It’s official. The transition to starter for Aroldis Chapman is no more. The Cincinnati Reds announced today that the right handed fireballer would be moving back to the bullpen, and will be the team’s closer for the 2013 season.
Reaction, much like that of his supposed move to starter, is split. But Seeds All Day is among those who feel the move is short-sighted and actually hurts Cincinnati more than it helps them.
Sure, Chapman is a fantastic closer, and will likely help propel Cincinnati to another NL Central division title. But if the Reds want to win the World Series, they need Aroldis Chapman starting games in the playoffs. It’s starting pitching that wins championships, not closers.
We don’t argue that having a good bullpen is important in the postseason. Lights-out relievers allow a team to shorten a game to six or seven innings. But a good bullpen is worthless if the starting pitchers are unable to give them a lead to defend.
To maximize success in a playoffs, it is important to give your best arms the most chances to make an impact on each series. As closer in 2012, Aroldis Chapman had zero impact on the Reds’ divisional series against the San Francisco Giants.
In Cincinnati’s Game 1 win, he was brought in to pitch a the ninth inning with a pressure removing four-run lead. Chapman held Game 3 to a 1-1 tie by pitching a scoreless ninth inning, only to watch helplessly as teammate Jonathan Broxton lost the game in the tenth. And in the series-clincher, the Cuban Missile was given the ball in yet another ninth inning – but with the Reds already trailing 6-3.
What is supposed to be Cincinnati’s secret weapon, one unlike any other in Major League Baseball, was silenced not by the Giants, but by his role as closer. As closer, Chapman is completely at the mercy of his teammates to put him in the right place at the right time to make an impact.
Detractors to the “Chapman should start” argument point to his success, and the importance of having a bookend to polish off close games. But the closing pitcher is the most overrated position in baseball.
In 2011, Francisco Cordero saved 37 games for the Reds, and blew six chances. In 2012, Chapman saved 38 and blew five. That’s just a one-game difference between a closer the team had zero interest resigning and one considered to be among the most dominant in the game today.
Still not convinced?
Consider that during the regular season, only 14 of Chapman’s 38 saves came in one-run games. Consider that the San Francisco Giants won last year’s World Series with All Star closer Brian Wilson on the disabled list. Consider that the St. Louis Cardinals won the 2011 World Series with a postseason closer who had saved just nine games during the regular season.
Chapman’s return to the bullpen may strengthen the pen, but it weakens Cincinnati’s roster as a whole.
The team already boasts an excellent bullpen with fantastic depth. Not counting Chapman, the Reds have two lefties in Manny Parra and set-up man Sean Marshall. They have a slew of talented right handers in Sam LeCure, Alfredo Simon, Jose Arredondo, Logan Ondrusek and J.J. Hoover. And let’s not forget that the Reds shelled out $21 million over three years for Jonathan Broxton to be the team’s closer.
Adding Chapman to the mix is going to cost one of the above relievers – each of which has proven beyond capable – a spot on the 25-man roster. It will add more to a position that Cincinnati already has plenty of depth in.
On the flip side, it takes the team’s strongest arm out of a position that has the least amount of depth – starting pitching. The Reds were unbelievably fortunate in 2012, having their five Opening Day starters make every start during the regular season. But it was an injury to Johnny Cueto that helped doom them in the postseason, as they had no reliable second options to fill in for the injured Cueto. It will be asking a lot to hope fortune smiles on the starting staff the same way in 2013. Injuries in baseball’s 162-game season are almost an inevitability.
With Chapman as a starter, Cincinnati would have had six guys with significant major league experience that could be called upon to pitch from the first inning on, which would offer insurance in the event of an injury. With Chapman closing, the Reds likely will open 2013 with the same five starters from a season ago: Mat Latos, Bronson Arroyo, Johnny Cueto, Homer Bailey and Mike Leake. An injury could leave them in the same predicament they found themselves in against San Francisco when Cueto went down.
The transition from closer to starter has been made with success time and time again in the MLB. Chris Sale threw 71 innings for the White Sox in 2011. In 2012, he became the ace of the staff and a Cy Young candidate. Similarly, C.J. Wilson threw 73 innings as a reliever for the Rangers in 2009. He too became the ace of his staff a year later, leading Texas to back-to-back World Series appearances in 2010 and 2011.
What’s the moral of this rant? It’s simple: a team can maximize its potential only if it gives its best players the greatest opportunity to make an impact on the game. This is especially true in the postseason, when the need to win each individual game is exclamated.
The Reds have heightened goals this season, and moving Aroldis Chapman to the starting rotation was a calculated risk toward achieving the postseason success that has eluded the team for decades now. Moving Chapman back to closer is the safe decisions, but safe decisions don’t always yield desired results.