Getting the Offseason Right

Aroldis Chapman: A Redtrospective

For several years there it seemed like Aroldis Chapman was the topic of every Reds article and blog post. The Reds were making the playoffs because of their extremely talented players and despite Dusty Baker serving as manager. Chapman was amazing to watch, his potential seemed unlimited, and he was used in seemingly the worst possible way. It was the ultimate gas can to heat up any Reds conversation.

That seems like a lifetime ago now. This year Chapman was the forgotten man, because no one cares about the closer on a team that’s losing nearly 100 games. Now Chapman’s time with the Reds may have come to an end. He’s only under contract with the Reds for one more year and the team doesn’t project to be very good in 2016. At this point he’s a Bentley hood ornament on a 94 Camry; it just doesn’t make sense. The Reds would have to sign him to a big extension if they want him to be the closer for the next good Reds team, and with money already tight a trade seems likely.

I’m taking this space to look back at the pitcher Chapman has been, the pitcher he is now, and what he may bring back in a trade, if that is indeed his fate. He’s been one of the most fascinating pitchers of the decade, and as Reds fans we got to see it all, for better and worse.

The starter we barely knew

The Reds stunned the baseball world on January 11, 2010 by signing Chapman, expected to go to the Yankees or Red Sox, to a large contract. Not only was the contract long, it was also very complicated, causing many reporters to get the details wrong for years to come. Chapman had last pitched in the Cuban league in 2008, and his journey from defection to MLB free agency was a long one. Despite not having pitched in more than a year, he came into spring training as Baseball Prospectus’s 10th rated prospect overall.

In spring of 2010, some scouts said Chapman was already the best pitcher the Reds had, and expected him to challenge for a rotation spot immediately. He pitched well, but was sent to begin his pro career in AAA, where he made 13 up-and-down starts. The issue seemed pretty clear: he was very raw. He struck out more than 10 per 9 innings, but he was walking nearly 5. Still, as a starter, he had an ERA under 4.00 in his first few months in the United States at AAA, which is pretty impressive.

The Reds were making a playoff push and Chapman was moved to the pen in AAA with some success. He was eventually called up and pitched 13.1 innings for the Reds, helping them to their first playoff appearance in a decade. I believe the Reds lost that series, but I don’t really remember it, it’s all a fog.

This is where it all basically goes to heck. The Reds had a closer (Cordero) and no real reason to need an extra lefty in the pen. Billy Bray had his best season as a Red in 2011 and the Reds’ pen was generally stacked. Despite this, the Reds (and I suspect mainly Dusty Baker) decided to return Chapman to the major league pen rather than send him back to AAA to continue to develop as a starter. Chapman was mediocre out of the pen, with a 3.60 ERA, 71ks, and 41BBs (!!) in just 50 innings. He was walking more than 7 per 9, and it was just ugly to watch. He obviously needed more time to develop, could have been in AAA working on command and his secondary pitches, and the Reds wasted that time during a season where they went nowhere anyway.

Over the next three years the will-he-won’t-he drama continued, and the Chapman-to-the-pen chorus always seemed to have some reason why he couldn’t start. Chapman did start a few games in spring training in 201 and looked good, but Ryan Madson got hurt and that was that. I still remain convinced though that if Madson’s injury in 2012 was the final nail in the coffin of Chapman the starter, the first 99 nails were hammered in during the inexcusable waste that was the 2011 season

The most dominant closer ever

As a fan it was hard to stomach Chapman be so misused, and it was made all the harder by the progress he made. In 2012 he had maybe his most dominant season, with his highest innings (71.2), lowest walk (23) and highest strikeout totals (122), and his lowest ERA (1.51). He finished 8th in the Cy Young and 12th in the MVP voting. The only problem was that he threw his fastball 88 percent of the time overall, and in 100% of situations that mattered because his slider was a roll of the dice at best. Still, he was the closer on a team that won 97 games, and it was hard to argue with the results.

In 2013, Chapman went about things in much the same way but his command wasn’t quite as good (still nowhere near as bad as it had been) and opposing batters’ flyballs went out of the park a lot more often. Now, that is often out of a pitcher’s control, but watching Chapman all year, it became pretty obvious that the other teams’ hitters knew that they were going to get fastballs whenever they were ahead in the count, and that probably didn’t help Chapman’s gopher ball total.

And then the light switch flipped. Despite taking a line drive off the face, in 2014 Chapman finally got control of his slider and change up and dramatically reduced the number of fastballs he was throwing (69%). The effect was equally dramatic. At-bats vs. Chapman no longer really looked fair. He struck out 17.7 per 9, (52.5% of all hitters he faced) and seemingly broke a new relief pitching record every night down the stretch. It was one of the greatest pitching spectacles in the history of the game, but the Reds were going the wrong direction as a team. 2015 was more of the same really. Chapman had slightly lower strikeout and higher walk totals than in 2014, but I have to wonder how much of that was just from pitching so rarely and for a terrible team. I’m guessing here, but it seems tough to focus as a closer on a last place club, when you may not pitch for a week or 10 days.

The trade chip (?)

Now Chapman has finally learned the craft of pitching and will turn just 28 years old during the 2016 season, having logged only 319 career innings in the big leagues. Relief pitchers are notorious for being the most volatile players from year-to-year, but since 2012 Chapman has ranked 1st, 11th, 3rd, and 2nd in fWAR for relievers (overall measure of value), the model of consistency. He looks like a great bet to continue his dominance for the next 4 to 10 years. A team in need of a closer could hardly ask for more, as there’s at least a chance he could be wearing their cap in Cooperstown, and you can’t say that about every player you trade for.

