Mar 21, 2013 at 11:50 AM

      I doubt he will challenge Rivera’s closer records for two reasons:

      1) He has way too much potential as a front-line starter to not be in the rotation within the next three years. When his contract is up he will be chasing starter money and teams will view him that way in my opinion.

      2) His size makes it very, very difficult to keep his mechanics in check. Pitching only 70 innings per year makes bad innings less forgiving since they count more (i.e. smaller denominator) and he won’t have the luxury of getting back on track in-game like a starter would. Throw in that he is a power pitcher from the left side and he cannot afford to lose too much velocity. Left handed closers are rare due to the greater number of right-handed batters. If that fastball doesn’t stay dominant and he sticks in the pen, he will be a left-handed specialist in his later years impacting his shot at most of Rivera’s longevity records. The only long-term left-handed closer I can think of was Billy Wagner.

      Mind you this is just my opinion.

  3. Ben - Mar 21, 2013 at 11:24 AM

    Hate to say I told you so, but who am I kidding. Everyone loves to say I told ya so. And after all those thumbs down, too.

    • discountdblcheck - Mar 21, 2013 at 11:27 AM

      This should come as no surprise to anyone who follows the Reds.

      • Ben - Mar 21, 2013 at 11:30 AM

        I know, and I was mostly kidding, but I was getting massively downrated over the weekend for suggesting that the reliever to starter path suffers tremendously from confirmation bias, as this article so helpfully showed. It mentions Chris Sale but not the Daniel Bards of the world.

      • Ben - Mar 21, 2013 at 11:37 AM

        Rather, discussions of the reliever to starter path suffer from confirmation bias.

      • paperlions - Mar 21, 2013 at 12:11 PM

        Because you are wrong Ben. Pitchers that suffer setbacks in performance or injuries when being moved from the pen to the rotation happen at the same rate as pitchers that stay in the bullpen….and for every Sale/Samardjia/Pedro Martinez there is not one Daniel Bard. In the last week alone there have been 3 stories about pitchers that never left the pen that had setbacks from TJ surgery or that just had it and will miss the entire 2013 season.

        This is one of the best examples of confirmation bias because you are ignoring all of the instances that don’t fit your preconception, including 1) relief pitchers that stay in the pen but struggle or get hurt anyway (which is very common) and 2) pitchers used in relief for a while that move to the rotation and do just fine, who far out number those that don’t.

        I am glad that Cinci is keeping him in the pen without even finding out if he can start. He’s just as likely to get hurt throwing with max effort for 60+ outings as he is starting 30-35 games, and while doing so he’ll provide far less value than he could have as a starter with a sub-.300 ERA.

      • churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Mar 21, 2013 at 12:18 PM

        Daniel Bards of the world.

        Because the Daniel Bard comp doesn’t hold water. For one, Bard was tried as a starter in the minors and failed at it, so he ended up in the bullpen. Two, Bard has really bad platoon splits (dominant against righties, not against lefties). Many of us pointed out how bad Bard would be as a starter and it’s not because he came from the bullpen.

    • paperlions - Mar 21, 2013 at 12:18 PM

      You told us what? That the Reds would make the low risk low reward decision that you would? The Reds making this decision doesn’t validate anything, other than they are willing to limit the Chapman’s value to their team. Last year was probably the best year he’ll ever have, and he was the 35th most valuable pitcher in MLB. He’ll pitch 20-30 high leverage innings (tied game or 1 run lead)…and a bunch of 9th innings with a 2-3 run lead.

  4. jarathen - Mar 21, 2013 at 11:27 AM

    I can’t speak for Chapman, but for a guy with a murderball like that, he proably just wants to air it out over short periods than try to hoard stamina. Not everyone is Nolan Ryan, Justin Verlander, or Bob Gibson.

  5. thomas844 - Mar 21, 2013 at 11:29 AM

    As a Reds fan, this pleases me. I just hope now we can stop playing the “What will Chapman be?” game every year at Spring Training. He was the third best closer in all of baseball in 2012 (behind Kimbrel and Rodney) and will only get better, giving himself a chance to become the best.

