Aroldis Chapman, Official Closer

Yesterday, the transformation from setup man to closer came full circle for Aroldis Chapman, as he protected a three-run lead for the Reds in earning his second career save. With the move, Sean Marshall has been consigned back to his former role of setup man. Marshall’s early failures however, don’t mean that he doesn’t have closer’s stuff.

The last straw for Marshall came on Saturday. Brought on to protect a similar three-run lead against the Bombers, Marshall allowed four of the five batters he faced to reach base, and allowed the potential tying and winning runs to reach base. Since Chapman had already pitched at this point, Jose Arredondo was brought in to clean up for Marshall, and clean up he did, as the Reds won. Still, the meltdown led Reds manager Dusty Baker to make the switch on Sunday. Yet, while Marshall did not serve in the closer’s role on Sunday, he was inserted for the Reds’ highest-leverage plate appearance of the game when he struck out Robinson Cano in the bottom of the eighth, proof that Baker still has faith in him. And really, there isn’t any reason not to.

Marshall’s Saturday meltdown was his fourth of the season, which may seem like a high number, but really isn’t when you scan the leaderboards. Marshall is just one of 22 relievers to suffer four meltdowns this season, and 18 pitchers have had more than four. Is it on the low end of the spectrum? Sure, but it’d be a stretch to say that those four meltdowns preclude Marshall from ever succeeding as a closer in the future. The pitcher that the Reds signed to close this season — Ryan Madson — had between seven and 16 meltdowns every season from 2004-2010 before adorning the scarlet “C” in 2011. And Marshall doesn’t need to be used as a LOOGY either. He has come out of the gate slowly against righties this year, but in the past two seasons when he was used exclusively as a reliever, right-handed batters only generated wOBA’s of .258 and .269 off of Marshall. He will come back around, assuming Baker gives him the chance.

Of course, that Baker will now have the option of using Marshall as a LOOGY rather than his closer is thanks in large part to Chapman’s dominance (yes, Baker could split closer duties, but he doesn’t want to do that, saying yesterday that it “makes my job harder”). Chapman has yet to allow a run in any of the 22.1 innings he has pitched, and while his BABIP of .189 is absurdly low, his .242 mark last season wasn’t exactly high. Perhaps most impressively, Chapman has harnessed his command without losing too much velocity. While his Zone% was below average the past two years, he has hurdled league average this season, getting more than 50 percent of his pitches in the strike zone. As a result, his BB/9 is down to the respectable level of 2.82. Sometimes, it’s just that easy.

But that begs the question — if Chapman has finally learned to harness his stuff, should he be getting a shot at the starting rotation? It is too late for him to make the transition this season at the Major League level without some creative management from Baker, which if you read the quote above you know is never going to happen. But the change of roles may make it even more difficult for Chapman to ever transition to a starting role.

First, Baker is unlikely to use his closer in more than a three-out situation, limiting Chapman’s ability to get stretched out. In Baker’s first four years at the helm of the Reds, his closer was Francisco Cordero. In those four seasons, Cordero made 282 appearances, and recorded more than three outs just nine times, or three percent of the time. Chapman has been used for four outs or more far more frequently up to this point — 16 times in 87 career appearances, or 18 percent of the time. Perhaps Baker will continue to use Chapman in this fashion, knowing that the pitcher can handle the added workload. But if he turns him into a three-out pitcher, it may slow any transition to the rotation.

There have been many who have questioned whether or not Chapman ever should transition to a starter, but there is no questioning that the Reds would be well served to give it a try. The Reds’ primary strength right now is its bullpen, and that one of its main weaknesses is its rotation (it would also be great if Drew Stubbs, Brandon Phillips and Chris Heisey snapped out of their slumps, but that’s a post for another day). While Chapman is a big part of why the Reds’ bullpen leads the Majors with a 2.93 FIP, he isn’t the only reason. Along with Chapman and Marshall, J.J. Hoover, Alfredo Simon and Arredondo all have FIP’s of 3.22 or lower, and Sam LeCure and Bill Bray are better pitchers than they have shown thus far. There is also the hope that Nick Masset will return to form when he comes back in the picture to further bolster the ‘pen.

The rotation, meanwhile, has underwhelmed. Mike Leake and Homer Bailey in particular, have been cuffed around, thanks in part to both seeing large decreases in their K/9. The Reds are locked in to their rotation to a certain degree, but if either Leake or Bailey can’t turn things around by the end of the season, they shouldn’t stand in Chapman’s way come 2013. If not them, then Bronson Arroyo and his modest $6.5 million salary for 2013 would likely attract some suitors. Either way, the Reds need to find a way to improve their lot — currently, their starters have a 4.13 FIP, which ranks just 22nd in the Majors. That will have to improve if the team wants to legitimately contend, and moving Chapman to the rotation may be the easiest road to improvement.