It’s hard to compare Chapman to anyone else in terms of trade value because he really is a unique talent. I could easily see an owner giving up the farm for him because they are captivated by the crowd appeal, while some GMs probably wouldn’t want to give up much for him because they know he’ll only pitch about 70 innings next year. Still other GMs might look at his age and innings and think they might be able to steal Klayton Kershaw if they give him another chance at starting, and that could get the bidding going. With those caveats, here are some recent trades involving closers, to get a sense of what the returns could be.

•    At the deadline this year, the Phillies traded Jonathon Papelbon to the Nationals for Double-A RH starter Nick Pivetta. He was a 3rd round pick and ranked 10th in the Nats minor league system, and had a 3.02 ERA when traded. While this is probably the best comparison for a Chapman trade because Papelbon had a year of control left at the time and was a proven commodity, it’s still not great because Papelbon also had a no-trade clause, and this likely reduced the Phillies return. Chapman is also clearly the superior talent.

•    The A’s traded Tyler Clippard to the Mets for right-handed pitcher Casey Meisner, who was the Mets’ third-round pick in 2013. He was listed as the Met’s 9th best prospect midseason, and had a 2.83 ERA at High-A. However, Clippard was not expected to close for the Mets and was a 3-month rental rental.

•    In April this year 2015 the Braves traded Craig Kimbrel to Padres in a wild one. Kimbrel has been the second most valuable reliever over the last 4 years, so he’s the closest to Chapman’s talent on this list. However, he was traded largely so that the Braves could get rid of Melvin Upton, who was included in the deal, so the prospects don’t necessarily reflect what Kimbrel could have gotten on his own. Kimbrel had 3 years of team control left, and brought back 2013 second-round outfielder Jordan Paroubeck and the Padres best pitching prospect Matt Wisler (53rd overall rated prospect by BP).

•    In July 2014 the Padres traded Huston Street to Angels for a package of four prospects: shortstop Jose Rondon, infielder Taylor Lindsey, and RH reliever R.J. Alvarez and RH starter Elliot Morris. Street is signed through 2017, so at the time he had 3+ years of team control left, though not at bargain basement prices. I won’t get into the prospects too much, but Lindsey cracked BP’s top 100 list, Alvarez looked promising, and Rondon has hit well enough to be a big league regular at SS if his defense could hold.

From that list, I would expect the Reds to be able to get more for Chapman than the Phillies or A’s did for Papelbon and Clippard, bu. t less than what the Padres got for Huston Street because Chapman only has one year left on his contract. A reasonable return for Chapman seems like one of a team’s top 2 prospects depending on the farm system, definitely a player in the top 100 overall, probably closer to 50 than 100. There might be an additional player included, depending on the quality of the central prospect, but probably not a prospect that projects as an impact player. This assumes that the Reds pay none of Chapman’s salary. If they decided to, and that appealed to the acquiring team, the return could go up considerably, maybe even netting two top 100 prospects.

The other possibility if for the Reds to go full-Kimbrel. That is, they try to package Chapman with some other contracts that they aren’t that thrilled with, to accelerate their rebuilding process. The only two players that would reasonably fit that bill are Bruce and Phillips. It’s hard to even speculate what a trade like this would look like because it could get crazy in a hurry, but unless the Reds took on a bad contract from the other team, I don’t think it would necessarily improve the prospects the Reds would get, the benefit would be in additional cash savings.

It was reported during the season that the Reds asked other teams for three “higher-level” prospects in return for Chapman, so the fact that they didn’t get a deal done makes sense. Now with the news of Dusty Baker getting the Nationals managing job, and their need to get rid of Papelbon for trying to choke the soon-to-be MVP Bryce Harper, it certainly seems like that could be Chapman’s landing spot. The Nationals still have a ton of talent and will be looking to go for it again in 2016 after a disappointing year. If the Reds lower their price to 2 prospects, and maybe take on some of Chapman’s salary to soften the blow of the Nats having to eat most of Papelbon’s (I’m guessing), this seems like a trade waiting to happen.

A fond farewell

I expect I won’t see Chapman pitching in a Reds uniform anymore, and that makes me sad. From the 105 MPH pitch, to the somersaults toward home plate, to fans going nuts for free pizza, it’s been a truly bittersweet joy to watch him pitch. I don’t think I’ll ever get over the Reds blowing the chance to have the next David Price or even Randy Johnson on their team, but if he had started, he wouldn’t have been striking out more than half of the batters he faced, and I’ll never forget that either. Chapman may be the ultimate representation of the 2010-2015 Baker/Price Reds. He was so much fun to watch, though sometimes incredibly frustrating, and at the end you can’t help but feel there was a lot of unused potential.

Now as the Reds turn the page on that team, it seems fitting that Chapman should go. Hopefully the Reds can get at least one top prospect in return who will be playing in all-star games when the next great Reds team comes together. I will wish Chapman all the best in his career, and probably follow his antics for years to come. For his sake and the sake of the game, I hope someone convinces him to start some time, just to see what might have been. If he ends up with Dusty again though, we know when we’ll see him: 9th inning, nobody on, Nats up by 3.

71 thoughts on “Aroldis Chapman: A Redtrospective

  1. What an amazing waste of talent by this franchise. Oh what could have been? Who knows? Chapman is an electric pitcher with great stuff. As much as I love to see him pitch he’s just a big waste to this particular team. Here’s to hoping he gets traded for something decent. He will probably never be a start and that’s just a shame. I’ll never get over that.

