What will 2013 hold for Aroldis Chapman, starting pitcher?
As Jerry Crasnick reminds us, the Reds have planned for this since the defector's arrival in the States. He was primed to assume these duties last spring after a brilliant Cactus League run before Ryan Madson underwent Tommy John surgery; setup men incurred injuries; and Sean Marshall proved shaky at finishing contests.
Will the strikeout-laden Chapman perform as effectively with a comfort zone of 95ish mph as he did when pinning triple-digit readings every other pitch? He'll reach back when needed, but trying to do that frequently, while working to buck his high-walk trend from a starter's rubber, will be difficult. The fastball-slider approach needs a consistent tertiary component, at least, which involves restoring his changeup and/or splitter; each has nasty potential but needs more MLB polish.
An inadequate arsenal halted Neftali Feliz, whose difficulties in the role change contributed to his need for Tommy John surgery. Chris Sale's string pull, meanwhile, was his best pitch last year, in terms of 2012 PITCHf/x value. Jeff Samardzija's pre-existing abundance of pitches helped his cause, as well. Of course, Sale and Samardzija also use plenty of two-seamers to offer fastball variety. Chapman still has a monogamous relationship with four-seamers.
Unfortunately, hitters have been sitting on his stuff a bit more, even if the surface stats don't show it. His opponents' liner rate suffered a 3.3 percent jump from 2011 to 2012, per Fangraphs, to 19.8. Maintaining that suffocating look he's pulled off as a reliever will take more work. He may resort to an "effectively wild" fallback, which could lead to extended issues.
Don't forget the mental aspects of starting: adjusting to numerous turns through a lineup; holding runners on; fielding your position for five-plus stanzas; staying loose between innings; and communicating frequently and efficiently with catchers. In fairness, at least he was a starter in his Caribbean days, and despite questions of on- and off-field maturity, the higher-ups continue to praise his work ethic and adjustment to American life.
Cincinnati has various avenues for cultivation, whether by limiting his per-game tosses, starts or tenure on the active roster, or sliding him back into relief for a spell. With Mike Leake and others in tow, they boast a backup plan to make 2013 a productive step toward Chapman's long-term ace status. They don't want his progress cut short like Feliz's.
Words mean only so much over the winter, but pitching coach Bryan Price said bumping a workload "by 50 or 60 or 80 innings in today's standards would be considered irresponsible." Chapman logged 71 2/3 frames last year and dealt with a balky shoulder as autumn arrived, which adds to their incentive for continued caution. Even Dusty Baker, a fingered accomplice - justly or not - in the improper development of young pitchers, apparently doesn't want to overdo Chapman's responsibilities.
If Cincy, who looks like a strong postseason contender, locks things up early, they may choose to save him for the postseason. In that route, however, avoiding a Stephen Strasburg-like scandal will prove tricky.
Of course, if Chapman bombs this spring, he could easily slide back into the stopper job, pushing Jonathan Broxton to setup duty again. At this point, however, Cincy looks ultra-committed to this path. Chapman would have to melt down.
Fantasy drafters should recognize the promise and drawbacks with his first year of this change. Strikeouts are strikeouts, and at some point in the middle mixed rounds, they'll make sense to draft even if you're counting on only a 120-inning ceiling. As a fourth (more optimally, fifth or sixth) dual-universe SP, he has a good chance to yield positive returns.
Of course, the potential stumbles and absences mean not to pay for his long-term upside immediately; hype will prompt many to do just that, meaning next year looks like a better shot at productive ROI.
About Tim Heaney
Tim's work has been featured by USA Today/Sports Weekly, among numerous outlets, and recognized as a finalist in the Fantasy Sports Writers Association awards. The Boston University alum, who competes in the prestigious LABR and Tout Wars, has won numerous industry leagues in both baseball and football.
He appears frequently, including every Sunday, on Sirius XM Fantasy Sports Radio, as well as every Wednesday on 1570 AM WNST in Baltimore.
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