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Updating the Top 100 - Aroldis Chapman

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In which I adhere to statutory regulation 49.A.7.c, whereby Chapman's future role (i.e., starter v. reliever) must be referenced.

Acercamiento de los juegos
Acercamiento de los juegos
Rob Leifheit-USA TODAY Sports

One of my favorite memories of this ill-fated season was watching a game late in the year with my wife. The two applicable notes of context here are: 1) that it was during one of those stretches in which the Reds were rolling, winners of a few games in a row at the time; and 2) my wife is familiar enough with the game, but is not a fan. Anyway, Chapman was inserted and did his thing. He appeared to be particularly amped up, and was topping 100 mph with his fastballs, and striking batters out, as is his wont.

After one of the strikeouts, FSO ran its super duper slo-mo replay on Chapman's delivery. At the peak of Chapman's windup, his shoulder appeared to shift out of its normal socket, such that his left elbow paused directly behind the center of his head before hurtling body and ball plate-ward. The combination of torque, flexibility, and kinetic energy caught on camera caused my wife to gasp in amazement before asking me to rewind it a couple of times.

You know what? She's right. Lost in the fuss about Chapman's role as a starter or reliever, or in the hubbub regarding his consistency or value as a closer, or even in the faux scandal of guava-gate, is this: the dude is a freak.

The Reds have some pretty decent relievers on their team. JJ Hoover, for example, is sometimes touted as a future closer; Chapman's successor, perhaps. Any maybe that's correct, and maybe Chapman would be a better value to the team as a starter. I certainly don't know, precisely. What I do know is that I get much more...aesthetic enjoyment out of Chapman pitching than I do when Hoover or Sam LeCure or Homer Bailey take the mound. That probably doesn't carry a whole lot of weight, and it definitely doesn't add any wins to the ledger, but it's hard to discuss Chapman's career without acknowledging the fact that he's so much different than any other pitcher we've ever seen on this team. Even his blown saves are more spectacular than, say, Francisco Cordero's, which seemed to have more an air of mediocre predictability than Chapman's 20-sided dice roll, in which a "1" yields a long home run, and all other results conclude in embarrassing strikeouts.

None of which is to say that Chapman is without value, of course. The leverage of his innings have been greatly discussed on this site, so I won't waste your time, other than to quickly reiterate that Chapman's value is greater than a simple multiplication of innings pitched and runs not allowed. That said, does it surprise you when I tell that Chapman has not yet logged 200 career innings pitched? It feels like more to me. How about when I point out that Chapman is already #8 on the Reds' all-time saves list? He's only had the 9th inning role for two years, mind you. These divergent data points serve as a reminder to the enigmatic task of relief pitcher valuation.

Also emblematic of said volatility is this: Chapman's 2012 was one of the great reliever seasons in franchise history, while 2013 was merely a decent season for a closer. In each season, Chapman made 68 appearances and was credited with 38 saves. 2012 saw an ERA of 1.51, good for an ERA+ of 274, while the succeeding year's numbers were 2.54 and 151, respectively. The seemingly wide gap between the two years is found in just six earned runs: 12 allowed in 2012, 18 in 2013. The runs were a function of the three additional home runs Chapman allowed this past year. Yes they matter, but you're hard pressed to conclude that this kind of year-over-year variation is indicative of anything permanent.

It's now the offseason, which means a renewed interest in Chapman's future role, especially with the impending managerial change, along with the imminent loss of Bronson Arroyo from the rotation. Given the quality and consistency of the rotation the past two years, it's hard to say that Chapman being in the pen is a misused asset, per se, although many of us would prefer to see him called upon a bit more liberally. It does seem implausible that Chapman would maintain his otherworldly strikeout rate (>15 K/9 the last two seasons) if he were a starter and if he were less prone to miss bats, then perhaps he would be even more susceptible to the long ball, and the functions of success might quickly unravel. Or perhaps not. There will always be a wistful side to Chapman's career where we ponder "what if", but the "what was" has been pretty remarkable, nonetheless.

Since 2010, Chapman has thrown 198.2 innings for the Reds, with a 15-13 record and 77 saves. He has struck out 324 batters, and owns a 2.40 ERA (167 ERA+). He debuts on our honorable mention list at #221.