  2. Good article. I feel sad for the missed opportunity to see him close the WS clincher as Wade Davis just did. For what´s unfair in baseball and small markets.

    I just don´t worry anymore about him being a starter or a reliever. I always had my doubts that he could make it with a great FB and 2 other sometimes effective secondary pitches, 20 plus pitches per inning, erratic control. It sure would be great to find out for sure rather than just ending with a cuban Joba Chamberlain.

    • The thing is, his secondary pitches are very good now, and his control is much less eratic. Whether you think about him as a starter or reliever, having one of the 10 most talented pitchers in the game (by my estimation) throw 66 innings in a year, and only in the 9th inning, and only when the Reds are ahead, makes zero sense.

      Also, Joba Chaimberlain never had half the talent Chapman does.

      • ^^^ This. Wasting your best arm in the least used “Closer” role is asinine. If I were manager, the first thing done would be to remove that word from any conversation. If the media used it, that person would not be allowed to ask a question for 24 hours. There would be NO CLOSER on my team. That would keep everyone in the bullpen happy by giving them chances and also keep them on their toes and in each game, wondering if they’ll be called on in the 6th inning with the bases loaded and 1 out or the start of the 8th inning.

        I see no value in “defined” roles. Some argue a player can’t perform if they don’t know. NONSENSE. You remember playing as a kid? Do you recall playing poorly if you didn’t know where you were going to hit in the order that day? Neither do I. I just wanted to play and I loved it. In fact, seeing the lineup post on the fence before the game was fun moment…where would be I hitting today and what position would I be playing?

        • As of today you’re a heretic for disparaging bullpen roles. In 1990 you’d just be talking about the Nasty Boys. Bullpen roles are a very modern invention, and since they are largely based around getting saves, one of the worst stats ever thought up, the roles mostly stink.

      • I do think Price has not used Chapman properly, especially this season when the middle relievers faltered and 6-outs outings were needed. But then again, in several occasions I’ve noticed him being less effective when pitching longer. That’s why I doubt he could start. Anyway, that ship has long sailed.

        My reference on Chamberlain had nothing to do with talent but with the way he was handled. Nowadays he’s none and has a wasted career. At least Chapman and the rest got some value back, enough or not.

  3. I think there is a general confusion between talent and value.

    Chapman is an incredible talent. He could be the most dominant closer ever. While that is helpful to any team, being the most dominant closer in the game is like making the world’s best pagers or being the leader in dial up internet service. In 1999, AOL had a market cap greater than PG and JNJ combined….now its worthless. The world changed…..the way baseball assigns value to players has changed as well.

    As we sit here today, if you’re any team besides the Reds, Chapman is a highly paid closer with one year to go until free agency…..that’s all.

    Most good teams can spend 25% of Chapman’s cost on a serviceable closer/bullpen tandem and get at least 95% of the desired result ( few blown saves). Why would a team smart enough to have great prospects be dumb enough to give them away for a rental pitcher who’s results can be almost entirely matched for 75% less money?

    While many of the Reds decisions in recent years have taken away the benefit of the doubt, does anyone really think Chapman wants to start or is even willing to start ? During the negotiations to sign him were “assurances” made that he would be a closer unless he wanted to start? Agents and players have long memories…if assurances were made and the Reds try to force him to start it will haunt them.

    If you’re Chapman, why would you want to start? Its potentially more money, but its more pitches and greater chance for injury. When you throw 105MPH the stress on your shoulder is such that history says you’re next pitch could be your last…. you’re not going to be pitching in your 40’s. Closing gives him the greatest possibility for a long career, ultimately more money and at this point there is certainty….he is a great closer and a complete unknown as a starter. He is on a HOF trajectory as a closer and the the Yankees or Angels will pay him starter-like money in 2017 to close……why would he want to risk that?

    • I’m sorry, but I don’t think you’ve done anything to reduce the confusion. While you’re talking about how the game has changed, you also still talk about saves, which is exactly the old way of thinking about relievers.

      If you really want to talk about the new way of evaluating pitchers, why don’t you discuss is k%-bb%, his xFIP, or his WAR? All of the advanced metrics will show you that Chapman is NOT a “closer” with one year before free agency, he is an extremely effective pitcher with one year of team control. It is only his use on the Reds that has made him a closer.

      I almost got into this idea that Chapman might not be “willing” to start in the article, because it is so much hogwash, but I didn’t want to give the idea any more airtime. Here are the facts: A reporter in spring training asked Chapman if he would prefer to start or to close, one time. He replied that he would rather close. That is it. We also know that his manager at the time was frequently telling the media that was better as a reliever, the primary reason being that he didn’t have the secondary pitches and didn’t throw enough strikes.

      Since then this idea has gotten out of control. Many posters on this site have repeated the idea that Chapman refused to start, and it’s just a lie. Players say things all the time. I’d rather play second, I’d rather play every day, etc etc. In the end it is the team’s decision. We know that Chapman expected to start when he was signed because he was a starter in Cuba, and then started in spring training, and then started half a year in AAA. What you posted is just made up.

      And would he want to start? Why would almost every pitcher in baseball want to start? Get to play more, get a regular schedule, get more fame, get more money, etc. etc. etc. How about this, you post a list of the highest earning relief pitchers of all time, and I’ll post a list of the highest earning starters of all time. Also, weren’t you saying something about the game not valuing closers anymore? So how is he going to make Kershaw / Lester / Scherzer money if teams aren’t valuing closers anymore?

