Sunday, March 4, 2012

Chapman's role in '12, what is it?

It wasn’t too long ago when Albertin “Aroldis” Chapman was the most prized asset in the Reds organization, or at least the most intriguing. But within just two years of Cincinnati signing him he has almost become a forgotten man. The hype and luster of his electric fastball has been quickly overshadowed by a host of newcomers.

The addition of Mat Latos, to go alongside Johnny Cueto, Bronson Arroyo, Homer Bailey and Mike Leake in the starting rotation has left little room for the Cuban Missile there. Meanwhile, all thoughts of plugging the southpaw into a setup or closer role were dashed this winter when GM Walt Jocketty acquired Sean Marshall from the Cubs and Ryan Madson from free agency. This presents a precarious situation for both Chapman and the team – what to do with the fireballer? Quite simply, Chapman’s ability and the Reds’ financial investment in him are too great to let him go to waste.

After breaking onto the big league scene late in the 2010 season as a reliever, the Reds used him in a similar role in 2011. In 54 appearances out of the ‘pen last year Chapman posted a 4-1 record, 3.60 ERA, and a nice 12.8 SO/9. While the strikeout rate is nothing to sneeze at, he did appear to lack command.

The 23-year old had some control issues as evidenced by his 7.4 BB/9 and 1.73 K/BB. However, those statistics can be easily misleading. He suffered a horrid stretch from April 30th to May 15th where he surrendered 10 earned runs and 12 walks spanning 4 outings, yet only recorded a combined four outs (1.1 IP) during those appearances. Take those four games out of his season and his ERA (for example) would have been an impressive 1.80. What MLB reliever wouldn’t have taken that?

Chapman went 11-4 in 20 starts for
the Holguin Sabuesos in '09
But as effective as Chapman has looked in a relief role, the franchise seems persistent in their approach to transition him to a starter. And why not? The club surely envisioned him pitching every five days (rather than five innings a week) when they inked him to a 5yr/$25.M deal back in January, 2010. Aside from that, I have to believe Chapman is more comfortable starting games than finishing them anyway. He demonstrated that preference as an adolescent pitching for the Cuban national team and also proved his worth as a starter with Triple-A Louisville two years ago (9-6, 3.57 ERA, 12 GS, 96.7 IP). Any and all doubt about whether or not he could take the strain of a heavy workload should’ve been dashed then, in my opinion.

However, the Reds continue to be very careful with their approach on developing him – and understandably so. Chapman is a type of talent who doesn’t come around very often. With that said, I can’t for the life of me figure out what kind of role the organization views him having in the future.

The 3-year extension given to Sean Marshall recently all but eliminated any idea of using Chapman as the closer anytime soon (at least until 2016). Okay, what about his chances in the starting rotation you may ask? Well, Cueto is a virtual lock. Leake and Bailey have emerged as regular mainstays. Latos is a fixture at the top. And Arroyo will be in the rotation no matter what through 2013 due to his fat salary.

So, where does that leave the Cuban Missile? Will he waste away in the minors drawing huge crowds and even bigger paychecks? Will the team eventually stick him back beyond the GABP outfield walls and tab him a left-handed specialist? Or will he wind up being dealt because he no longer fits into the puzzle? Only time will tell. But the Redlegs would surely benefit from having him in the mix this year – somehow and someway.


Contrary Guy said...

Something I didn't see mentioned: Chapman is one of only 3 lefties on the roster. I'm not counting that guy Francis that they signed as a training camp arm (6-16 last year, yikes). Although I have my doubts about whether he can keep his velocity up for 7-8 innings, it's not going to be to the Reds advantage to throw a rightie out there on EVERY start. My wild guess: unless somebody else gets hurt, Bailey will have to show he's 100% healthy and 100% sharp to keep his spot away from Aroldis.

Jimmi Adair said...

Good point CG. Although I don't necessarily feel like they HAVE to mix in a left-hander in the rotation to be successful, it certainly wouldn't hurt to have a southpaw option to turn to.

I wouldn't give up on Francis just yet. I know his 6-16 record isn't pretty, but you can't always base performance off of just that. He pitched for an awful Kansas City squad last in 2011.

But he won 14, 13, and 17 games, respectively, from 2005-07 for the Rockies. He's also proven to be an innings eater-type guy...which is never a bad thing to have on the roster.

With that said, I hope Chapman has a breakout season. I'm pulling for him.

Contrary Guy said...

I'm pulling for all of them... fresh arms are gold in October. Having extra pitching now doesn't hurt!

Cincinnati Sports All Day Everyday said...

I dont care for the fact about not having a southpaw in the starting rotation at all and Coach Baker most def needs the option of a lefty coming out of the bullpen, In my opinion Chapman needs to be in the starting rotation