Thursday, June 14, 2012

Should Chapman start? I say no for now



Tally another vote for the "move Aroldis Chapman to the starting rotation" initiative. ESPN Insider Dan Zymborski is the latest in a long list of baseball experts calling for the change and he does so in the following column (subscription required). For those without access and/or are pinched for time, here's an excerpt from the piece that summarize Szymborski's reasoning:

If you have an excellent starter and an excellent reliever, all things being equal, you want the starter. The reliever pitches in higher-leverage situations, but the starter pitches a lot more. That's definitely too simple, but in the situation the Reds are in, moving Chapman to the rotation makes even more sense than usual.



To start, Cincy's bullpen is very deep and performing extremely well, even with the nasty surprise of Ryan Madson missing the season and Bill Bray also being on the shelf. Even if you wipe out all of Chapman's stats this season, the bullpen's ERA of 3.03 has still been more than solid. Eight pitchers have appeared in relief for the Reds this season, and the second-worst strikeout rate among them is J.J. Hoover's 8.6 K/9.

With such a deep bullpen, the Reds can afford to lose an arm for a good cause. Jose Arredondo and Alfredo Simon have combined for 57 strikeouts and a 1.94 ERA in 51 innings this season, but with a combined leverage index of 0.77, the Reds haven't gotten maximum value out of that performance. Simply put, the Reds don't have enough high-leverage innings for all their high-performing relievers.

The rotation, on the other hand, has been less enthralling. Johnny Cueto has contributed as usual, and Mat Latos should be better going forward, but there's nobody else in the rotation that Cincinnati fans should be super-excited about seeing start games in October.

At this point in the season, there aren't many ways that a team can easily add a win or two. You can make a big trade, but that comes with the downside of losing a prospect. Moving Chapman to the rotation doesn't cost that, and, realistically, the Reds don't have the same farm depth that they had before the Latos trade.

A game or two doesn't sound like a major boost, but for a team in Cincinnati's position, it can very easily make the difference between Cincinnati playing baseball in October and watching baseball in October.

At this stage in the season, I'm going to have to disagree with Symborski. Yes, I'm curious as anyone as to how Chapman would perform as a starter, but the fact remains that he's become the Reds most valuable reliever.

The left-hander has been flat-out dominant in his given role this season and the team isn't exactly desperate to add another starter to the rotation either -- the starting five of Johnny Cueto, Mat Latos, Homer Bailey, Bronson Arroyo, and Mike Leake have held their own. The old saying "if it ain't broke don't fix it" applies very well in this situation. While Cincy could indeed benefit from using Chapman every fifth day, there's no need to make the switch as of now. The regular starters are healthy and pitching fine, the club is in first-place, and Chapman has been lights out in relief. Any decision to slide the Cuban Missile into the rotation shouldn't come until next year unless a dire situation warrants it in 2012.

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