      • Chapman is an incredible pitcher who is could be the greatest closer ever. He could be a great starter ( or not) and perhaps the Reds have been dumb (very possible) or perhaps he doesn’t want to start (very possible)…..neither of us knows. My guess is if he wanted to start then he would be starting.

        As a closer, he will not make top starter money, but at this point, he has never been a starter so no one would give him that anyway. Mariano Rivera was 5th in all-time aggregate earnings when he retired…..a lot of that was because he had a high salary, a lot of that was because he was able to play for a long time.

        • Your question was not what is likely to happen, you asked why he would want to start. I gave you a good list of reasons. And I disagree that no one will give him a lot of money to start.

          Imagine this scenario:A team trades for him and decides they’d like to see him try to start, though they will limit his innings. He ends up throwing 140 innings for them, and looks a lot like David Price while doing it, and then hits the free agent market at age 28. Price is 30, and has thrown over 1400 innings in his career. Scherzer was 30 and had thrown over 1400 innings when he signed his deal. Those innings are proof of durability on one side, and proof of wear-and-tear on the other.

          You don’t think teams would like the idea of getting Chapman, after he showed he can start, with less than 600 innings on his arm? Also, if his agent is worth anything, he’d get an opt-out clause in the contract, similar to the one Greinke is going to use. That way, if CHapman did have 2 good years as a starter, her could opt out at age 30 and then he’d definitely get a huge pay day.

          If what Chapman cares about is earning the most in his career, starting is obviously the way to go.

  4. I have to say Chapman is gone, also. I would love to keep him around. But, Baker messed him up by pressing the FO in the newspapers to keep him at closer. It would certainly be stupid of Walt to keep him around here. Maybe a last minute Cueto type of deal, though? As long as Walt gets something for him, that’s my concern.

    From what I remember, the Reds had an injury problem with a lefty in the pen at the time. And, they were looking for some help. They looked to Chapman. And, he fulfilled the position well. The question mark would be, when Bray (or whoever it was at the time) got back, why wasn’t Chapman sent back down, whether that season or the start of the next season? I can’t help thinking, though, that would be from Baker. Baker pushed him to be closer another year instead of going to the minor to progress as a starter. If he did it “after the fact”, why not a time before that?

    • Do you really think Dusty Baker had that kind of power? That he could unilaterally decide that an international free agent, whom the Reds signed for north of 30 mil would be the closer and that was the end of the discussion?

      • Well, the Reds brought in Madson in 2012 more or less to tie Dusty’s hands, so I would say he had a decent amount of say in the decision. When Madson and others got hurt, Dusty said he needed Chapman in the pen, and that was that. After that, they got caught in the loop of Chapman not being about to throw more than 100 innings because he’d never been stretched out, which is why I go back to 2011.

        Even if you think that Chapman couldn’t have made it as a starter, for whatever reason, they still should have tried him as a starter in 2011. Why not? He was bad as a reliever anyway because he needed more time to develop. Also, these guys were as good or better than Chapman out of the pen: Cordero, Masset, Bray, Ondrusek, Arredondo, and Lecure.

        The Reds pen was stacked but 10 guys had to make starts because of injuries, and the Reds tanked. If Chapman had been in AAA at the start of the season, he could have filled in as a starter at the big league level for a hurt pitcher and then the Reds could have seen what they had. I can see no argument for why they shouldn’t have done that.

      • Oh, does any manager have the power to make the move? Of course not. But, then, why did Baker go to the papers back then? To complain about the front office not making a move on Chapman, committing to him starting or relieving. Baker wanted an answer; the front office wasn’t ready. So, Baker went to the papers, to embarrass the front office and insist on an answer.

      • IMO the money they gave Chapman is the reason he has been wasted as a closer. They could have sent him back to the minors and seen if he could develop 2 more pitches to become a starter. It was decided the money was spent he needs to be with the Reds and he was a thrower, a very hard thrower but a thrower so he ends up being misused as a closer. I have enjoyed watching him when he is on the mound but this dumb hillbilly could see his arm was being wasted.

    • Tyson Ross put up a 4.4 win season with a 3.26 ERA this year. He had 9.73 K per 9 and 3.86 BB per 9. Would you say his control is not starter ready? Chapman had 15.32/2.89 in 2012 and 17.67/4.00 in 2014. Seems like it would at least be worth seeing how those numbers translate.

    • I don’t want Chapman around if he remains our closer. I am sick of the waste. I can’t stand thinking he has given us 319 innings the past 6 years, when we could have gotten 1200 innings or so. SICK.

      Move him because he’ll bring back a couple of exciting prospects, we’ll reduce that salary (that is set to jump up to $14 million or so this year and probably $20 million per season thereafter), and Chapman can be wasted on another teams bench for all but 65 innings a year. If another team makes him a starter, good for them, but I know my Reds won’t. They hate using their best pitcher…might break him. They prefer to lock him away and hide the key.

    • You read correctly, only 319 innings in SIX SEASONS. Wasted. Simply wasted. Now he will get very expensive (probably $14 million in arb in 2016 and $20/yr thereafter).

      319 innings from the best LH arm the Reds have EVER had in their history. Used in the same role, to much the same end effect as Francisco “nail-biting time” Cordero. So what if he K’d a bunch, he still blew a few saves, lost a few games, just like any closer. He could have been a 300 K starting pitcher and likely a 15+ game winner each year, with upside of a Cy Young contender…but no, why chance that.

      Pardon me while I vomit.

