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The Great Unknown: Aroldis Chapman's starting gig

By Keith Hernandez

One of the biggest questions facing any baseball team heading into spring training this year is the Cincinnati Reds' monumental decision whether to make Aroldis Chapman a starter or keep in the role as the ninth-inning stopper, where he excelled in 2012.

As of right now, Cincy is set on using him every fifth day in their rotation. If you are prepping for your fantasy baseball drafts or participating in a mock, it's pretty safe to assume that he'll be a starter.

Cincinnati Reds SP Aroldis Chapman
Chapman starting = risky

I was discussing this with a good friend of mine the other day - a buddy that I also compete with in a keeper league - and we both are in agreement that it won't be too appealing to own Chapman in 2013.

Why? Well, there are plenty of reasons, in my opinion. While some might argue that Chapman's potential is being squelched in the bullpen, I see it differently. He was arguably one of the best closers last year, dominating hitters with a K/9 of 15.3! He settled into the role and moved his BB/9 figure from 7.4 in 2011 to 2.9. Why fix something that's not broken, particularly since he made such great strides last year?

Pitching coach Bryan Price said that there will be an innings limit on the Cuban lefty as he transitions to a rotation post. That's assumed, especially since Chapman tossed only 71 2/3 frames while saving 38 games last year. He can't be expected to accumulate a number of innings exponentially exceeding his previous year's total and expect to stay healthy.

Having him start can be attractive, sure, when you think about how many more strikeouts he could accrue. But at what cost? Ask anyone and it'll be hard to dissent that moving a successful reliever to the rotation will remove some of the allure of his dominance. He'll have to sacrifice some of his cheese in order to gain stamina.

The biggest factor that Chapman will encounter, I think, will be the difference in mindset that a starter and reliever must have. I'm not sure he has the mental capacity at this point in his career to go from one extreme to the other. He made such great strides in adapting the closer mentality last year that it'd be a shame for Cincy to abandon what they were able to accomplish in favor of an experiment that could fail miserably.

We've seen this happen before, as recently as last year. Daniel Bard is a prime example of a dominant reliever who fell flat on his face in the transition to starter. In the case with Neftali Feliz (Tommy John surgery), the increase in workload was probably his undoing.

I could be very wrong, but I feel as though Chapman isn't cut out for five, six, seven or more innings every fifth day. He just got the hang of controlling his mechanics to harness his triple-digit heat within the strike zone. He hasn't made a single start in the majors, and it wouldn't take much to get his mechanics out of whack given his 6-foot-4, 200-pound lanky frame.

The Reds were prepared to move him to starter last year, but the injuries to the bullpen, including the projected closer, Ryan Madson (Tommy John), and others forced them to experiment with Chapman as the closer - and it worked. They must be pretty confident that Jonathan Broxton or a combo of others (Sean Marshall, Jose Arredondo?) can do the job this year.

All I know is Chapman is easily the Reds' best closing option and a top-five stopper in all of baseball. I can't say that he'll be the most dynamic or effective starter in Cincinnati's rotation, though.

The most dominant pitchers in baseball don't always make the best starters. At least the Reds will be able to get somewhat of an idea of Chapman as a starter in spring training. Either way, it'll be interesting to watch.



 


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