2014 Reds / Chapmania

Breaking free of our Aroldis Addiction

We love watching Aroldis Chapman’s slender frame walk through that bullpen door. You can judge the intensity of the passion by the wild applause that accompanies his run to the mound even when there isn’t free pizza at stake. There are nights if you squint hard enough at the “54″ on his chest, you’d swear it was the letter “S” instead. In those heady moments, as Aroldis Chapman gets set to close out the ninth inning of a Reds victory, all he’s missing is a cape.

But it’s not really his glorious dash onto the field that we crave. No, the sprint just marks the onset of our collective delirium. What really puts the ‘mania’ in Chapmania are the strikeouts. That’s our real obsession, the dominant whiff.

The hard truth is this: Aroldis Chapman’s ninth-inning strikeouts are baseball’s version of crack. Except it’s spelled with two (or often three) Ks.

As fans, we deeply enjoy experiencing those strikeouts. Dusty Baker did, too. Those helpless swings by our (often hated) opponents make us crazy happy. You could even say we’ve started to crave them. And like every psychological dependency, this one comes at a cost. Chapman’s strikeouts have become a powerful narcotic that desensitizes us to certain realities, like his league-average save rate.

Now, I know what you’re thinking: Here comes another post about Chapman’s role. But you’d be wrong.

(Who would have ever thought we’d look back fondly to the days when we had issues to argue about other than the adjective in front of the word “great” in describing Joey Votto’s 2013 season? Those are wonderful, blissful memories.)

No, let’s not rehash the closer vs. starter debate here right now. There’s obviously a case to be made for leaving Chapman in the ninth inning and a case for moving him into the rotation. The Reds under new manager Bryan Price haven’t made their intention clear.

Instead, just for the moment — or in the blogging world, this thread — assume for the sake of discussion the Reds do break their ninth-inning Aroldis Addiction. Let’s analyze the alternatives.

The current free agent pool is full of veteran closers, terrifying and otherwise: Grant Balfour, Joaquin Benoit, Kevin Gregg, Joel Hanrahan, Joe Nathan, Chris Perez, Fernando Rodney, Jose Veras and Brian Wilson. Wilson was mentioned in a tweet this week by Yahoo’s Tim Brown as a possible candidate for the Reds in a post-Chapman scenario.

In signing a free agent, the Reds could use one of two approaches. The traditional, cautious route would pay big money to an “established” closer in a multi-year deal. The Reds signed Coco Cordero (4 years, $45 million) to that kind of contract. Or, they could sign a pitcher like Brian Wilson, who might be looking for a one-year contract ala Ryan Madson two seasons ago (1 year, $8.5 million), presumably with intact elbow tendons.

Another tried and true solution would be to promote an in-house pitcher that was a former major league closer, such as Jonathan Broxton, who is signed for two years. Lefty Sean Marshall, who has one year remaining on his Reds’ contract, closed for a while in 2011. Sam LeCure also returns to the Reds and seems to have the mentality to finish games.

But if I were Walt Jocketty and Bryan Price, I might choose a ninth-inning path less traveled. I’d call J.J. Hoover and tell him that he’s the guy.

Hoover is 26 years old and under team control until 2019. He definitely has “closer stuff” with a 93-mph fastball and dominating breaking ball. Hoover registered a strikeout rate above 9.0 in both 2012 and 2013 for the Reds. He has experience pitching the ninth inning, having recorded a handful (4) of saves in his roughly 100 innings of work for Dusty Baker and successfully closed 13 games for Louisville in 2012.

J.J. Hoover would simply need to be an average major league closer because — minus the Krack — that’s all Aroldis Chapman has been. Hoover’s numbers indicate he’d have an excellent chance to convert 37 of 43 saves (Coco Cordero’s four-year rate) or even 38 of 43 opportunities (Chapman, the past two years).

If Hoover works out, the Reds would have a closer pitching for league minimum salary in both 2014 and 2015 before becoming eligible for arbitration in 2016. If the goal is to compile a large enough stack of cash to acquire a splashy hitter, either by trade or free agency, saving $10 million/year on the ninth inning would be a good start. You’d have Broxton and Marshall to fall back on. And the Reds will certainly pursue other solid set-up relievers (read: less expensive) as well.