      • Even though I disagree with how awesome he may have been as a starting pitcher, there is no doubt that it was a crime never to try it.

        • I never said he’d be awesome, but there is little doubt he would have been above average with high, high upside and a lefty and used at least 3 times as much (thereby being 3x as valuable to the Reds).

          • Sorry, I didn’t mean to imply it was you in particular that said he’d be awesome. There are just a lot of comments in this thread that suggested he would be.

            I should have said “I personally don’t know if he would have been that good of a starter but it is criminal that the Reds never found out.”

  5. Chapman has had two or three episodes of a sore or tired arm each season. You can tell when his velocity drops and he can’t miss any bats. His control is not starter ready. If it was, he would be effective at 98mph. , but he is not. I would be surprised if his arm would hold up to starting. It hurts me to say it, but for once,
    Dusty may have been right.

    • He also tends to run some very high single inning pitch counts and often struggles to work through trouble when it finds him (often as a child of his own wildness).

      I think there are enough legitimate reasons to to question how Chapman might have fared as a starter to conclude that he wasn’t a slam dunk to be a successful long term starter let alone the starter of a generation or several generations. This said, I wish we would have had the opportunity to find out.

      • I meant to add that I recall when Randy Johnson came up (with the Expos). He had lots of doubters even 4 to 5 years into his MLB career (league leading triple digit BB’s 1990-92 had a lot to do with that). So a person never knows how these things might turn out unless there is a commitment to go the course and find out.

        Johnson had made it to Seattle when he put up those awful 100+ BB seasons.You have to wonder if he would have been in the league with no DH if he would have stayed in enough games long enough to get it worked out.

        • You can add ANY hard throwing starter to the RJ list. By some Reds fans (and Dusty’s) argument, anyone that throws harder than a kid is bullpen material. If you want to start, throw just hard enough to get a ball through a wet paper bag.

          Give me a break.

    • Dusty Baker comes in for a lot of grief with Reds’ fans about a lot of things. Dusty’s job as the Field Manager was to win ball games with the roster he was given (and helped to decide on). The General Manager and the rest of the Front Office has the job of drafting, signing, and planning for minor league player development.

      If Aroldis did not start, it was because that was the decision of the management of the Reds. If Walt Jocketty thought Aroldis should start and he did not because Dusty disagreed with him, I find that somewhat hard to believe.

      Aroldis as a starter is and has been a missed opportunity. He is a tremendous athlete, with a tremendous left arm He could have been the dominant pitcher of this era, if he had been developed properly. And since Dusty has been gone two seasons now, and Aroldis still has not started a game, I think this was an organizational decision. Even the great Brian Pryce said in Spring Training that “that boat has sailed”, meaning he would never start for the Reds.

      Face it. This has been a real dumb decision by the Reds Management, in total. Hanging this solely on Dusty Baker is pretty unfair, even though Dusty DID want him as his closer.

      • Oh, I definitely blame all of Reds management. Dusty was the most vocal about the reasons Chapman shouldn’t start, and Jocketty acted to tie Dusty’s hand by signing a “real closer” so that Chapman should start, so that’s why I blame Dusty more. But obviously, I think Jocketty could have ordered it, or at least made it public that he thought Chapman should start so he deserves blame too.

        • Even though I wish that at some point they would have committed giving Chapman a real look as a starter, I am going to stand up for DB a bit on this point.

          He was the manager. His job was to win as many game as possible in the season at hand. He wasn’t being paid to take a longer term view. If he was comfortable with the rotation upper management had assembled for him and needed a back end guy for his pen, it was his job to advocate for Chapman in that role since in the short run, it did not appear that Chapman was ready to take the ball every 5th day and give him more than the guy already in that position.

          If WJ and the his mid and upper level staff really wanted Chapman starting, it was up to them to make it happen. They had courses of action available to them, i.e. Call DB in and tell him Chapman is to be used as a starter. Send Chapman back to AAA for finishing out as a starter. The mistake (if there was one) is almost totally on the GM.

        • Except that 2011 was the lost season in the Reds window. It was lost largely because the Reds starting pitchers were frequently injured, and the Reds got 20 starts from Dontrelle Willis, Sam LeCure, Matt Maloney, and Chad Reineke.

          Do you think that it’s possible that Chapman could have outpitched that foursome for those 20 games? Because he certainly wasn’t needed in the bullpen. So no, it wasn’t Dusty Baker’s job to plan way ahead in the future, but I content that what he did with Chapman actually cost the Reds games in 2011, which using your logic is all that Baker should have been thinking about.

      • Dusty and the front office blew it… BIG TIME. I blame all of them equally for screwing up so badly that our best arm was relegated to the least inning pitched every single season.

    • It is true that Chapman has had several episodes of tired arm. However, I do not see why this implies his arm might not hold up to starting. Indeed, his arm issues could have been due to sporadic use or being up and down like a yo yo in other stretches. As a starter you throw every five days with a scheduled bullpen in between. Such regular use may actually be better for his arm. Regular use as a starter may have actually improved his control.

      I have always viewed the decision on how to use Chapman as one of maximizing expected value. It is certainly no slam dunk he would have been a great starter, but the upside was so great it was worth a chance.

      • I totally agree. I’ve heard the tired arm argument before also, and that has also made me think that being on a regular schedule and getting regular rest would have been worth trying as a cure.

