Is he a starter? Is he a reliever? Is he even human?
These are all questions being asked by fans and media alike this winter when discussing Reds southpaw Aroldis Chapman. Okay, so that last one may be a bit of an exaggeration, but anyone who can throw a 100 MPH fastball with the relative ease as Chapman does warrants such super-human and/or immortal consideration. Enough of that. Now, back to preseason expectations.
The Reds enter this season with a widely-known plan to transition The Cuban Missile from the bullpen to the starting rotation. Folks with fantastic long-term memory may remember that the club had a similar agenda last spring before the injury bug bit the team's relief staff pretty hard. When key contributors Nick Masset, Bill Bray, and Ryan Madson went down to various ailments, the Reds were forced to abandon their ambitious plan.
Actually, moving Chapman to the backend of the bullpen proved to be a blessing in disguise. The flamethrower excelled in his setup role before eventually taking over the full-time closing duties by mid-May. By season's end, he had posted some remarkable numbers: 1.51 ERA, 38 saves, 122 strikeouts in just 71.2 innings pitched, a gaudy 5.3 K/BB, and a 0.809 WHIP. Chapman was rewarded with his first trip to the All-Star game and an eighth place finish in the Cy Young Award voting for his efforts.
Naturally, this begs the question as to why the Reds would try and tinker with something that has proven to be successful. However, the other side of the argument is Chapman becomes a whole lot more valuable by becoming a starter because he will toss more innings. This is assuming that Chapman can continue to make a mockery of big league hitters in spite of an increased workload. It's a compelling debate and one that will certainly be visited many times this spring, but it also makes projecting his season a lot more difficult.
Here is an attempt by three sources, nevertheless:
Obviously, these projections have been made assuming the Reds keep Chapman as a starter. You may also notice that these sources only project the 24-year-old to make 25 or 26 starts. If this is indeed the case, that would probably mean the Reds would use a similar strategy the Washington Nationals used with Stephen Strasburg in 2012. Basically, they would enforce an innings limit. But that may become irrelevant if Cincinnati shifts Chapman back to the 'pen.
Another thing I would like to point out is that none of these three sources project Chapman to boast a low ERA like he did a season ago. Each of them expects the left-hander to post an ERA north of 3.00, which would be double his total from '12. Essentially, these sources don't believe Chapman can exhibit the same kind of dominance as a starter as he did as a closer. I think it's going to be fun to see whether or not they are right or wrong.