If not Aroldis Chapman, what pitcher would you like to see come through that bullpen door in the ninth inning come Opening Day?

54 thoughts on “Breaking free of our Aroldis Addiction

  1. This is a thought provoking article. I’ve told my buddies for the past year it’s time to trade Chapman an get a heap of offensive talent for him. Chapman has the strikeouts and the flashy appearance. But his save percentage is the same as our good friend CoCo Cordero. I vote for Broxton or Hoover.

  2. I am all for moving Hoover into the closer’s role. It might not be as flashy, but he’ll likely convert just as many opportunities as Chapman has over the past couple of years if given the chance.

  3. There are two things I’ve grown so tired of: 1) the Reds recent penchant hang albatross contracts around their necks (Hannigan, Ludwick, BP), and 2) the Chapman role debate/ambiguity.

    The Reds already have a quality bullpen. Not one cent should be paid for an overpriced closer next season. Ideally, you move Chapman to the rotation – both because it makes the most sense for next season’s “Win Now” version 2.0 reboot and because you have to be prepared for Bailey’s potential departure in 2014. Next, you put one of the Reds current bullpen pitchers in there — agreed probably JJ Hoover who was unflappable, but maybe even LeCure or Marshall. That’s one heckuva bullpen by committee. Then spend your money on one or two more quality relievers.

    Now, to expand on the original point of the post, that decision should be made regardless. Because if Aroldis Chapman isn’t willing to be a mainstay of the future starting rotation, then send him on the first train out of Cincinnati. I’m so tired of it. Be a team player. In any case, you’re STILL going to need evaluate the bullpen.

    Regardless, the Reds need to be creative and prudent as the post suggests. They operate from a position of strength when it comes to pitching, but I think they’ll need to be proactive in reassigning roles, locking in extensions, and, yes, trading some guys in the offseason. This strategy should be governed by needed certainty for your staff over the next 2-3 years and fixing the weakest part of your team — the offense.

    • @walshjp: I agree with trying Chapman as a starter, though I believe his success there to be far from assured. I also agree with trying Hoover as a closer. I don’t feel, however, that the Reds have anything approaching a surplus of pitching talent (given status of Bailey and Latos and Arroyo’s evident departure), nor do I think that the Reds, barring very large and positive transactions, will be serious post season competitors next year. They’ll finish above .500 (“win now” will be accurate more than 81 times), but losing Choo hurts too much, and they are seriously unspecial offensively once you are by Joey. The sun is shining today (in November!), so why am I being so pessimistic?

  4. Last spring, before Baker pulled the rug out from under the Chapman to the rotation idea, Broxton was slated as the closer. My prediction then was that Hoover would be the closer by the all-star break.
    Towards the season’s end, Hoover was throwing his fastball many times at 95-96 mph. I think his time has come. He had a few rough games early last season, but rebounded very well.
    I think LeCure is going to figure into this scenario as well.

    • @WVRedlegs: And don’t forget that at least a couple of those early season questionable outings were due to Dusty using him so much that his arm was about ready to fall off!

  5. Well, to discuss this, one must consider that Chapman may not work as a starter. I’m all for seeing the “experiment” of him starting. And, I couldn’t help thinking we could very well pitch him with off days with Cingrani, possibly, to be able to “control” his innings count, if Cingrani isn’t a regular starter or has an inning count, also. That way, if Chapman doesn’t work as a starter, then he would still always be somewhat ready for a role in the pen.

    As for who to use as a starter in that role, I don’t see us getting anyone from the outside for that. We are a small market team. Not unless Uncle Walt puts up the money even more, we have to consider we are already putting in a lot of money to Broxton and Marshall. Spending even more money on a pitcher who may see 60 innings for the season, when we can use that on a starting pitcher or another regular starter? I don’t see it.

    So, for closer, I would think we are looking internally. Broxton and Marshall are probably the first choices, only because they have the most experience. Having been injured, there’s still no telling how well they come back. Past that, I could see most anyone else from the pen, Hoover and Lecure probably the next ones in there.

