With the injury to Reds acquisition Ryan Madson, Aroldis Chapman gets tested in the closer role in May and becomes one of the best closers in history. Chapman's ERA was 0 until June 7 and he's had 122 strikeouts in 71.2 innings pitched.
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CINCINNATI - With the Cincinnati Reds signing of relief pitcher Jonathan Broxton for the next three years, speculation has been swirling that Broxton would be catapulted into the closer role for 2013, where he has had success, and the Cuban Missile Aroldis Chapman would be considered for a spot in the starting rotation to replace current fifth starter Mike Leake.
Broxton or not, Chapman isn’t in any shape to become a member of the Cincinnati Reds starting rotation anytime soon.
On paper, having a 100 mph fastball pitched potentially more than 80 times a game seemingly poses a great advantage, but Chapman is missing a few things to pitch as the Starting Cuban Missile with consistent success, especially in the hot-hitting NL Central.
Missing Component of the Starting Missile #1: Stamina
Think back to 2012 when Chapman had to sit out for 12 days due to a “tired arm.” Is that what the Reds want out of a starter, the prospect of throwing a couple good games, but then losing the next few to a “tired arm?”
Yes, starting pitchers get four days rest in between games, but if you look at the average rest Chapman received compared the amount of pitches he threw, the rest won’t make much of a difference based on his arm’s current stamina capacity.
What it comes down to is a number that shall be dubbed the Cuban Equation: Pitch count over recency of appearances on the mound.
Chapman started showing symptoms of a “tired arm” at the end of August/beginning of September when his fastball started to slow, and culminated when he gave up three earned runs and recorded his first loss in 31 attempts against the Houston Astros on Sept. 7 that was followed by a three-walk performance against Pittsburgh three days later in 0.2 innings pitched. After those two appearances, he was benched for 12 days to rest.
Before September, Chapman had thrown 1,062 pitches during 60 games, approximately 17.7 pitches per game. Chapman appeared in a game approximately every 2.467 days during that time.
The average starting pitcher throws around 100 pitches per game, and if you rest a starter for their normal four days, it’s assumed the pitch count recovery goes down by approximately 25 pitches each day to get them back to full strength. Every pitcher is different based on mechanics, how hard they throw and how well they recover, but we’ll use this as a rule to apply to the majors, as any sensible MLB manager would.
If we apply Chapman’s numbers to that rule, over the course of the season, he should recover just fine before the September incident. If he pitched, on average, 17.7 pitches per game every 2.467 days, his recovery of 37 pitches before each pitching appearance, far greater than his average of 17.7 pitches per game, should have allowed him more than enough time to get back to full strength.
Was he overplayed at one point, trumping higher than his average of pitches per day? Definitely. Between Aug. 17-22, he pitched five out of six days, recording 72 pitches (and the Reds won each game). Was it a critical stretch that he was needed for every pitch? Absolutely. But if you look at the rest Chapman received before and after that stretch, he shouldn’t have had a “tired arm” by any major league starter’s standards.
Chapman had four days rest before the stretch when he was overplayed, and four days rest immediately following the stretch. It was only after the four days rest following the stretch that Chapman’s fastball speeds began to come down.
This type of stamina is not the most promising for someone who is expected to be able to go at least 6 innings, and hopefully more.
After he was benched, Chapman recovered, finishing out the season without giving up an earned run, but it should be noted he gave up three walks in his four final regular season innings. Speaking of walks…
Missing Component of the Starting Missile #2: Control
Despite the Cuban Missile’s stamina issues to consistently start for the Reds, Chapman lacks the control to give the Reds a competitive chance each day he takes the hill in a starting role.
Generally in his late-inning appearances, Chapman is lights out. In July and August when he didn’t lose a game or blow a save opportunity, he only gave up four walks, 14 hits and just 1 earned run in 27.2 innings pitched. In starter’s terms, that’s potentially three straight shutout games.
But he’s never been proven beyond 2 innings of continuous work, and Chapman ran into control problems too often in his 1 and 2 inning performances last year to make it deep into games. The last time Chapman pitched more than 2 innings of work in the majors was…Never.
Without better consistent placement of his fastball, opposing hitters will simply watch and wait while Chapman’s pitches paint around the zone, until he shortens up his delivery to get it over, resulting in slower, more hittable fastball speeds.
Missing Component of the Starting Missile #3: Variance In Pitches
Chapman’s struggles came when he couldn’t locate his fastball on the corners, but this will inevitably happen with any pitcher. The remedy? Other pitches to mask control issues.
Unless Chapman develops his slider more to keep hitters guessing, he’ll get batted around often when hitters learn to choke up and time the fastball right.
Sure, he’d get through the lineup once, hurling 100 mph fastballs by hitters faster than the Brent Spence Bridge backs up during rush hour, but as soon as a hitter gets a few good looks at how to time that heater, they’ll slap a hit here, a hit there and before you know it balls will be leaving Great American Ball Park every fifth Reds game with frequency.
I wrote this past season about Chapman’s likeness to Randy Johnson, and why he won’t ever be the starter Johnson was without a more consistent slider.
Chapman started to use his slider more in the second half of the season, but he still needs to mix it in more consistently, and ensure he can hit the corners just as precise as he would a fastball before he takes the mound long-term in a game. And just imagine if Chapman develops a changeup; then he can take the mound any day for any amount of time.
Until then, he’s just not starter material.
Missing Component of the Starting Missile #4: A Reason To Move Him
Did anyone see how well Chapman performed last year in the closer’s role? He hit two rough patches, one blamed on his tired arm, another that he worked out the consistency of his fastball location early in the season, but those eight or nine games aside, he saved 38 games in 43 chances, kept his ERA at 1.51, and struck out 122, More than 1.5 batters per inning.
Why exactly are we contemplating removing one of the most phenomenal performances out of the closer role in history?
Broxton will make a fantastic set-up guy, that’s not to be doubted, but Chapman’s upside of keeping him in a short pitch-count, late-game, shut-down role proved to be successful time and time again in 2012, why not try it again?
All eyes will be fixated on Dusty Baker come Spring Training, as they so often are.
What do you think? Should Chapman be moved to the starting rotation? Or should the Reds keep him as the closer? Leave a comment in the section below.
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