    I like Broxton, and nothing against him, but he worries me a little bit as a closer and I think is better suited as a set-up guy. Plus, Marshall was our only big left-handed arm in the pen (I honestly don’t buy Manny Parra being a productive reliever). Not to mention, there is no reason to mess with a rotation that was the main strength of the team last year. Sure, Leake struggled a bit but still has a lot of upside (he was their wins and strikeouts leader in 2011, after all) and not to mention we have three great prospects in Corcino, Cingrani, and Stephenson. The rotation will be just fine without Chapman. Keeping the Cuban Missile to close the games was the best choice to make.

    • thomas844 - Mar 21, 2013 at 12:02 PM

      Lol wow guys what’s up with the thumbs down?

      • contraryguy - Mar 21, 2013 at 1:16 PM

        Probably had trouble digesting the ‘Leake has upside’ remark. Or there are a lot of Reds fans who really wanted AC to start. Well I’m a Reds fan and I’d rather see someone who had a good spring starting games, say Hoover or the new Hensley guy, get a shot at that 5th slot. With the upside the Reds have this year hopefully this story will fade behind better ones like winning a playoff series, etc.

  6. dutchman45 - Mar 21, 2013 at 12:02 PM

    If it ain’t broke, do not fix it. He has had great success.

  7. jonrox - Mar 21, 2013 at 12:37 PM

    Dusty Baker is the absolute worst for being a big whiny baby about change.

    • jarathen - Mar 21, 2013 at 1:03 PM

      He’s the absolute worst for ruining pitching careers and sending a four year old out as a bat boy.

  8. mj1818 - Mar 21, 2013 at 12:40 PM

    It’s hard to change what works, especially when that one thing works very very well. As a pirates fan I hate to see chapman on the mound he is a scary man. Honestly I think it’s smart to leave him in a role he’s been so successful at, he’s part of the reason why they have made the post season the past couple years and definitely will help the get over the one and done hump.

  9. jm91rs - Mar 21, 2013 at 12:46 PM

    Either decision had little downside barring injury, and the injury could have happened in either position so that’s not worth considering.

    The”if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” mentality is fine, because the team did well and probably will again. But I think people aren’t seeing the upside to the move to starter. If he is good enough to be the 3rd best pitcher for the team (better than arroyo and bailey) he’s much more valuable. I fear that Chapman just had the best year he’ll ever have (pretty tough to repeat what he just did), and if he blows a few saves this year everyone will be saying “should have made him a starter”. Next year we might be right back where we are now if Chapman isn’t dominant again.

    Final point. Chapman did NOTHING in the playoffs. As the 3rd or 4th starter he would have at least had some contribution.

    I’m upset at the decision, but glad something was finally announced so they could get the rotation set for the season.

    • joshfrancis50 - Mar 21, 2013 at 1:38 PM

      “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it”

      Unless you’re hoisting the WS trophy over your head; it’s broke. I wish the Reds would at least TRY him. He can always go and pitch fewer innings.

      I just can’t help but think Baker was talking Chapman about this and convinced him he’d rather be a closer. It’s baseless, I know, but that’s what I think happened.

      • jm91rs - Mar 21, 2013 at 2:59 PM

        Oh there’s no doubt Dusty was pulling the strings behind this one. As I once read on here, Dusty would rather be proven right than admit he’s wrong (see running corey patterson out every day even though Dusty himself could come off the bench to hit the ball better).

        But that ultimate choke job after game 2 last year wasn’t about Chapman. Sure I wish he could have contributed, but that team just knew it was done when it came back to Cincinnati. I can’t explain it, but I think we all knew it. This year, even with Chapman in the Bullpen, I’m expecting more good things.

  10. derekjwest - Mar 21, 2013 at 5:04 PM

    That’s a ton of $$$ now locked into the back end of the pen between Marshall, Broxton & Chapman.

  11. atlrod - Mar 21, 2013 at 8:10 PM

    Totally agree with this move. Why would you want to find out if the guy who’s dominant for 70 innings of the season could be dominant for 2-3x that number of innings? Definitely keep him in the ‘pen and let’s only see him when the team is already winning. Seems like a brilliant strategy.

  12. deltachi8 - Mar 21, 2013 at 10:22 PM

    What a waste. The Reds will fall short once again this year

  13. coachbeck - Mar 24, 2013 at 10:14 AM

    They are in win now mode. They will lose one of the starters next year and Chapman will be starting next year. Bailey is probably gone. Someone will over pay him. The reds are set up well just have another luxury year of chapman closing.

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