    I still wouldn’t hesitate to use “closer by committee”. Many have talked about the leverage situations in the 7th, 8th, and 9th innings, when the difficult parts of the opponent’s lineup are up, etc. So, why not quit talking and start doing it? Have the better pitchers in the pen coming in earlier if the better part of the opponents lineup is coming up in the 7th or 8th innings. Then, for the “9th inning closer” role, bring in most anyone else.

  6. I for one have never been convinced Chapman is a starter. He’s never done it at the highest level – only briefly at AAA and in Cuba which I consider a bit below AAA. It might work, it might not … that’s for the guys on the Reds payroll to decide.

    I like the idea of Hoover. Perhaps we could call him “Mayday J.J.” and get the campaign running. There is something special when you watch the kid – it just doesn’t come around that often. And to have him locked up for the next several years is a huge bonus.

  7. If WJ can chew on a bit of tough crow, find a way to move Broxton and his contract and while that crow is being masticated, move Ondrusek and his contract also. The bullpen will be fine with or without Broxton. Forget the closer and go with leverage. C’mon Bryan, help take the Reds and MLB into the next generation of bullpen management.

    Marshall (high leverage)
    Hoover (high leverage)
    LeCure (high leverage)
    Simon (high leverage)

    Parra (middle relief) surely there’s some good will here as a FA
    Partch (low leverage) or someone signed to a minor league contract
    Christiani (low leverage) or someone signed to a minor league contract

    • @Shchi Cossack: I’m with the Old Cossack here. Maybe the whole role of “the Closer” is like crack. Aren’t three outs just three outs? . . . I am totally in favor of a committee approach in which Price and his staff manage a bullpen without the concept of a “closer.” This would avoid the pitfall that Dusty fell in to so many times in which the worst reliever would actually end up pitching at the most crucial time of the game. Please, Reds, be the first to abandon totally the outdated and outmoded concept of “closer.”

      • @Drew Mac: As well as, then, we actually make sure we get our best pitchers in the games. Unlike what happened so many times with Baker holding back Chapman for the 9th, when there were higher leverage situations earlier in the game.

        • @steveschoen: Precisely. If 3, 4, and 5 are due up in the 8th inning of a one run game, why not use the best pitcher at that point. Someone else can handle the 6, 7, and 8 hole hitters. The whole notion of closer is simply tired and pointless.

  8. I think that the “closer mystique” itself is the problem. When people say that players “don’t have the makeup to close”, that’s just propagating it. Basically, treat the ninth inning as any other inning, without any defined roles. Unless Dusty is managing the team (and yes, I did have to add this part because of how he treated various games).

  9. msanmoore: Cingrani never pitched at the highest levels as a starter until last year either.

    “I for one have never been convinced Chapman is a starter. He’s never done it at the highest level ”

    Cingrani was a college reliver. Chapman was a starter in Cuba

    He has a very good slider and a change can be developed, for him even a batting practice fastball taking 10 mph off his blazer

    I am very convinced that he can not only succeed, but will give us 4 #1 starters. I continue to lobby to move Leake, I see where Arizona is looking for pitching so that we can have Cingrani in the rotation as well; 3 Righties and 2 Lefties

    • @reaganspad: Cingrani’s success to date reflects a very limited sample size. The point stands: Chapman is an unknown quantity as a starter until he successfully fills the role for awhile. It’s very premature to label him a #1 at this point. He didn’t do well at AAA and success in Spring Training needs to be taken in context–the context being with lots of salt. I certainly favor trying him, but I certainly wouldn’t deplete the pitching staff in anticipation of his success.

  10. Hoover is definitely not the guy I would choose, for one simple reason: he is an extreme flyball pitcher, in a smallish park, who has had unusually low HR rates in his first two seasons.

    In his first year, 4.7% of flyballs went for HRs. In his second year, 7.4% went for HRs. League average is generally around 9% or 10%, and this is one of those stats that typically pitchers don’t have a lot of control over. It is in fact the reason that xFIP exists (and Hoover’s was 3.97 this year).

