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Thursday, December 5, 2013

Reds notes: Keeping Aroldis Chapman in bullpen is right move


By on 12/05/2013 06:30:00 PM

Cincinnati Reds fans can once again rest assured that the rumors of Aroldis Chapman's move to the starting rotation are inaccurate. About the rumor that seems to arise every offseason, Reds general manager Walt Jockety and new manager Bryan Price have both indicated that Chapman will most likely remain the Reds' closer according to Mark Sheldon of MLB.com. Sheldon, though, also says that the Reds expect to try to get more than just one inning per outing from the flame-throwing lefty who has saved 38 games in each of the past two seasons.
In a December 4 radio interview with MLB.com, Jockety explained what he expects to do with Chapman during Spring Training. Said Jockety,
"We feel we have the depth in our rotation now that we can continue to keep him in the bullpen. That's probably the plan going into Spring Training. We'll have [Chapman] prepare for Spring Training like he has in the past. He'll come in and pitch a lot of innings in Spring Training, so he could go either way. In all likelihood when we get to Spring Training, we'll make a decision. I would think he'll continue to be our closer."
Why would Jockety or Price even consider changing what has worked out so well? Chapman throws over 100 mph frequently, and he is arguably the most-feared closer in baseball. He does not care who is hitting -- left or right -- Chapman can blow one right past him at any time. He has struck out 324 hitters and walked just 98 in 198.2 innings in his career that began in 2010. He was third in the National League in saves in 2013. He has never started a Major League game.

Having Chapman start means allowing the opposing manager to worry about him only once -- or not at all --rather than in each game of the series. Knowing that Chapman lingers in waiting for the ninth inning, a manager may use his best pinch hitter earlier in the game if a situation presents itself, which could get his own starting pitcher out of the game earlier as well. Knowing that Chapman will not pitch gives that opposing manager more options.

In addition, Chapman has a history of left shoulder problems that include soreness, inflammation, and fatigue. He has had those problems pop up in each season except 2013. He missed 36 games in 2011 with shoulder inflammation. Chapman pitched more than one inning just twice in 2013 and just 63.2 innigns all season. As a starter, he would suddenly have to expand to six or more innings per start and around 200 innings for the season.

Those extra innings -- much extra -- that Chapman would accrue as a starter would drastically add to the possibility of reviving that inflammation, which could put him on the disabled list for an extended time. It could at least force a late-season shutdown a'la Stephen Strasburg and Jeff Samardzija in 2012. Why risk that injury or shutdown unnecessarily when Jockety and Price already like the rotation they have -- especially if they might need Chapman in the postseason?

Finally, who would close? There are some good free agent closers still available, but they do not instill the fear in hitters that Chapman does. They also do not neutralize powerful left-handed hitters such as Anthony Rizzo , Adrian Gonzalez, or Carlos Gonzalez the way Chapman can.

Changing Aroldis Chapman's role simply makes little sense. Jockety and Price should not even consider the possibility. Although that possibility does still exist, it at least looks very remote. So far, the plan is to keep Chapman in the closer's role. That plan is the right one.

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