        It just always seems like there’s an excuse for why he shouldn’t start. But why aren’t those standards used for other pitcher’s? Chapman had trouble with his secondary pitches at first, so did Homer Bailey, why wasn’t he turned into a reliever? Same with pitch counts, walks, etc etc. Every starter has struggled with something early in their career, but teams stick with it because 200 innings is way more valuable than 60.

        • Good call by KMARTIN about regular routine and injury. Starting pitchers get hurt but so do relief pitchers and at basically the same rate. I would agree that the injury concerns shouldn’t have been a factor in rather or not Chapman should start.

          Funny you mention Bailey. After the 2011 season, I was suggesting that perhaps Bailey should be moved to the bullpen because I wasn’t seeing a positive progression out of him as a starter. I’m glad the Reds didn’t feel the same way as Bailey’s 2012 and 2013 seasons were both quite good. The only bad part was that those seasons were what led to the Reds offering him the extension. That hasn’t worked out so well so far because of the injuries. There is still a chance that Bailey may come back strongly though and a healthy Bailey should be productive enough to justify at least a good portion of the money on the remaining years.

      • Chicken/egg Kmart. These “he can’t hold up to starting” lemmings think you can’t build up endurance. Obviously anyone can or no one would throw over 30 pitches.

        If I had Chapman right now, we’d start by throwing 40 pitches TODAY. Then 45 pitches in 4 days, then 50, then 55, then 60…then an extra couple of days off…and repeat, increasing by 5 pitches every time out and soon, reducing off days down to 3 from 4. By the start of 2016, he’d have the stamina to throw 150 pitches if need be and still throwing 94 or 95 by pitch 120.

        Would he have more chance of being injured? Sure, but NOT because of the workload itself, only because the more often you’re doing your thing, you have more chance of being injured. If you want to avoid injury, never let him throw another pitch, but that of course introduces another problem…no production.

      • I am just now willing to concede Chapman is a pitcher and sometimes now he makes me wonder if I am not being to generous. The reason he wasn’t a starting pitcher is because he wasn’ a pitcher he was a thrower. The Reds had already spent the money so they were unwilling to give him a chance to learn how to pitch.

        • Carl, you look at it in a vacuum. Had he been groomed a starter all along, he’d have had another pitch, and would have pitched with a little less vigor and better control. As a closer, he went all out, overthrowing, because he could.

          I have little doubt he would have become a pitcher like all young, hard throwing prospects do. Could he have been a bust as a starter? Sure, but odds were very low given the talent. He only need a 3rd reliable pitch to be a lock-down, annual Cy Young contending LH SP. A 96 mph fastballl (as a starter, dialed down a tick), a sick slider and maybe a changeup (he does have one and it looks promising) and he’d have K’d 300+ in 200 innings pitched. He had been a top 5 MLB starter by now, if not a Cy Young winner.

    • A load of hooey. Had he prepared as a starter, and was monitored carefully, he’d have built up the proper stamina. If you only throw 30 pitches every other day, you probably will fatigue by 25 pitches each time out.

      If you throw 150 pitches every other day, you won’t feel serious fatigue until over pitch 100.

      This stupid philosophy of pitching less and less and then claiming earlier and earlier fatigue is the definition of stupidity.

      There is NOTHING about Aroldis Chapman physically that says he can’t have high level endurance and still throw hard. Nolan Ryan thew upper 90s well after pitch 100 (many starts going 140+ pitches). Why? Because he was conditioned to throw that many pitches.

      If Nolan Ryan were a young Red today, we’d heard the same hooey “oh, he just can’t throw 30 pitches, he fatigues”, or “he throws too hard to ever be a starter”, etc.

      Think about that. If you swapped times with Chapman and Ryan, and Chapman was EXPECTED to throw 120+ pitches every 4 days (three days of rest), he’d have had a monster career (barring injury, but that is not related to workload, its related to chance and improper preparation).

  6. I do not think the Reds are going to trade Chapman until the deadline. He is a commodity that sells tickets. It seems we lose focus that the Reds are a business. Whose foremost goal is to make money.

    • With Dusty in Washington and the Nats battling the Mets for the NL East, Chapman will be traded for at least two high-level prospects one, hopefully, an outfielder who can lead off and provide good OBP.

      • Does either team have one of those?

        Let’s fast forward: Chappy gets traded at the deadline for two live arms. Because Walt loves pitching. The end.

        • He’d be awfully hard for me to let go of if I was the Nats’ GM. That said, his walk rate doesn’t indicate that he’s going to be an on-base machine. I’d give him up as part of a package for Chapman.

    • Winning playoff games would make a lot more money than going 63-99. Just saying.

    • He doesn’t sell tickets…period. He just doesn’t. Not any more than any other player. You have no clue when/if he’ll even pitch. At least with a starter like Cueto you knew. Cueto probably sold more tickets than Chapman and the rest of the pitching staff combined.

      • I 100% agree with this. I am a pretty good ticket buying baseball fan, say 5+ games per year. I’m the guy teams want to get, because in a year where my team is good, I might go to 12 games. I know for a fact I’ve bought tickets to see one I’ve my favorite starters pitch (Pedro when I lived in Boston, many times). I’ve never bought a ticket hoping to see the closer get three outs. It’s the cherry on top if it happens, that’s not why you buy the sundae.

        • I recall too as a kid, I would look forward to watching the Reds-Braves games (lived in Atlanta, TBS was local UHF, we didn’t have cable, TBS shows nearly every game 154+), and I was more excited (when the Reds were kind of bad in the mid-80s), when a Soto was starting, or later when a Browning or Jackson was starting.

          I didn’t ever watch a game thinking “I am so excited that John Franco (closer) might pitch today…woo hoo!”