    Now don’t get me wrong, I like having Hoover. He’s good. But to my eye, most saves get blown on HRs. It makes sense. Scoring 2+ runs in one inning is incredibly hard if what you’re doing is stringing hits together. But a walk and a HR, and that’s it. Most, if not all, of Chapman’s blown saves came off of HRs.

    So to me, if I have a closer, give me LeCure or Manny Parra, both of whom had higher strikeout rates than Hoover, and much higher groundball rates. I think either of them would blow fewer saves than Hoover, because of the longball.

    • @al: Good point, it puts some stats to my assertion that Hoover is a lot like Kerry Wood–wild inside the strike zone. He’s got good control, but the command is a bit lacking. Nonetheless, for the money and the opportunity to work Chapman into the rotation, it makes a lot of sense. That said, the 7 million dollar man has first dibs.

      Any GM worth his salt should be able to construct a bullpen on the cheap.

      • @Sultan of Swaff: Also, JJ was a starter in the minors. He was a top 10 prospect as a starter, but the Braves had too many young starters so they converted him to the bullpen just before the Reds traded for him.

  11. I made a similar comment on another site. But let’s play with this scenario. Chapman goes into the starting rotation and Chad Rogers is brought up to the BP to piggyback on Chapman’s starts to save the strain of innings on Chapman’s arm.

    Basically, Chapman would pitch 4-5 innings to start off the game, the amount of innings being determined by a pitch count. Then Chad Rogers comes in as an extreme change of pace. Rogers has already prepped for the BP in the AFL this offseason with very impressive results (on top of impressive results as a SP over the past the year in AA and AAA). Rogers also has the most diverse pitch repertoire of any SP in the system. IMO, he’s Sam LeCure reincarnated. LeCure was usually good for 4-5 innings as a spot starter when he came up. I think Rogers can fill in 3-4 innings piggybacking off Chapman’s starts and be successful in that role. The change of pace from Chapman to Rogers should keep everyone off-balance and aid Rogers in this transition.

    Getting anywhere from 7-8 innings between the two of them would allow the BP to be rested as normal, and should also allow Chapman to pitch the entire year (with the occasional skipped start when off days work out). Rogers would take over the 7th spot in the BP without effecting the quality.

    Hoover, Marshall, LeCure, and Simon pitch the 7-9 innings/high leverage on a normal basis in some order or by committee depending on match-ups. Broxton and (hopefully Parra) pitch situationally, Parra as a LOOGY + and Broxton taking over the old Ondrusek mop-up duties.

    That’s a pretty solid BP. It allows us to explore trade markets for one of our starting pitchers (Cueto, Bailey, Leake) and also allows us to throw in Ondrusek to fill out a trade for a team looking for BP help.

  12. Closer based on situation, heavy on LeCure and Hoover. Cheap and effective. As the commercials say: “that’s so much better than cheap OR effective.”

      • @redsfan5217: I will never ever for the life of me understand why anyone would trade a guy who can throw 95 plus from the left side.

        We should be acquiring arms like that because they are unique.

        Chapman’s 2.5 ERA was worse than last year’s 1.51 agreed, but seriously. We want to be adding guys like this not losing them (unless you get an overwhelming offer for him). I prefer to have him on our team versus having to go agin him

        Shoot, I am hoping we keep Manny Parra and his 3.3 ERA

  13. I am in the camp of those who would rather see Johnny Wholestaff come out of the bullpen than lock into a closer. Looking back at the role premise, Chapman spent the last 12 games waiting for a chance to pitch. Hardly a good way to use your best arm.

    That beef aside, if a closer is going to be used, I like Kevin Gregg better than J.J. Hoover and easily better than Broxton. Of course, getting Gregg means somebody has to go.

    Is that important? Loyalty to the staff that pitched last year? I think not.

    Johnny Wholestaff can let the Reds basically entertain a 6-man rotation of sorts, using the pen as a starter on days when the rotation guy has his down day.

    The idea of trading Chapman is preposterous, IMO. If the objective is to get a position player, why trade a pitcher with MLB stuff? What, for a left fielder?

    Seriously, really?

