Aroldis Chapman is a starter. A starting pitcher. A pitcher who will pitch in the first inning of baseball games. Rejoice and celebrate, right? Hoorah! Hooray! Hoorak! Five cheers!
The problem is that we’re all a little gunshy. Daniel Bard blew up for the Red Sox and then didn’t even pitch well out of the bullpen in Triple-A. Neftali Feliz went under the knife. Chris Sale and Jeff Samardzija … well, actually, those went fine. Sale was a Cy Young candidate and Samardzija posted a 4.07 RA/9 (the NL scored 4.22 runs per game). But it’s Bard and Feliz who I think remain foremost in the minds of many, myself included. And given the stellar numbers put up by Chapman as a reliever in 2012 (122 whiffs, 23 walks, four homers allowed in 71 2/3 innings — that’s an FIP of 1.59, which is so low that you’d think maybe it breaks the system, except Chapman’s ERA was 1.51, so …), you’d be forgiven for wondering why the Reds can’t just leave well enough alone and let Chapman keep dominating out the ‘pen. After all, Baseball Prospectus’s WARP is as unfriendly to relief pitchers as any system (it doesn’t include a leverage component, for instance), but Chapman racked up 2.4 WARP in his innings this year, tied for first on his team with Homer Bailey.
“But if you double or triple his innings, you could double or triple his value!”
Maybe. Probably not, though. Pitchers pitch worse out of the rotation than they do from the bullpen, and for what should be obvious reasons — they have to save something for their 90th pitch, their seventh inning, their third time facing a batter. They get tired. They get up and sit down a lot. In the National League, they bat. Also, while BP’s WARP does not include leverage, a team can pick a reliever’s spots and assign him tougher, more important innings. A starter just starts and pitches as long as he can and that’s it, even if it’s 10-0.
I’ve covered this ground before, and I don’t just want to rehash things I’ve written elsewhere, so I’ll just note that, given these general concerns about any pitcher moving to the rotation, and with the fact that there will be an innings limit, I’m in cautious optimism mode about Chapman starting rather than full-on put-your-damn-hands-up happiness.
There’s irrationality to this, of course. Bard and Feliz don’t change Chapman’s odds of success. They don’t really even add information that we didn’t already know — pitchers get hurt and pitchers fail, especially pitchers who don’t have enough depth in their arsenal to be rotation men. (If I remember right, Keith Law was concerned all along about Bard in that regard.) All they do is highlight the issue. They’re like the car accident you saw last week on your way to work. You just have to note it, learn what you can, and move on. It doesn’t change a thing.
Hoorooh! Hoor! Yay!