Evaluating Aroldis Chapman’s Value

With our RotoGraph fantasy rankings being released, I will look at one player who is tough to project, Aroldis Chapman. He is being moved to the starting rotation after being the Reds closer last season. While many pitchers have previously made the move, his high number of strikeouts make find comparables almost impossible. His 2012 15.3 K/9 was the 4th highest K/9 value since 1950 (min 40 IP). I will take a stab at his full time reliever or starter fantasy value.

Projecting Chapman as a reliever is easy, he should be the 2nd rated reliever with Craig Kimbrel being #1. Here are the average draft positions the pair and Jonathan Papelbon at Yahoo!, ESPN and MockDraftCentral.

Name:Yahoo!, ESPN, MDC
Kimbel: 45, 40, 27
Chapman: 66, 77, 133
Papelbon: 78, 79, 78

Not huge surprise considering the trio’s stats. While I would never take a closer as high as they are going at ESPN and Yahoo!, I firmly believe Chapman should be the 2nd highest rated closer.

Now, it is time to look at Chapman as a starter. By looking at projections, a better picture emerges because the projections have him as closer 100% of the time, a mix of closer and starter and 100% starter. Here are the projections.

2013 Fans (44) 29 24 149 1.13 178 2 10.8 3.3 0.300 3.22 2.77
2013 ZiPS 26 26 144 1.20 161 10.1 4.1 0.274 3.63 3.68
2013 Steamer 22 16 99 1.22 139 3 12.6 33.1% 4.6 12.1% 0.286 3.09 2.99
2013 Oliver 76 1.21 102 12.1 32.0% 4.6 12.2% 0.287 2.96 2.69
2013 Bill James 63 0 67 1.13 98 48 13.2 4.3 0.305 2.42 2.45

Bill James, which has him as a full time closer, puts his K/9 at 13.2 while ZiPS projects him has a full time starter and has his K/9 at 10.1. A K/9 of more than 10 would put him at the top of the league among starters.

Besides just using ZiPS values, I decided to look at other pitchers making the move from the bullpen to being a starting pitcher. I examined 8 pitchers and here is how they performed when moving from a reliever to a starter.

Note: I collected all the values before seeing if all the projection systems had a K% and BB%. K% and K/9 correlate closely (r-squared of 0.98 between the two), so I will just use the K% ratio for K/9.

RP K% SP K% K% Ratio RP BB% SP BB% BB% Ratio
David Wells 8.1% 5.5% 0.67 2.9% 2.1% 0.73
C.J. Wilson 10.3% 7.5% 0.73 3.9% 4.1% 1.05
Tommy Hunter 8.5% 4.7% 0.56 2.1% 1.8% 0.83
Chris Sale 10.0% 9.0% 0.90 3.4% 2.4% 0.70
Alexi Ogando 8.4% 6.7% 0.80 3.5% 2.3% 0.66
Adam Wainwright 8.6% 6.1% 0.70 2.6% 3.1% 1.18
Derek Lowe 8.1% 5.2% 0.65 2.9% 2.0% 0.69
Ryan Dempster 7.4% 8.1% 1.10 4.1% 3.3% 0.82
0.76 0.83

On average, their strikeouts went down 24% and their walks went down 17%. The Bill James K/9 would go from 13.2 to 10.0. It is almost exactly the same as the ZiPS value (10.1). The BB/9 value would go from 4.30 to 3.70. A bit lower than all the projections except the Fans.

One more stab at seeing how much his strikeouts will go down is to look at his 2010 season in AAA where he made 13 starts and 25 relief appearances. In the games he started, his K/9 was 9.7 and his BB/9 was 6.4. Part way through the season, he was moved to the relief role and his K/9 jumped to 15.9 and the BB/9 dropped to 2.0. It was his first season in the U.S., so I could see him mature as the season went on, but he really struggled as a starter. The ratio of K from starter to reliever was .61. Using this ratio, is 2013 K/9 may drop into the 8 K/9 range.

OK, enough on getting an idea of what his strikeouts and walks will do. Onto another issue. How far will he be able to pitch into games since he will be throwing a high number of pitchers for the strikeouts and walks? Using some of my previous work on predicting innings pitched, he looks to be around 175 innings pitched with him making 30 starts and throwing 100 pitches per start.