  14. Assuming Arroyo is gone, go with six starters — Cueto, Latos, Bailey, Leake and the two-headed monster — Chapman/Cingrani. Both seem to throw a lot of pitches. So let Chapman start and Cingrani take over in the sixth. That keeps the innings and the pitch counts down until either or both learn to throw fewer pitches and go longer into the game.

    • @desertred: I don’t think Price is likely to consider using Cingrani as a middle reliever every 5th day. But I could see him using any one of 5 other guys in that role.

      Mostly I think it’s time the MLB culture of pitching got to the point where a starter could, on most days, give 130 pitches instead of 100. That achieves a couple of things, mainly since interleague is about to cave in and make the DH the law of the land.

  15. Some of these signings are a week old, but nothing has been showing up on the Reds transaction page…

    The Reds have completed some minor league contracts with some interesting results:

    Lee Hyde LHP (28) 7.8 SO/9; 5.7 BB/9; 0.9 HR/9; 9.6 H/9 in 5 seasons @ AAA
    Rey Navarro IF (23) .268/.312/.369 in 3 seasons @ AA
    Mike Wilson OF (30) .273/.361/.473 in 5 seasons @ AAA
    Rossmel Perez C (24) .258/.337/.298 in 2 seasons @ AA
    Max Ramirez C (29) .272/.347/.414 in 6 seasons @ AAA

    Hyde played at Pensacola and Louisville last season. Control has been his problem previously, but last season, he reduced his BB/9 to 3.2 @ AA and a spectacular 1.2 @ AAA (you go Ted Power!!!). If Hyde continues that performance this season at AAA, he could be a factor at the major league level and Ted Power would get another gold star on his record.

    Navarro is a Henry Rodriguez clone that can’t hit as well. The minor league system is light on IF, but this could also indicate that HenRod may finally be in the plans at the major league level.

    Take a close look at the OBP for Wilson, Perez & Ramirez. None of the three players shows speed or power, but they do get on base, especially Wilson. They are all probably nothing but minor league fill.

    • @Shchi Cossack: The Old Cossack has some more to say regarding Lee Hyde. Last season for Hyde was simply mind boggling. I couldn’t (and still don’t) understand why he never got a look at the major league level, except the limits on the 40 man roster. Something finally clicked for Hyde. He is a LHP, but he is not a LOOGY. Hyde got everyone out last season: .210/.294/.238 v. RH hitters & .214/.275/.262 v. LH hitters. He only gave up 1 (count it ONE!) HR in 54.2 innings (0.2 HR/9!) and reduced his BB/9 to 3.0 He is 28 years old, but wouldn’t be the first or last late bloomer to hit the show.

    • @Shchi Cossack: With Corky and Nevin Ashley both opting for FA, Tucker Barnhart and Max Ramirez could make quite a catching tandem for the Bats this season. Barnhart is a switch hitter, but in all actuality he is strictly a LH hitter. Against RHP, Barnhart slashed .280/.380/.375. Ramirez is a RH hitter. Against LHP, Ramirez slashed .271/.357/.375 but didn’t have a severe split against RHP, slashing .260/.330/.375.

      I’m not sure what happened last season, but for 2011 and 2012, Ramirez slashed .318/.388/.608 & .300/.374/.473, respectively, at the AAA level. Those are Devin Mesoraco-like numbers at AAA.

    • @Shchi Cossack: What am I missing here? I’ve never heard of Mike Wilson, but if that slash line is correct AND covers five years of results, what’s not to like about that signing? Even if he’s 30 those numbers are still pretty appealing. I know you can’t extrapolate directly from AAA to the majors but in the absence of more sophisticated data that OBP is top 15 in the NL, and slugging is top 20. That looks like more than minor league filler to me…

  16. There should be few “untouchables” on this team, almost anyone should be available for a return that helps make this team better. Chad Rogers and Robert Stephenson will be available in the next year and who is to say that Corcino does not rebound? Pitching and outfield prospects dot the minors, there are possibilities to play 2nd base. I say go for what you think is best and we will just watch. That is what the Reds are going to do anyway.

