Jim Bowden writes about the turmoil brewing in Reds camp on ESPN Insider: Manager Dusty Baker -- and the players -- think Aroldis Chapman should remain the team's closer; general manager Walt Jocketty, with the support of pitching coach Bryan Price, is telling Baker that Chapman will be in the rotation. Whether Baker likes it or not.
There are a multitude of issues in this controversy. It's a symbolic example of today's game, where the GM constructs the roster and even tells the manager how to use it. It brings up the argument over the value of a closer. And lurking below those two, what's best for Chapman? We've seen other relievers successfully transition into the rotation -- C.J. Wilson and Chris Sale to name two -- but last year we also saw Daniel Bard implode and Neftali Feliz blow out his elbow.
But this situation has a pretty obvious answer:
1. Baker is wrong.
2. Jocketty is right.
Look, I get it. Chapman mowed down hitters like Ghengis Khan marching through Eurasia. In truth though, Chapman was more dominant than he was valuable. That's where Baker can't separate what his eyes tell him -- he sees Chapman striking out all those hitters to close out games -- from what the analytics suggest, which is the closer role is overrated and that Chapman, even a somewhat less dominant Chapman, is worth more to the Reds as a starter.
Plus, don't you have to find out if Chapman is Randy Johnson 2.0? OK, that's setting the bar too high since we're talking about one of the five greatest pitchers of all time, but even if he's a notch or two below that we're talking about an All-Star and potential staff ace. Imagine a big three of Chapman, Johnny Cueto and Mat Latos; that's what has Jocketty and Price salivating.
Chapman had 38 saves last year and pitched 71.2 innings (he began the year as the set-up man). As a supreme strikeout pitcher his strikeouts, in some fashion, are wasted in the ninth-inning role, since you enter with the bases empty. Think about it: When is a strikeout most valuable for a pitcher? With runners on base, to escape jams. Used as a reliever, Chapman would probably be more valuable entering in the seventh or eighth innings, especially with runners on and less than two outs. Of those 38 saves, nine came with a three-run lead; one came with a four-run lead. Those are wasted appearances. Any competent major league reliever would save three-run leads well 95 percent of the time, and good relievers like Sean Marshall and Jonathan Broxton close to 100 percent. Another 14 came with a two-run lead. Again, not the more pressure-packed situation.
The Reds were 78-3 when leading after eight innings. (All three losses coming after Chapman became the closer and all three losses were charged to Chapman.) The average major league lost ... 3.7 games when leading after eight innings. Chapman may look more impressive closing out the ninth inning than every closer not named "Craig Kimbrel," but in the end, he didn't provide all that much added value in the role.
And it's not like the Reds would be giving the job to Brandon Lyon or Francisco Rodriguez. Broxton has closed before. Marshall has been one of the game's best setup guys for years. J.J. Hoover looks like a future closer. The pen is deep enough with guys like Jose Arredondo, Alfredo Simon and Logan Ondrusek to not suffer much even as everyone is pushed up a chain on the food link.
The biggest risk is that Chapman gets hurt or reverts back to having difficulty throwing enough strikes. Some think his lack of a quality third pitch will hurt him; hey, Johnson did pretty well throwing a high-90s fastball and slider, and I see no reason Chapman can't succeed as a two-pitch guy. So, yes, there's risk, but there's also risk in running out a rotation that includes Bronson Arroyo and Mike Leake.
Baker may not like the move now, but something tells me he'll be OK with it once Chapman is 10-4 in late June with a 2.87 ERA, is leading the NL in strikeouts and makes the All-Star team.