Aroldis Chapman turned in one of the best seasons by a closer in MLB history last season when he saved 38 games (in 43 opportunities) struck out an amazing 122 batters in 71.2 innings, had an ERA of just 1.51 and a WHIP of merely 0.81.
Interestingly, the only season by a closer since 2004 that was on par or better than what Chapman accomplished last season … happened in the exact-same year. Craig Kimbrel of the Atlanta Braves turned in these numbers in 2012: 42 saves (45 opportunities), 116 K, 62.2 IP, 1.01 ERA, 0.65 WHIP.
Eric Gagne won the Cy Young award in 2003 with the LA Dodgers when he converted all 55 of his save ops. (Steroids are a wonderful thing!) But since then, no one has approached what the Cuban Missile and Kimbrel have accomplished.
So, a lot of people said the Cincinnati Reds would be crazy to move Chapman out of the closer’s role. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
Others countered that it’s foolish to use a talent like Chapman – who signed with the Reds in 2010 with the intentions to be a starter – for only 70 innings per year when you could use him for 150-180 innings. Or even 200 innings in future seasons. (No way he would have reached anywhere close to 200 in 2013.)
And the Reds’ brass seemed to agree with the latter assessment. When they signed Jonathan Broxton to a three-year, $21-million contract during the offseason, that locked it up as far as I was concerned. Chapman was definitely moving to the rotation.
General manager Walt Jocketty – who has done a great job since taking the reins in Cincinnati in April of 2008 – even said as much. Jocketty was quoted many times over the winter that the Reds intended to move Chapman into the starting rotation and Broxton would take over as the closer.
However, it wasn’t just people from the outside that chirped that the Reds were making a bad decision in moving Chapman from a role where he had already proven he could be ultra-successful. (Literally everyone on MLB Network agreed he should remain as a starter. Most Reds beat writers also questioned the move.)
No, manager Dusty Baker was lockstep with them in that he preferred Chapman as a closer. Even Chapman told reporters – via translator Tomas Vera – that the bullpen is where he wanted to be.
I still didn’t think too much of it. No way a shrewd GM like Jocketty would pay Broxton an average of $7 million per year to be a set-up man.
Or maybe he would.
Last Friday, the Reds announced that they would in fact keep Chapman in the closer’s role and would keep Mike Leake as the No. 5 starter.
Last year, the Reds made it through the regular season without any of their starting pitchers getting injured. (Course, in a strange twist of fate, they couldn’t make it out of the first inning of their first playoff game without ace Johnny Cueto suffering an ailment.) If they think that is going to happen again they are out of their collective minds.
Now, to be fair, Leake is pitching very well this spring and I’ve said all along it’s too early to give up on the 2009 first-round draft pick. He completely skipped the minors and was in the process of tearing up MLB as a rookie in 2010. However, he fell off big-time the second half of that season and hasn’t been the same since. Insiders say he’s regained his command while adding a few MPH on to his below-average fastball. (Maybe it’s up to average now!)
There is no question the Reds have one of the best rotations in all of MLB with Cueto, Mat Latos, Homer Bailey, Bronson Arroyo and Leake. However, what if one of them gets hurt this year, which is bound to happen?
I would have liked to see the Reds roll the dice and move Chapman to the rotation, but at the same time I’m not all that bothered by this decision. If one of the starters does get hurt, theoretically the team could then move Chapman to the rotation and Broxton to the closer’s role. But a more-likely scenario would be them using someone from Triple-A Louisville. A young guy like Tony Cingrani or Daniel Corcino, or a veteran like Armando Galarraga.
The biggest problem I have with the Chapman decision is the Reds seemed to be “all in” on moving him to the rotation when they forked out all that coin for Broxton. That’s $21 million that could have been used in a much-better way if the team was going to keep Chapman in the ‘pen.
Of course, the Reds will have the best bullpen in baseball this year. There is that.
And last time they had an incredibly “nasty” bullpen, things worked out pretty well in Cincinnati.
I’ll be back later in the week with my roster breakdown and prediction for the Reds’ 2013 record. It’s hard to be believe Opening Day against the Angels (yes, the Angels) is less-than a week away.