  17. If Chapman’s role is relief, it would then be a task of maximizing his effectiveness in situational use. The role of closer, as most here seem to realize, takes much of his effectiveness off the table. If he’s brought in late in games to wet-blanket a late-inning rally or enforce a one-run lead, he still gets his K’s, fans are still wowed and pizza is free.

    I’m just another guy who read Moneyball and thinks it made sense, and I remember that Beane thought the best use of the closer was to cash in on other teams’s tendency to overvalue the role. So he developed “closers,” who are merely effective late-inning pitchers, as trade bait.

    • @Mark Tokar: I tend to agree with you and the other posters who question the traditional bullpen orthodoxy. I’ll sound one note of caution, though: tradition becomes orthodoxy, sometimes, because it has proven to work. People are often irrational, but not always, and sometimes methods that evolve over time are the best. But not always.

  18. How do we start turning the tanker? Shame on us for even having this discussion about who should close. Saving your best relief pitcher, or even a very good reliever, for the last inning just in case the score dictates using him, is a ridiculous and antiquated approach. And with a few exceptions (think Eric Gagne) it doesn’t work. Bullpen by committee, leverage, situations (and even though I hate the term and the occasional waste of using a pitcher for one out – the effective LOOGY) should be the focus of our thinking about pitching staff management. If a pitcher like Chapman only throws 60 innings a year I can live with that – so long as they are 60 important innings. But when 20, or 30, or 40 of those are innings that almost any pitcher in the league could have handled then it’s a complete waste.

    There are only three options we should be discussing, and none of them are “who should close?”:
    1) Keep Chapman, Marshall, LeCure, Hoover, Parra (and even Broxton) et al and use them to get the important, hardest outs
    2) Move Chapman to the rotation and find out once and for all what the Reds have. See option 1) for bullpen.
    3) Trade Chapman as part of a deal for a BIG right handed bat. Think Stanton, Braun, Kemp. See option 1) for bullpen.

    My two cents…

  19. Chapman’s trade value depends on a couple of things, I think.

    1. Teams are waiting to see if he is a starter. If not, he’s a relief pitcher who throws 101 mph.
    2. Will they be able to sign him if they get him? If not, they then have given up a fairly important position player for an effective rental.

    The Reds are in a position not to have to worry about that at all. If they don’t sign him when it’s time, oh well….

  20. I honestly do not understand what people see in Stanton, Kemp,or Ryan Braun. Kemp and Stanton have trouble staying on the field, though they are pretty good when they can play. However, the expense to acquire, and the questions about their health, make them not very good choices. As far as Braun, no one knows yet whether he can do what he has done without some help from juice. Until that time, when he has proven that he can duplicate his stats without help, I would not touch him with a ten foot pole. However, I am not the GM and we shall just see what he will do. What if he does nothing and Ludwick bounces back? His contract will be up next year and there are three or four OF who may be ready.

  21. trade chapman for prospects or offense!! Hoover has closing material, worst case scenario we have closer-by-committee….

  22. A prudent GM like Walt must consider Chapman’s maturity and contract while having a bit of foresight. Although Chapman has been the most effective starter the last two years in spring training, does that really tell you anything? I’d say no. Plus, Chapman has said himself he’d rather close. Probably because it requires much less out of him while giving him the glory he seeks and still the big payday. In a perfect world, I believe putting Chapman into the starting rotation would be best case scenario if mentally he’s into it and spends all winter working on his slider. The Reds need someone monitoring him at all times making sure he’s working out, staying focused, and mastering those pitches if they think he can start. If he doesn’t show a willingness to take those steps, the chances are extremely high that the starting experiment blows up in the Reds’ faces. He can’t throw his fast ball for 6-8 innings. And then what? Try to put him back at closer? What if the current closer is untouchable? Long reliever? Or try to trade the guy mid season with a failed starting pitching attempt and no current value as a closer? Nobody would pay or provide the type of players the Reds would need to make up for Chapman’s contract. No, in my opinion, the smartest, safest option is to market him to teams as either a closer or a starter. Hype up his abilities in both facets and hope a team bites with some quality returns. Chapman could eventually turn into a quality starter for someone else, but I think it would be several years and a risk worth taking. If the Reds want to win now, I think they deal Chapman now when his mystique and trade value are highest.

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