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Aroldis Chapman should continue to be a force for the Cincinnati Reds in 2015

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The Wild World of Albertin.

David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports

Vitals:
Albertin Aroldis (de la Cruz) Chapman
DOB: February 28, 1988
Hometown: Holguin, Holguin, Cuba

Position: Closer
Bats: Left Throws: Left
Height: 6'4"   Weight: 205 lbs.
Number: 54

Nicknames:
Chappy, The Buena Wrist-a Crucial Sub, The Cuban Missile, Androidis, Chapmania, Uncle Albertin/Admiral Hell-C

Bio:

Aroldis Chapman was born in Holguin, Cuba, an inland town just 30 minutes driving from the open Atlantic. His father was a boxing trainer. This is also a synopsis of an unfinished Ernest Hemingway novel.

If you're a Cuba beginner like me, you might assume Holguin is a sleepy outlying pueblo. I guess you would assume that because it's not Havana? We've all got a lot to learn as these diplomatic relations thaw out. It may surprise you to know, however, that Holguin's municipal population (346,191 as of 2011) is larger than that of Cincinnati's. Don't fault Aroldis Chapman for busting out a map after he signed with the Reds.

Chapman defected from the Cuban National team in the summer of 2009, after pitching four seasons for Sabuesos de Holguin in the Cuba Serie Nacional. Thanks to BBRef's recently-added Cuban stats, we can see a portrait of a very young Chapman working mostly as a starter in the Cuban league, struggling with control and showing signs of his prodigious strikeout abilities.

Like many other Cuban defectors, he weathered the fallout from an earlier failed attempt. He was suspended from the Cuban Series in 2008 and held out of the '08 Olympics. There may have been other consequences too, still hidden behind the island's eroding curtain of secrecy. He popped up again in the 2009 World Baseball Classic. and, despite a rocky outing, his 8 Ks in 6.1 innings and raw power made a splash on the world stage.

When the Cuban National Team was in Rotterdam, Netherlands, Chapman walked out the front door and into a new life as a universally-coveted lefthander. After some partying in Amsterdam, Chapman headed south to Barcelona, worked out in the detritus of the '92 Olympics and established residency in Andorra.

If you remember from one of the most breathless, exciting threads in Red Reporter history, the Reds came out of virtually nowhere to sign Chapman to a big, confusing contract in January 2010. After a brief trial in the minors, Chapman made his major league debut on August 31, 2010. He struck out the first batter he faced, Jonathan Lucroy, and touched 102 on the gun. We didn't know it at the time, but that would be the end of the brief and wonder-less experiment of Aroldis Chapman, Starting Pitcher.

After struggling through the Reds' hangover year that was 2011, Chapman had his best and weirdest year as a Red in 2012. That season, Chapman was arrested on traffic charges, was targeted in a bizarre break-in incident in Pittsburgh and sued for $18M. On the field, he was virtually unstoppable. His mechanics had been straightened out and command of the strike zone dramatically improved. He became mandatory viewing, the #chapmania hastag calling fans to their screens.

Nearly a year a go, Chapman suffered one of the more horrifying injuries in recent Reds history. I'm no doctor, but from following the initial reports - and accidentally watching the footage - I was genuinely concerned he would be permanently disabled.

Thankfully, Chapman bounced back with a vengeance. Anyone who questions his work ethic will need to account for his tenacious rehab from a surgery that peeled back his face and left his scalp stapled from ear. Anyone who steps into the box knows they're up against a well-rested guy who throws projectiles faster than any human in history. A guy who got better at pitching after being hit in the face with a baseball at the speed he throws them. And now they have to keep one foot in there.

Chapman Facts:

  • Threw 207 of the 213 pitches at 101 MPH or over in 2014
  • Chapman threw all 67 pitches at 102 MPH or over in 2014
  • Threw 395 pitches over 100 mph last year. All other pitchers in baseball threw 167.
  • On 7/11/14, set a major league record with a strikeout in his 40th straight game
  • Chapman pitched 54 innings in 2014 and recorded more strike outs than Roberto Hernandez (164 IP), Doug Fister (164 IP) and Anibal Sanchez (124 IP), among others.
  • From the end of 2011 through mid-2012, threw 35.1 straight innings without an earned run
  • Struck out over half of the batters he faced in 2014 (52.5%). If you stroll to the plate against Chapman, your most likely outcome is to never put the ball in play.
  • LHB have hit .114/.220/.145 against Chapman lifetime. Five extra base hits in five years.

Contract

Chapman settled with the Reds for 1 year/$8.05M in 2015, in his second year of arb. He also gets a $1.25M pro-rated bonus every year until 2020.

Here, see if you can make sense of this. Clear your schedule.

Stats

Scouting Report

Control: 30

K-rating: 87

Efficiency: 79

Vs. Power: 63

via Baseball Cube

2015 Projections

IP ERA FIP BB/9 K/9 HR/9 SV
Steamer 65 1.49 1.71 3.55 15.88 0.56 34
ZiPS 64 1.71 1.79 3.71 16.0 0.71 --

PITCHf/x Profile, Brooks Baseball (2014)

Chapman Brooks Baseball Profile

Aroldis Chapman Zone Profile

Link to interactive scatter plot from Brooks Baseball

Outlook for 2015
For the second year in a row, the biggest offseason story about Aroldis Chapman involves his sleeping habits. There is some legitimate debate over whether Chapman's approach to his baseball career - especially after he said this - has precluded him from realizing his potential as a starting pitcher in the major leagues. At the very least, he could probably be doing more guessing games or stretching or whatever intangible things relievers do in the bullpen to build esprit de corps.

The fact remains that he's among the best, if not the best, at what he does in all of baseball. Certainly he's the most terrifying and fun to watch within the specific context of being a closer. And he's currently being paid less than market rate to for a top closer.

The what-if scenarios about Chapman as a starter are now entirely academic. What's left is uncertainty over how and where Chapman will spend the next two years. Trade rumors are likely to swirl, especially if the Reds drop out of the race.  There will also be some hand-wringing, as there always is, over how Chapman is used (or not used).

Last season, Chapman's injury limited him to 54 innings, but so did his job description. Prior to 2014, Bryan Price hinted that he would like to use Chapman a little differently than his predecessor did and maybe expand his role beyond the ninth inning.

Perhaps in response to Chapman's injury - or as a result of getting length from starting pitchers - Price treated Chapman as a conventional closer in 2014. Chapman entered in the ninth inning in 50 of his 54 appearances, appearing in the 8th in the other four. He was asked to pitch more than three outs just five times (only twice going beyond beyond 1.1 IP). He was never asked to enter in a high-leverage extra inning situation.

This kind of usage for a team's best reliever isn't out of the norm in baseball, but it's still a little disappointing. Aroldis Chapman is a generational talent. With Bryan Price's lip service to looser bullpen roles, there's still an opportunity to back away from the save altar.

A full, healthy season of Chapman working as a true relief ace would be something to behold. It may never measure up to Randy Johnson visions of our dreams, but pitching 80-85 of the team's most important frames - 9th inning or no - could make Chapman equivalent in value to a #2/#3 starter. And with a mid-80s changeup that basically has no comps in baseball history, there is still room for evolution in his career.

Whatever innings he's asked to pitch, it'll be positively Chapmanic.