        • …and I liked going to the Reds-Braves games when a Soto was pitching, but usually we went on Sunday, so I rarely got to go to the game I preferred…didn’t care, just wanted to go to see the Reds.

          I can still remember being 5 minutes late to the game, walking from the distant parking spot with family, and hearing a roar from inside. Can you guess what had happened?

          Yep, local boy Nick Esasky had ripped the Braves yet again (he sure loved hitting against the Braves) for a first inning HR. I was bummed we missed it and had mom and dad walking double-time. LOL

          …and on a completely unrelated topic:

          I remember another game where McNamara was managing, I was listening on 700 (crackling in Atlanta, fading in and out, sometimes mixing with the overpowered Cuban station), and I recall Reds up, late in year I think and McNamara brings in Tom Hume (at this point in his career, Hume sucked) and I yelled out at like 1 AM (it was a west coast game of some kind) “McNamara, you idiot!” Gosh how I disliked Hume as a pitcher…terrible in his last few seasons.

          Also, do you all recall the weekend where Eric Davis went nuts (against Houston I think) and had like 5 HRs in 3 games (2 of them Grand Slams)? Or, was that Barry Larkin? My memory of it is fuzzy, but I recall I thought Davis having a solid month in just a 3 game series.

    • Here’s the thing. Even if you accept the premise that a closer sells more tickets (and you shouldn’t as has already been adequately explained here), why would the Reds keep Chapman any longer? They’re not going to need him to close many games at all in 2016 because they’ll be losing most of them. No, winning games puts butts in the seats. That’s what drives the dynamics of ticket sales.

  7. One consideration for those that think the team should have stuck with Chapman as a starter is that he was an international signing. He’s like an NFL rookie quarterback. He makes big money right away. The team might not want to spend thirty mil. to let him toil in the minors for the four or five years that is normal. He needs to be playing in the big leagues asap. Just one more angle.

    • Probably was a consideration and it was all the more reason to use him as a starter beginning in 2011. Bigger consideration is that more innings pitched as a starter gets the team more “bang for their buck” rather than pitching him 60-70 innings a season as a starter.

    • No, the problem with this argument is that Chapman’s deal was structured in a very weird way, where if he became arbitration eligible (which happens after 3 years in the bigs), the money that he was supposed to make during that year became part of his signing bonus. So he would get that money AND the money he got for his arb contract.

      So by rushing him to the big leagues, the Reds were assuring themselves that they would end up paying Chapman more than the original contract was signed for, while also getting his worst production as a big leaguer.

      If they had send him back down in 2011, for at least a few months, they may have been able to save a whole year of arbitration, and therefor actually SAVED money overall.

  8. For the dollars Chapman is getting per save, we can do better. The free agent pool of relievers is pretty deep. One could be had for less dollars. Heck, anyone else see Ryan Madson hitting 97 on the gun for KC in the Series? On top of that, we have in house guys with closer potential (Lorenzen/Weiss/Jumbo) who could step in and give us those same 65 precious innings.

    I’d leverage Chapman to bring in a CF who can actually hit. The D-backs would be a good fit. Or, we take the best prospect package offered and use the savings to pick up Denard Span. A lot of ways you can go with this, but the only bad option is keeping him.

    • “For the dollars Chapman is getting per save, we can do better.” This is especially true for team that will have few save chances next year.

  9. I would love to have seen Chapman start. But the Reds didn’t waste him by putting him in the bullpen. They wasted him by not leveraging him properly.

    After watching yet another team with a dominant bullpen take the crown and have more success than expected, I’m convinced that the traditional analytical thinking toward relievers is flawed. Context neutral stats, like WAR, just can’t tell you how much value an elite reliever has because a manger gets to pick what context he uses his relievers in.

    But to get that extra value, you have to have a manger that understands leverage. Getting 80 elite, high leverage innings is, IMO, more valuable than getting 180 league average innings in a low to medium leverage context. The Reds haven’t had a manger who has properly leveraged Chapman, and that’s the real shame.

    This is also the reason I would rather put Finnegan and Lorenzen in the pen. They both look like they have the potential to be high leverage relievers, but no more than middle or back of the rotation starters.

    • Good points. If they used Finnegan and Lorenzen as you suggested, the back end of the pen A team is probably set for several seasons barring injury. However, unless Lorenzen turns out to be a true beast as a starter or in the pen, I’ll stick to my guns that the decision to force and rush him as a pitcher without looking at his position player tools was as scandalous of a decision as the use of Chapman has been.

      • If I was in the Reds org, I would be beating the drum for Lorenzen to go to Louisville and pitch out of the pen twice a week, 2-3 innings an outing, and play outfield 3 days per week. I think it would be awesome to have a solid reliever who is also an extra outfielder and pinch hitter.

        • I think that you work on him being a relief pitcher and a reserve OF you will get neither. Colleges do that because they can get away with it at that level and the limited number of scholarships.

    • Depends on how leverage is measured of course. But, the point you raised gets to the inadequacy of measuring the value of relief pitchers. Fewer innings pitched (small sample size) and highly variable leverage situations (runners on 2nd and 3rd and holding down a 1 run lead vs. none on and up 3 in the bottom of the ninth) makes for a lot of factors to consider. But, using your example, there’s a huge difference in 180 innings vs. 80 innings pitched regardless of leverage. Even if every one of those 80 innings is high leverage, it’s still hard to match the overall value of 180 quality innings regardless of leverage. Practically speaking, a manager can’t always pick when the highest leverage point in the game is and bring in his pitcher of choice. But, he can certainly write in his starting pitching rotation.