Going with 175 innings and 10 K/9 and 4.0 BB/9, here are the closest comparable starters (Steamer projections). The group of starters in the high strikeout range are hard to find, but here is my best shot.

Name: IP, K/9, BB/9, ESPN, Yahoo!, MDC
Stephen Strasburg: 171 IP, 10.1 K/9, 2.6 BB/9, 19, 12, 34
Yu Darvish: 199 IP, 9.2 K/9, 3.9 BB/9, 52, 58, 60
Gio Gonzalez: 186 IP, 8.9 K/9, 3.5 BB/9, 45 , 54, 77
Max Scherzer: 180 IP, 8.9 K/9, 2.8 BB/9, 91, 85,100
Tim Lincecum: 180 IP, 8.2 K/9, 3.6 BB/9, 110, 110,188

Davish and Gonzalez are looking at throwing a few more innings with less strikeouts and walks. I could see Chapman “The Starter” going a bit after the pair in drafts. To get an idea of where he is going in drafts compared to other starting pitcher, here are the 4 pitchers with their ADP for the 2 pitchers picked right before and after Chapman.

64. Cueto
76. Latos
77. Zimmermann
85. Medlen

59. Halladay
64. Sale
67. Cueto
70. Latos

120. Latos
132. Haren
134. Moore
137. Morrow

At ESPN and Yahoo, he seems to be valued correctly among the starters. I am not sure if this correct ranking is because the websites over value relievers or the fans are more knowledgeable. At MDC, he is be drafted at a lower tier of starters and looks to be under valued.

To put it all together, he is a top three RP and a top 20-25 starter. He should be valued accordingly. I would assume he is going to be a starter and take him right after names like Darvish, Scherzer and Gonzalez are being taken. Now if he doesn’t make it as a starter, he will still be a top of the line reliever, so he will not be too much of an over pay. If you have no faith in making it as a starter, drop his value and let someone else overpay. Hopefully, I was able to narrow down his value somewhat.

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Jeff writes for FanGraphs, The Hardball Times and Royals Review, as well as his own website, Baseball Heat Maps with his brother Darrell. In tandem with Bill Petti, he won the 2013 SABR Analytics Research Award for Contemporary Analysis. Follow him on Twitter @jeffwzimmerman.

9 Responses to “Evaluating Aroldis Chapman’s Value”

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  1. Lyndon Cox says:

    John Kimbel. Kindergarten cop. Braves relief pitcher.

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  2. st says:

    is there a real chance he goes back to being a non-closer reliever?

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    • DK says:

      Most definitely. Dusty Baker has frequently implied that he doesn’t like moving him into the rotation and that it’s not his decision. If Chapman struggles early, Dusty will be pushing to get him back in the bullpen. If that happened, he would become the closer again, much to the chagrin of J. Broxton.

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  3. Anonymous says:

    I’m actually valuing Chapman higher, for a simple reason: there is very little room for negative variance. If Chapman is awesome, he may finish as a top 10 overall pitcher. If he fails, he’s back to the pen as a dominant reliever and likely to fall in as a top 20 overall pitcher. If he is rolling along with a little lower K rate, not going deep into games, and has decent but not dominant peripherals (say a 3.60 ERA, 1.22 WHIP) the Reds have other options that can do that in the rotation and would probably prefer to have Chapman dominate in relief.

    Because of this, I believe his ZiPS projection is basically his floor. He’ll either outperform that projection which will make him much more valuable in fantasy, and if he underperforms that projection, he again actually becomes more valuable in relief.

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    • Ashman says:

      I’d disagree with your assumption that they’d replace him if he put out a 3.6ish era.. You could just as easily assume they’d be patient in molding him into a longterm ace starter, because that’s way more valuable to an organization than an ace reliever

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  4. st says:

    but here is my question. let’s say Reds conclude Chapman just isnt made to be a starter. Do they immediately take Broxton out as closer or do they just put Chapman as 8th innings/stud reliever?

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    • Stormin' Norman says:

      I think it’s incredibly unlikely but it’s Dusty Baker. If Broxton overperforms and Chapman underperforms, all bets are off.

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  5. adohaj says:

    ESPN roto I drafted him at 82. Even if he is a reliever its low risk.

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