Friday, February 18, 2011

2011 Season Pressing Question #1: The Aroldis Decision

Well, time to start looking ahead to the 2011 season. The 2010 season met or exceeded all reasonable expectations and served as a good first step on the road to the promise land. The Reds have enough young talent to take another sizable step on their journey, but most teams that take a significant step forward in one year frequently slide back the next.

To me, it seems that the two World Series contestants, Texas and San Francisco, are ripe for a regression. The Giants did little to nothing this offseason and had a few too many overperformers last year to bank on a repeat performance. And, they simply don't have many young players that they can count on improving in 2011. They are going to need a bounce back from Pablo Sandoval or a Posey-like debut for Brandon Belt. Outside of that, they seem a candidate to slide backwards. As for the Rangers, they landed Adrian Beltre, but lost Cliff Lee. As a result, I'm not convinced that they have the pitching to get back to October. As for Beltre, he might be an upgrade, but they also completely undercut the standing of their team leader, Michael Young, to do so. Who knows how that will impact the chemistry and clubhouse. There are significant questions surrounding both teams.

As for the Reds, what do we make of them after seeing them stand pat? Well, their emerging young talent makes standing pat less detrimental, as several young players are in line for a step forward. Even so, there are a handful of questions that will likely determine the level of success that the Reds are able to achieve this season. And, first on the list is:

1. Whether the Reds can help Aroldis Chapman make the transition from "unbelievable spectacle" to "massively productive" baseball player.

In short, spectacles sell tickets, but production wins ballgames. Aroldis is currently long on the former and short on the latter.

Chapman exploded on the scene with a blazing fastball and a Bugs Bunny slider, which put the Reds on the national radar in a way not seen since the days of Josh Hamilton. The Reds haven't had the kind of sustained success necessary to be consistently relevant to the national discussion, but when a story that transcends the game lands in the Queen city the Reds once again resurface in the national consciousness. Hamilton was just such a story and upon his departure I lamented the loss of both the player and the story, which were inseparable and equally valuable to the organization.

Now, the Reds have another chance, but to fully reap the rewards from the marriage of story and production, they'll have to determine how to properly utilize Chapman. How do they get more from him than the spectacle? How do they get production that effectively advances the team towards the postseason? Aye, there's the rub.

To start, the Reds have decided to use Chapman out of the bullpen in 2011, rather than letting him develop as a starter. Just like everyone else, I find that decision to be a questionable one. I understand that the Reds are closer now to a championship than they have been in decades. So, the desire to have all hands on deck is understandable. At the same time, I think if you have any confidence in Chapman's ability to start, then you have to send him down. Once he becomes entrenched as a reliever, it will become increasingly difficult to shift him back to the starting rotation. A similar situation is happening in Texas with Neftali Feliz, who thus far has been deemed too valuable as a reliever to be switched back to the rotation.

Personally, I am beginning to question whether Chapman can smoothly make the transition to the rotation, so I'm not as opposed to the notion of him as a reliever as I was previously. Still, given the disparity in workload between starting (200 IP) and relieving (60 IP), there is no doubt that starters have a greater ability to make an impact. As a result, Chapman should be given every opportunity to start. Regardless, the Reds have decided that the best way to extract production from Chapman is to use him as a reliever.

To be a productive reliever, Chapman will need to work high leverage innings. He already has the stuff to thrive in such a role, as evidenced by his stellar 12.8 K/9 and his paltry 66.7% contact rate. However, he'll have to continue refining his command, as evidenced by his 3.4 BB/9, First Pitch Strike % of only 57%, and 16.6 pitches per inning. As a pitcher who avoids contact, he'll always be less efficient with his pitches, but a first pitch strike would make him that much tougher, simply by tipping the probability of success in his favor. And, as the Phillies demonstrated in the playoffs, his pitches aren't completely untouchable, so a bit of refinement would serve him well.

Overall, Chapman has the type of stuff to be as effective as Neftali Feliz was last year for the Rangers. And, once he establishes himself, the Reds will have just as much difficulty in switching him back to the rotation. Regardless, the Reds ability to extract production from Chapman will go a long way to determining their success in 2011.


  1. It kinda makes me sick to think about leaving him in the bullpen.

    It also makes me sick to think about not having josh Hamilton in this lineup. how scary good would that have been?

    Hopefully this is only a temporary thing, with arrendondo and soon to be here donnie joseph to add to our already deep bullpen im hoping it wont be as difficult for us to lose chapman in the pen regardless of how well he performs. The rangers need pitching more than we do so its not quite the same situation

  2. Smitty,

    Good points across the board. You're right that the Rangers have a more pressing need on the bump than we do. However, this is Coco's last year under contract, as we won't exercise his $12M option unless he pitches lights out this year. So, we'll have an opening at closer starting in 2012 and who better to fill it than....well, you get the idea.

    I just think that once we take the first step down that path, it becomes very difficult to change course.

    Here's a fun thought, we might legitimately have made the World Series last year if we had Hamilton.

    Anyway, thanks for the comment!


  3. LOL that is not a fun thought! i have hated that trade since it was made! haha

    and good point about coco however i think masset will be the one to take the closer spot if they dont pick someone up via FA/trade. dusty likes experience in his closer

  4. Smitty,

    Yeah, I still think events are being set in motion that will ensure Arodlis is our closer in 2012. I don't expect Masset to be a legitimate consideration and if Aroldis performs as expected in 2011 then he'll blow by Masset on the depth chart.

    If we have a hole at closer and an option like Chapman on the roster, then I just don't see us spending the big money needed to bring in a better option than Chappy.


  5. You just like shutting down my hopes :]

  6. lol

    I just like to keep you on your toes. I just don't see the Reds spending big money on a closer next year, so Homer, Aroldis, and Masset seem the likely choices. And, I'm not wild about any of them, but I suspect Aroldis is the leader in the clubhouse. We shall see!