February 1, 2013 by Matt Musico
The Cincinnati Reds had a fantastic year in 2012. Not only did they win the NL Central by nine games over the St. Louis Cardinals with their 97-65 record, they finished a game behind the Nationals for the best record in Major League Baseball. How did Dusty Baker get his club to such a high performance level after a disappointing 2011?
Joey Votto was a force in the lineup and on the field, but he missed significant time with a knee injury, leaving players like Brandon Phillips, Jay Bruce, and Ryan Ludwick to shoulder the load and carry the offense. However, with none of their major team offensive statistics falling within the top-10 of the league, it was their pitching that helped bring the squad to that next level. Their 3.34 team ERA and 1.23 team WHIP were both ranked within the top-five in all of baseball. For this, they can thank a starting rotation anchored by Johnny Cueto, Bronson Arroyo, Matt Latos, Homer Bailey, and Mike Leake. However, the key component of the pitching staff was the role of Aroldis Chapman as the team’s closer. Chapman consistently wowed fans with his 100 mph fastball, which complimented his 1.51 ERA, 0.81 WHIP, 38 saves, and 122 strikeouts in 71.2 innings pitched quite nicely. So, why have the Reds made the decision to move him to the starting rotation?
I’ve always been a proponent of the old saying, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” While pitching in Cuba, Chapman was always a starting pitcher, blowing away hitter after hitter with his vast array of pitches, but when it came to his quickest path to the Majors and for the Reds to make the most of the five-year/$25.25 million commitment they made to him prior to the 2010 season, he was moved to the bullpen, as he hasn’t even started a Major League game yet.
So, back to that old saying. The Reds won their division comfortably last season, and while the Cubs and Pirates don’t look to be real threats, and I would still say they’re a better overall team than both the Brewers and Cardinals, and a favorite to repeat as divison champs. So, why switch things up and create a logjam in the starting rotation? Last year’s formula worked, why change it? Obviously, there was a lot of internal debate with regard to what role Chapman should have going into 2013 before they decided to bring back Jonathan Broxton on a three-year/$21 million deal, and although I don’t agree with their thinking, I applaud them for making a decision and sticking to it.
Not swaying from their original decision has allowed Chapman to prepare all winter to be a starting pitcher, which he probably needed to build up the endurance in his arm again to get into the 6th and 7th inning on a consistent basis. On the flip side, we look at how the Mets have done the complete opposite with Jenrry Mejia. The young hurler has been a starter for most of his life, yet New York has switched his roles almost daily. In the long-term, they project him as a reliever, but he still spent time last year as both a reliever and starter. He was going to get a chance to start this season after the R.A. Dickey trade, but the acquisition of Shaun Marcum has likely pushed him back into a relief role in the Big Leagues, or God knows what in Triple-A.
When a pitcher is in their early-20s, it’s important to give them an identity by clarifying a role, as it can either speed up their development, or have the opposite effect and stunt it.
It will be interesting to see who the odd man out is in Cincinnati when it comes to the starting rotation since there are six pitchers for five spots. If Chapman performs well enough to get a spot, I think Mike Like will be on the outside looking in, but I’m also bad at predicting. Like I said though, I don’t agree with what the Reds are doing off the heels of fielding a playoff team, but I’m glad to see they have the player’s well-being in mind by making a decision early in the winter and not budging from it.
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