      • When you look at Win Probability added for pitchers, 5 of the top 8 are relievers and 12 of the top 18. The only starters on that list are the truly elites. And most of the relievers pitched fewer than 80 innings and were managed by guys who use traditional bullpen and closer roles. So, I stand by the argument that 80 elite, high leverage innings are more valuable than 180 league average, low leverage innings.

        • But, again, a manager is not going to be able to predict when the high leverage inning will occur and even if he could, the reliever may not be available (either because he’s warmed up too many times or because he’s been used several games in a row). So, your point holds only in theory. Finally, WPA is a great tool for determining context but it doesn’t necessarily tell you how the reliever performed individually. Was it the reliever’s great pitching or the team’s great defense that contributed to that important out? WPA won’t tell you that. See why it’s not that easy to assign value to relievers?

    • TCT, I agree in a indirect way. The simple answer is to use your BEST arm more often than the Reds did, whether that was 2 innings every other night or 1 inning 5 times a week, regardless of save situations or whatever.

      Personally NO reliever that throws under 80 innings is anywhere close as valuable as a good starting pitcher. A good LH SP in Chapman is at least twice as valuable as a great CL Chapman.

    • …and don’t pin that ONLY on Price. Baker did the EXACT SAME THING. Shame or Price for not changing the usage, but Baker set the example.

  10. I agree with MRRRED, there are good ways of measuring the value of an inning based on leverage, and if you did I think you would find that you would need the highest possible leverage in 80 innings to come close to the value of 180 innings of average leverage.

    That said, your point is valid. I wrote a post at the beginning of last season about how the Reds could get the most out of Chapman, and I modeled it after the Nasty Boys. Dibble pitched more than 100 innings in 1990 and had many appearances of more than 3 outs. The Reds should have tried to do something like that with Chapman this year, if they were going to keep him in the pen.

  11. At this point it doesn’t matter if it was Dusty, Walt, Bob, Bush or Obama at fault. Chapman is a closer and it is what it is. It happened, it’s over.

    The question now is does he fit in the long term plan as a closer

    • I think the answer to that is pretty clearly no. First, he really never should have been used as a closer in the first place, even if you wanted to use him in the bullpen. Second, he going to be out of the Reds price range pretty soon, if not already. For a team trying to rebuild, get younger, and get cheaper, expensive relievers don’t make sense.

  12. One name not mentioned in the article as a possible trade package with Chapman to the Nationals would be Billy Hamilton. This package might get SS Trea Turner and another top prospect in return. It would allow the Nats to move Bryce Harper over to LF and possibly protect their investment in Harper a little. It might decrease his chances of injury. Let BHam chase down those balls in the gaps. And we know how Dusty loves him some speed at the leadoff spot.
    On the Reds side, this gives the green light to move Suarez to 2nd base and trade Brandon Phillips. Turner and Cozart share the SS duties until Turner wins the full time job by mid-June. Now Cozart can be traded at the July deadline, or maybe better yet becomes a top utility player where he can garner plenty of PA’s at 2B, SS and 3B. If Winker is ready for LF, then all that is needed is a leadoff hitter (CF) that can get an OBP above .350.

  13. Oh this topic – it hurts. Why must Chapman remain a closer? I’ve posted on this site before that I believe the reason he was made a closer wasn’t due to control, pitch development or talent but rather off the field maturity and cultural familiarity. There were multiple incidents of his immaturity and recklessness on days he didn’t pitch when he first arrived to the Show. Starters only spend 3 hours EVERY 5 days in a baseball game, the remainder of the time they are in their routine – one that requires discipline, maturity, self-reliance, confidence, comfort, etc. I argue he had NONE of these upon arriving to the United States and therefore would have ended up in criminal, physical/health/mental, or professional trouble if made a starter. I suspect this is the REAL reason he was not made a starter. I’m sure Dusty agreed (happily) with this assessment, or perhaps even contributed to the fact-finding that induced it, however, I doubt a manager was able to dictate to a very veteran GM and a very hands-on owner what to do with a pitching phenom.

    But that’s not the case now, necessarily. Maybe he’s ready. He’s older, understands how to take care of himself in the offseason, enjoy freedom responsibly, work on his craft, etc.

    I’ll also add this nugget: 319 innings pitched in 6 years. And we see the progression in his control, pitch repertoire and gamesmanship. Imagine where he’d be in progression if he was at the 1,000 inning mark by now, or where he will be. My opinion: resign him for whatever it takes, and make him a starter. Is that not an acceptable answer?

    • As far as I remember, Chapman had no of-field incidents as a starting pitcher in AAA, but ran into trouble multiple times as a reliever. If making him a reliever was supposed to keep him out of trouble, it didn’t work and the Reds paid a huge price for seemingly no gain.

  14. Reds shaking things up in front office? Jocketty now President of Baseball Operations and Dick Williams is the new GM. This Hot Stove League could end up being very interesting. Will it be more of the “We talked to several clubs, but we just couldn’t find the right matches,” or some serious changes coming for the roster?
    Nick Travieso named AFL pitcher of the week.
    Good things sometimes comes in small doses.

    • This positions the next generation of ownership to be fully at the controls by this time next year.

      Phil Castellini has been COO for several years now. Look for Williams to pick up WJ’s President of Baseball Operations title and duties NLT the end of next season. The org’s philosophy going forward will be tipped and defined by who replaces Williams as GM at that point.

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