Aroldis Chapman is a very fine pitcher, and he should handle his transition to closing splendidly. Sean Marshall is also a fine pitcher, and still has the profile to succeed in the closer role should he be given another opportunity. But while the team’s short-term goals may align with Chapman closing games, moving him to the ninth inning — and only the ninth inning — may not be the club’s best long-term solution.




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Paul Swydan is the co-managing editor of The Hardball Times, a writer and editor for FanGraphs and a writer for ESPN MLB Insider and the Boston Globe. Follow him on Twitter @Swydan.


20 Responses to “Aroldis Chapman, Official Closer”

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  1. JDanger says:

    Sean Marshall 2012, by the way: 32.4 K%, 4.4 BB%, 60.5 GB%

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    • Josh says:

      That’s pretty damn good. I don’t like this move at all. Marshall deserved more rope. This could screw their entire bullpen up. Chapman will now be pitching exclusively in the 9th, well with some exceptions I’m sure but still the point, the reds this year when up a few runs or down a couple in the 8th Chapman has obliterated the competition.

      Now they’ll be relying on someone else may it be Ondro or Marshall, whoever. The reds might night make it to the 9th to use Chapman because Chapman himself was a sturdy bridge to the end of the game.

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      • Soxy says:

        That’s more then pretty damn good, it’s effing Fantastic. You gotta think that .476 Babip is gonna come down a bit. He also has allowed ten fly balls in 15 innings and two of the m got out. His recent history suggests less homers going forward.

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      • baty says:

        I think it’s pretty simple for Aroldis. The high profile player got the high profile job. I’m sure they want to do everything possible to justify his presence.

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  2. Jarrett says:

    Marshall might have closer stuff, just remember what we said in Chicago when he was sadly traded away, “Just don’t make him the Closer.”

    Everybody learns eventually.

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    • Mark says:

      Sean Marshall in save situations – 2.80 ERA, 5.05 K:BB ratio, 595 OPS against
      Sean Marshall in non save situations – 2.85 ERA, 2.68 K:BB ratio, 651 OPS against
      (All those stats are as a RP)

      Yes, clearly they shouldn’t make Marshall a closer.

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      • twinsfan says:

        Don’t let stats get in the way of a good old fashioned, beat reporter-grade anecdote.

        +12 Vote -1 Vote +1

      • DL80 says:

        Mark,
        I went and looked at his year-by-year splits, thinking that maybe the overall numbers were being skewed by one good (or bad) year or that he had been increasingly bad in save situations over the past couple years.

        But what I found was that you are right on with your point. He’s basically always been better in save situations, at least as far back as 2008, and by a pretty good margin in most years. In fact, he’s been far better in save situations for at least the past 4 years, until 10 bad games this year.

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    • y says:

      An uninformed Cubs fan?! SURELY YOU JEST

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  3. Baltar says:

    I moved to Cincinnati a year and a half ago, and though my first loyalty is to my previous team, I had hoped to develop a rooting interest in the Reds as well.
    However Baker’s constant screwing up, laziness, and generally poor management has made that impossible for me.
    Moving Chapman to a role in which he will get fewer innings and lower leverage is just the latest example.

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    • Rich Johnson says:

      Agreed. The only role transitioning that will happen now is Toothpick losing his job if the Reds flounder and prove they can’t win an awful NL Central. Yes, I know, the Cards could have half the roster on the DL and still find ways to win games.

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  4. mmoritz22 says:

    Honestly I think Chapman should be named the 2-inning closer; he’s got the starters arm and it would so nice on the bullpen. The only problem with that is there wouldn’t be much room for Marshall or Arrendondo

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    • williams .482 says:

      That would certainly make Baker’s job of blowing out Chapman’s arm easier.

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      • gweedoh565 says:

        lolol Dusty ruins arms lolololol Dusty murdered Mark Prior lololololol Dusty just can’t do nothign right lolololololol

        lolololol.

        lol.

        o

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  5. jim says:

    #freearoldischapman was not a campaign to make him a closer, silly reds.

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    • matt1101 says:

      I agree. I don’t see why they don’t utilize him in a better way.. He should of continued on as a starter after spring training with a 140-160 innings limit.

      I really hope he becomes a starter some day.. It would be awesome to watch.

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  6. Bob says:

    Dusty Baker doesn’t like things that make his job harder, like platooning his players. If I were a Reds fan, that would concern me more than whatever happens with Chapman. A manager is there to get the most out of the team, not try and make his job as easy as possible.

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    • Ian R. says:

      To be fair, Dusty said in the same interview that he believes it also makes the players’ jobs harder. Granted, I think he’s wrong (or anyway, I think that’s utterly marginal) but at least making his own job easier isn’t his only priority.

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      • Jimmy Hammond says:

        Marshall got the save last night… Chapman arrested and also being sued for torture for $18MM

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