It’s been 27 months since the Reds signed Aroldis Chapman to that six-year, $30.25 million contract, but he still has yet to make a start for them. That’s not entirely his fault however, as the club decided to use him out of the bullpen last season. Despite a strong showing in Spring Training — 2.12 ERA with an 18/2 K/BB ratio in 17 IP — Chapman is once again headed back to the bullpen to start this season.
Chapman is in the bullpen. Baker: “He’s a starter, a very good starter. But Billy Bray isn’t ready to be late-inning lefty right now.” #reds
— John Fay (@johnfayman) April 2, 2012
You really have to be impressed by the way Dusty Baker showed a) how much he overvalues left-handed relievers, and b) how little faith he has in Bill Bray with just two sentences. Bray, by the way, has held left-handed batters to a .154/.245/.294 batting line with a 25.2% strikeout rate over the last two seasons, but I digress.
Chapman, still just 24, was reportedly competing with the out of options Homer Bailey for the final rotation spot this month, but Ryan Madson’s injury created a need in the bullpen and apparently the move was just too easy to pass up. It’s been a season and a half since Chapman last started a meaningful game (in the minors, no less), and the plan to build him up as a starter in winter ball was thwarted by a minor shoulder issue. He was very clearly over that this spring.
Now there are very legitimate questions about Chapman’s ability to hold up over a full season as a starter, especially since throwing as hard as he does is such an unnatural act. Pitching in general is unnatural, but Chapman’s freakish velocity makes it even more extreme. That said, there are also concerns about his ability to perform in back-to-back days, which is a significant part of being a late-inning reliever. Batters got to Chapman for a .179/.360/.308 batting line on zero day’s rest last year compared to .137/.312/.177 in all other situations.
The Reds made a significant investment in Chapman two years ago, and so far they’re doing everything they can to minimize their return. The bullpen could be his long-term role with the club as far as we know, but they haven’t even given him a chance to show what he could do in the rotation. Cincinnati took a big step towards long-term contention by locking up Joey Votto yesterday, and giving Chapman a shot as a starter could yield significant results as well. We’ll just have to wait until at least next year, it seems.