Aroldis Chapman’s Unbelievable Start: Star Closer or Future Starter?

Thursday June 7th, 2012

Bernie Olshansky: As the season winds on and we begin to approach the All Star break, many players who had hot starts have come back to reality.  The Cincinnati Reds’ Aroldis Chapman, however, has not. In 24 games this season, the native of Cuba has given up only seven hits and yielded just one run (unearned) in 29 innings pitched. He posts a 52:9 strikeout to walk ratio—which translates to a ridiculous 16.1 strikeouts per nine innings pitched. Against Chapman, hitters are hitting a miniscule .076. He has officially been named the Reds’ closer and has recorded six saves. If he could sustain these numbers, Chapman could be a legitimate Cy Young candidate (even as a reliever).

The Reds initially planned to use Chapman as a starter, while letting him adjust to the major leagues pitching out of the bullpen his first year, like many rookies. He was dazzling as he threw upwards of 100 miles per hour (even hitting 103), and was kept in the bullpen. This year, rather than being moved to the rotation, he was designated the closer and has excelled. After performing in this role, it seems like he is destined to stay. Chapman has all of the qualities of a closer, and on top of those, he is left-handed, which gives him an even bigger advantage due to the scarcity of left-handed closers.

One could only imagine the success that Chapman could have as a starter. He would, however, have to throttle down a bit on his fastball in order to conserve energy, but the differential between a 97-mile per hour fastball and an 87-92-mile per hour change-up would still be deadly. This could come to fruition as early as next year with the return of Ryan Madson (the Reds’ closer before Chapman). In his young career, Chapman will become a front-of-the-rotation starter.

Chapman has been rather fortunate this year from his defensive help. Hitters’ BABIP (Batting Average on Balls In Play) is only .163 (before Wednesday’s game), which reflects the solid play behind him. Last year, hitters had a .244 BABIP, and in 2010 in 15 games a .333. As this begins to go up, more runs will score, potentially raising his ERA. Last year, Chapman posted a decent 3.60 ERA after giving up 20 runs in 50 innings. This year, one can expect “the Cuban Missile” to hold a sub-two ERA as he racks up the strikeouts.

Last season, Chapman was having difficulty finding the strike zone but had no problem lighting up the radar gun. This year is different in that he hasn’t been making headlines by throwing 103 miles per hour (Wednesday night, his lowest velocity was a whopping 96 miles per hour while he topped out at 101). He has been finding the strike zone a little bit more and with less walks. In 2011, Chapman walked 41 in 50 innings; this year, only nine in 28 innings. This is a major factor in his almost non-existent ERA. If Chapman in the near future becomes a starter, he will need to keep this up in order to pitch into the later parts of games.

A similar pitcher to Chapman—a starter— is Edinson Volquez of the San Diego Padres. Volquez was included in the trade from the Reds for Mat Latos during the offseason. He has experienced major control issues and often walks many. He walked seven in a game this year (4/26 vs. Washington). Volquez throws gas, just like Chapman, and provides a perfect example as to how Chapman could perform as a starter if he doesn’t keep his control in check.

As Aroldis Chapman enters the middle of the third year of his career with video game-like stats, the ceiling for this young pitcher seems almost unlimited. Starting or reliever, the Chapman future star is very bright.

***Today’s feature was prepared by Bernie Olshansky, MLB reports Intern.  We highly encourage you to leave your comments and feedback at the bottom of the page and share in the discussion with our readers.  You can also follow Bernie on Twitter (@BernieOlshansky)***

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About bernieolshansky

Living in the San Francisco Bay Area, I’ve experienced some exciting times with the local baseball teams—the Giants winning the World Series being the most memorable highlight. Some of my favorite players include Felix Hernandez, Tim Lincecum, and Cliff Lee among others. I played baseball up through my freshman year of high school and transitioned into being a full time fan. I regularly attend major and minor league games when I have free time. I enjoy working at a baseball store. I’m in my senior year of high school and hope to major in Journalism or Sports Administration in college. Follow Bernie on Twitter (@BernieOlshansky).

Posted on June 7, 2012, in MLB Player Profiles and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. I sincerely hope this is the first and last time that I read about a comparison of chapman and volquez and how if chapman starts that is what we can expect. If, somehow, that is what to expect….leave him in the bullpen.

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