The biggest question within the Cincinnati Reds organization is what to do with flamethrower Aroldis Chapman. The Reds signed Chapman in the winter of 2010 to a six-year, $30 million deal in the hopes of securing a front of the rotation starting pitcher. However, due to growing pains and injuries to other key pitchers, Chapman has been used exclusively out of the bullpen while wearing a Reds uniform.
Prior to the start of the 2013 season, it was announced that Chapman would be moved to the starting rotation. This has become a hot topic conversation for Reds fans and baseball critics nationwide as the Reds look for their 3rd NL Central title in the last four years.
In 2012, the Reds headed to Spring Training with the intent of Chapman competing for a spot in the starting rotation. However, season ending injuries to relief pitchers Ryan Madson and Nick Masset forced the Reds to move Chapman into the bullpen for all of 2012. The results produced one of the best bullpens in baseball and saw Aroldis Chapman become a dominant closer for a team that won 97 games.
Chapman finished the 2012 season with a 1.51 ERA and 38 saves in 43 chances, recording 122 strikeouts and 23 walks in 71 2⁄3 innings. More than just numbers, Chapman was the shutdown arm that opposing players dreaded seeing at the end of games. Frequently topping 100 MPH, Chapman simply blew away opposing batters at a record setting pace. From June 26-Sept. 4, Aroldis converted a Reds record 27 consecutive saves. He appeared in 23 straight games without allowing a run, and nine different times during the season, he struck out the side to seal the win. He was the hammer at the end of the game that every team needs. He was dominant in every sense of the word.
The question is clear, why move such a dominant closer to the starting rotation? Obviously, Walt Jocketty (Reds General Manager) and the other Reds brass feel that Chapman is more valuable as a starting pitcher. Assuming they know more than the rest of us, it’s clear they value a potential 15-20 game winner more than someone who can consistently close out games.
This isn’t the first time Walt Jocketty has made such a decision. After starting the 2006 season as a middle reliever for the St. Louis Cardianls, Adam Wainwright was moved to the closer role in late September. Wainwright closed out the deciding games in the NLDS, NLCS, and World Series as the Cardinals won their 10th world championship. Wainwright was a key contributor in the back end of the bullpen for a team that shocked the baseball world and earned Cardinals GM Walt Jocketty his first World Series ring. Despite his immense success as a closer, Wainwright was moved to the starting rotation for the 2007 season. Since the move to the rotation, Adam Wainwright has been one of the best starting pitchers in baseball, frequently finding himself in the discussion for the Cy Young Award.
The Adam Wainwright comparison is a best-case scenario. There is no debating that Aroldis Chapman has the talent to become a dominant starting pitcher. As Reds Manger Dusty Baker has said numerous times, he might be their best relief pitcher and their best starting pitcher. He is a truly special player. He has the ability to determine the outcome of every game he appears in. Chapman pitched 71 innings in 2012, compared to the previously mentioned Wainwright, who pitched 198 innings. Aroldis pitched a little more than a third of the innings that Adam Wainwright did. It simply doesn’t make sense to use your best pitcher so infrequently. It seems Mr. Jocketty and Reds ownership agrees.
Moving Chapman into the rotation gives the Reds a formidable pitching staff with the potential to be the best in baseball. Johnny Cueto will remain the staff ace followed by Mat Latos, Chapman, Homer Bailey, and the ageless Bronson Arroyo. That is a nice blend of power and finesse for a rotation that didn’t miss a single start until the playoffs in 2012. It’s difficult to find a better rotation on paper than the one described above.
At the end of the day, would you rather have a good rotation with a dominant bullpen or a dominant rotation with a good bullpen? The Reds have a very talented team with a mix of veteran players and young superstars destined for a return to the postseason. This team has a 3-4 year window of legitimately contending for a world championship. Aroldis Chapman might be the biggest determining factor. Dominant bullpens don’t win World Series. Dominant starting pitching that can win on the road wins World Series. Is Aroldis Chapman that starting pitching? We’re about to find out.