Pitchers like Aroldis Chapman don’t pop up very often. The guy has a fastball that averages 98 mph, something that only one other pitcher did last year (Andrew Cashner, anyone?). He made significant strides in his second season in Cincy, dropping his walk rate under 3.00 BB/9 and turning what was a serious weakness in 2011 into a major strength. In fact, Chapman’s 5.30 K:BB ratio was good for 11th among the 325 pitchers who tossed at least 50 innings last year, and among that group his 2.89 BB/9 could actually be considered high.
As for 2013, the question becomes, “How will Chapman’s stuff translate to the rotation?” Admittedly, I have my concerns. Last year we saw two big-name relievers begin the transition to the rotation (Chris Sale, Daniel Bard) and they went in vastly different directions. Sale was built to become a starter, mixing four pitches even when he worked out of the bullpen. Bard was just a two-pitch reliever, and when he tried to get through lineups a second or third time he just didn’t have enough stuff to keep batters off balance. According to PitchFX, Chapman was a two-pitch reliever as well. Of course, his two pitches are much better than Bard’s, but will that be enough to make him a success?
At a Glance
Strengths: K, K/9, L
Neutral: W, ERA, WHIP, IP, BB
Best-case scenario: Max Scherzer (DET)
Likely scenario: Lance Lynn (STL), Jeff Samardzija (CHC), Stephen Strasburg (WAS) from 2012 (i.e. 160 IP)
Worst-case scenario: Bottoms out and finds his way back to closer, which might be a best-case scenario
Aroldis Chapman 2013 Fantasy Projection
First off, pump the brakes out there. Chapman is a supremely talented pitcher, but as far as fantasy baseball is concerned he was much more valuable as a closer than he will be as a starter. Call it hogwash if you want, but I’m very concerned over the lack of variety in his repertoire. Last year he threw his four-seamer 81.6% of the time, his slider 11.9% of the time, and his change-up 6.5% of the time. That’s not going to work in the rotation. And he’s going to need more than the 5-mph gap between his fastball and his change-up that we saw last year if he wants that to become a plus pitch, too (last year it was -0.57 runs above average).
So let’s assume he does sort of figure things out. The strikeout rate is definitely coming down, and last year only Strasburg, Scherzer, and Yu Darvish had strikeout rates over 10.0 K/9. The WHIP will have to come up, but projecting how much is little more than guesswork masquerading as analysis. We guessed 1.29 (and by “guessed” I mean “ran regression analysis to determine the relationship between WHIP, OBA, and BB/9″), and that includes noticeable rises in both his walk rate (to 4.18 BB/9) and his OBA (up to .221). Those are both very easily beatable marks, so if you’re bullish on Chapman you could talk me into, say, 1.15 or so, but I wouldn’t feel very good about drafting him accordingly.
Ah, but the strikeouts. They’ll be there, and in leagues that count K/9 you obviously give Chapman a huge boost. But again, there’s a ton of risk in drafting Chapman inside the top 125-150, and because of the weight his name carries that’s probably where he’ll go. Let someone else make that mistake. You’re much better off grabbing an innings eater with a proven track record unless you’re in a very, very shallow league where you can afford a couple draft misses.