Over the past few months no team has surprised me more than the Cincinnati Reds. I didn’t see the Mat Latos trade coming; the Joey Votto mega-deal shocked the hell out of me, and I would have never guessed that the franchise would be able to re-sign Brandon Phillipsa little more than a week later.
Now, though, I wish they would make life easier for themselves and get the hell out of their own way.
Let’s play a game: Forty-three games into the season – and only a half-game back from first place – name the Reds’ most valuable pitcher.
Let’s expand on that: This pitcher is not only the Reds’ top hurler, but he’s also the thirteenth most valuable pitcher in all of baseball.
Nope, it’s Aroldis Chapman, who happens to have pitched about half as many innings as any of the team’s rotation members. And, yet, he’s totaled 1.5 wins above replacement, about half of a win better than Cueto, the team’s second most valuable pitcher. Chapman’s 1.5fWAR, by the way, is 0.1 less than the rotation’s final four members.
I’m certainly not the first person to chime in on this debate. And I certainly won’t be the last either. But, damn, Cincinnati’s in a win-now mode and they refuse to move their biggest contributor to a spot where he can contribute even more.
In just over 24 innings this season, Chapman, who was a starter in the Cuba, has struck out nearly 16 batters every nine innings – the second highest K-rate among pitchers with 20+ innings – while averaging 2.56 walks. Oh, yeah, he’s yet to allow an earned run too.
His command has always been the largest red flag; he averaged more than seven walks a game last season and nearly five while in Triple-A in 2010. This season, however, he’s throwing a strike 51.5% of the time, more than seven percentage points better than last season and two points better than his brief 13.1-inning appearance with the team in 2010 (he posted a league average-ish BB-rate during that time). This season’s total, by the way, ranks sixteenth among the 52 relievers with 20+ innings.
Worried about limiting his innings this year?
The Reds have 119 games left. Divide that by five for the number of starts each spot in the rotation will likely get (on average) and multiply by six innings and that equals 143 innings. Add the innings he’s already accrued and his total should end up just shy of about 170, a very reasonable amount.
Look, I’m not going to delve into all the reasons why the team should move him into the rotation; it’s been discussed numerous times already. But, in a nutshell, 140+ innings of good – or potentially great – innings is far, far more valuable than 65 innings of great, or even magnificent, pitching. It’s plain and simple. And this is, of course, ignoring the fact that the Reds’ bottom two spots in the rotation have struggled to contribute.
For sanity’s sake, let’s reason through both scenarios.
For a good as Chapman’s been this season, he’s not going to continue to post mind-boggling low FIPs, xFIPs, or SIERAs, whichever one you prefer. He’s going to have a bad game here or there. He’s going to be unlucky, even if it’s just a tad. Let’s say he throws another forty innings and is worth an additional 1.5 wins.
Now, say he throws 140 innings of 3.90 ERA-ball, averages a strikeout an inning – a large regression, or a worst case scenario – and his walk rate spikes to 4 BB/9. He’d be worth about three wins or something very close.
Not only is that double the value, but it’s the same amount – three wins – that Leake and Bailey totaled last season. And, again, we’re probably on the low-side of Chapman’s starting ability.
The NL Central playoff race is going to be close. St. Louis is pretty damn good (+65 run differential). Too bad the Reds (+5 run differential) don’t want to start their best pitcher every fifth game; it’d help.
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