Originally posted on The Outside Corner  |  Last updated 3/8/13
Continuing from the Reds season preview earlier today... Are the Reds making the right decision moving Aroldis Chapman to the rotation? Two of the biggest factors that contributed to the Reds' 2012 success was that they had a solid, stable rotation and arguably the best bullpen in baseball. Considering that Cincinnati is returning almost the exact same pitching staff as last season, you'd think that they'd be set-up perfectly to recycle that same successful formula. Well, think again. The Reds instead have chosen to take the gamble of moving their most prolific reliever, Aroldis Chapman, out of the bullpen and into the rotation. It is a gamble that could pay huge dividends if it works out but might become a classic case of fixing something that isn't broken if it doesn't work. As a reliever last season, the fireballing Chapman was one of the best relievers in the game. He had a 3.3 fWAR, trailing only Craig Kimbrel amongst relievers, a microscopic 1.51 ERA and an absurd 15.32 K/9 rate. You really can't ask for anything more from a reliever which also means that you can't easily replace what Chapman did working in crucial late-inning roles for the Reds. The dream though is that Chapman can translate that same kind of dominance to the rotation, a rotation that is already fronted by Johnny Cueto and Mat Latos. It is hard not to let your imagination run away with the idea of Chapman joining them to form one of the most potent rotation trios in the game. That, of course, assumes Chapman is actually well-suited for starting and there are very real reasons to believe he might not be. And there, they say, inlies the rub. As good as Chapman is and as hard as he throws, he is a two-pitch (if that) pitcher as he throws mostly fastballs and the occasional slider. The standard template for starters almost exclusively mandates that they pitcher possess a third pitch, which Chapman technically does in the form of a changeup that he throws about once a month. That pitch mix will have to change for him though because over the course of a game, hitters are going to start to catch up with his heat, especially if Aroldis proves to be unable to frequently register triple digits on the radar gun since he would now be pitching six innings instead of one. Last season, we saw several different case studies on what happens when relievers move to the rotation. Chris Sale became one of the top pitchers in the game. Jeff Samardzija evolved into a quality starter. Neftali Feliz blew out his arm. Daniel Bard flamed out in the worst fashion possible. Like Chapman, all of those guys were immensely talented, which makes it that much harder to peg where Aroldis will fall in the spectrum that runs from star to complete bust, making this a risky gambit by the Reds. Given how successful the Reds rotation was in 2012, it makes this decision that much more puzzling. Again, why fix what isn't broken? The only logical answer to that is that Cincy can see some cracks starting to form in the foundation and wants to get it fixed before it breaks down. Cueto and Latos are the stalwarts of the staff, but the back end of the rotation could get pretty shaky in a hurry. Mike Leake, a talented young pitcher, was not particularly good last year, making him the odd man out. Then there is Homer Bailey, another skilled guy just coming into his prime, but he also is coming off the first year of his six-year career where he has had an ERA under 4.43 and logged over 132 innings. Maybe he is finally coming into his own, but maybe he regresses both in terms of performance and in terms of being able to log 200+ innings again. That leaves Bronson Arroyo to round out the staff. Arroyo finished 2012 with a 3.74 ERA and 4.08 FIP, but that came after a 2011 season in which his ERA was 5.07 and his FIP was a moribund 5.71, which only serves to highlight Arroyo has been throughout his career. Clearly, the Reds are realizing that they just don't know what to expect from Bailey or Arroyo in 2013. They also can't count on their starters all making every single start again, so inserting Chapman in the rotation not only increases the talent level, but also increases depth as it allows Leake to shift into a swingman role. Where the Reds' plans really fall together though is that while they can use Chapman to improve the talent and depth in the rotation, they can do so without hurting the talent and depth level in the bullpen all that much. With Jon Broxton at closer, Sean Marshall and Jose Arredondo setting up, the Reds are not hurting for talent in the late innings. Even their middle relief is filled with guys coming off strong seasons in Alfredo Simon, Logan Ondrusek and Sam LeCure. That depth will only improve if/when Nick Masset fully recovers from shoulder surgery. Obviously the relief corps would be better off with Chapman in the fold, but they don't really need him. That is what this ultimately boils down to: do the Reds need 70 fantastic innings of Chapman in an already stellar bullpen or do they need 180 innings maybe amazing, maybe below average innings in a rotation that is good but not great? Anyone with a basic understanding of a player valuation will tell you how much more valuable those 180 starter innings are so long as you have some kind of idea how well the pitcher will perform. For Cincy, if they feel comfortable that Chapman can at least be a mid-rotation guy this year, the move is a no-brainer. That goes double if they think he can use this year to develop and become a potential ace in the long run. But if they have any concern that Chapman isn't cut out for starting either from a performance or durability standpoint, then they run the risk of ruining a very valuable asset and formula that helped them win 97 games last season. Reds on TOC End of Season Postmortem 2013 Season Preview You May Say I'm a Dreamer 2013 Burning Question This Is My Nightmare (3:00 PM) 2013 X-Factor (4:30 PM)
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