Aroldis Chapman: The Best Closer in Baseball?

Thursday September 13th, 2012

Bernie Olshansky:  Aroldis Chapman has had an unbelievable season for a closer. He has gone 5-5 with a miniscule 1.60 ERA and 119 strikeouts. And, he has only pitched 67.2 innings. His strikeouts-per-nine-innings is 15.8. That would mean that if he were to start, he would strike out more than half the batters he would face if he went the distance. Chapman has established himself as a dominant pitcher, and with Mariano Rivera on his way out, is “the Cuban Missile” the best closer in baseball?

When the Reds signed Aroldis Chapman, they had intentions to make him a starter. Many thought he would be very successful with the plus fastball that he already had, along with other, developing pitches. Chapman spent his first two years towards the back of the bullpen, but not as a closer. He was a bit wild and had not completely gotten control of his ridiculous 103 mph fastball. Even with some of these flaws, Chapman showed major closer potential. He had no problem striking batters out, he had an out pitch, and he had a decent ERA. His only major issue was walks. In his second season—his first full—Chapman walked 41 in 50 innings. If he would make it as a closer, he would have to gain control and make adjustments.

Chapman did just that, and it has made a huge difference for him. In his 67.2 innings this year, Chapman has only walked 20—compared to his 41 last year in 17.2 less innings. He has proven that he can be an extremely dominant closer. He started the season with a streak of successful saves and has kept it up for the most part, with just a few hiccups mixed in. With him rising to closer stardom, the question being asked:  is Aroldis Chapman the best closer in baseball?

First, let’s take a look at the top closers in the present. One of the elite is Craig Kimbrel of the Atlanta Braves. He just recently came into his own after longtime closer Billy Wagner retired. Kimbrel had a very successful 2011 season and an even better 2012, posting a 1.18 ERA through 53.1 innings. He is, in my mind, the frontrunner for the best closer in baseball as of now. Chapman is good, but I think he needs to have another season similar to this year to solidify his spot at the top. He needs to prove his consistency. Also, Chapman could face a bit of a downturn next year after throwing so many innings this year. There has already been some talk of a drop in his velocity. The Reds shut him down for the time being on Tuesday due to arm fatigue. This is reason for concern knowing that the Reds will be playing in October. This will be something to keep an eye on.

Another elite closer is Jonathan Papelbon of the Phillies. He has been very consistent over his eight year career, posting a 2.35 ERA over 490 innings. He has racked up 251 saves over his career and is regarded as a top-notch back-end reliever. Papelbon has not had less than 30 saves in a year beside his rookie season, and will play in a big part in the rebuilding of the Phillies in the future.

Brian Wilson of the Giants could also be considered at the top, but his recovery from Tommy John surgery will decide whether or not he stays. He has been a power since 2008 when he took the closer’s job. Since 2008 (disregarding this year), Wilson’s lowest save total has been 36 in 2011 (following up a World Series year with a strong workload). He recorded just one save this year before going in for surgery, and might not be the same next year. It will be interesting to see how he returns.

One last closer that has been great (among several others, including Jim Johnson of the Orioles) this year is Fernando Rodney of the Rays. This season has stuck out as a good one in his career, as he holds a 0.69 ERA with 42 saves. I would not consider him among the elite simply due to his age (35) and his inconsistency. The Rays have used a different closer every year for the past few years and I don’t think that Rodney’s great season is representative of his career.

As Mariano Rivera retires, it will be fun to see who takes over as the elite closer of Major League Baseball. Aroldis Chapman looks the most promising with his young age and electric arm. Craig Kimbrel also has the potential to be a great closer for years to come, but the amount of innings that he has been throwing over the past few years worries me. Overall, there seems to be an abundance of closers that will undoubtedly overpower hitters in the ninth inning for years to come. Let’s just hope they stay healthy.

(*The views and opinions expressed in this report are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of*)

***Today’s feature was prepared by Bernie Olshansky, Baseball Writer & Facebook Administrator.  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 September 13, 2012, in MLB Player Profiles and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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