5 Reasons Aroldis Chapman Could Win the Cy Young Award in 2013

Kyle NewportFeatured ColumnistJanuary 8, 2013

5 Reasons Aroldis Chapman Could Win the Cy Young Award in 2013

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    Next season, the Cincinnati Reds will take a risk that everyone in baseball wants to see Aroldis Chapman as a starter.

    The southpaw has already shown that he can do just about everything from the bullpen. He can be a situational pitcher, a setup man or a closer. He can go more than one inning and can go back-to-back-to-back days. He can pitch in key situations or in the postseason.

    There have been few roadblocks to him having success in the big leagues. Now that he is converting into a starter, he will face the biggest challenge of his career.  

    Chapman is the most exciting pitcher in baseball, and there is no question about it. The 2013 season will allow him to show fans what he was signed to do.

    Although there is still a chance that he will end up back in the bullpen next season, it is almost a guarantee that he will be in the rotation at some point next season.

    Joey Votto won the National League Most Valuable Player in 2010, but the Reds are hoping for an award that has never been captured by the organization: the NL Cy Young.

    Next season will be the team's best chance in years to bring it to Cincinnati. Chapman, Johnny Cueto, Mat Latos and Homer Bailey all had sensational years in 2012. At least one of them should be in the mix for the award in 2013.

    So, why exactly does Chapman stand out in this rotation as the front-runner for the NL Cy Young?

Move to the Rotation...

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    Despite winning 97 games in 2012, the Reds are trying to make changes to the rotation.

    Nobody in the rotation missed a start last season, which is extremely rare these days. Four of the five compiled at least 200 innings and won a minimum of 12 games. The latter would have been even higher had it not been for some blown saves.

    However, Cincinnati knows why it signed Chapman to a big contract. At some point, he needs to show what he can do as a starter.

    The 2013 season will be a test to see how the left-hander handles pitching every fifth day. If he adjusts to the rotation easily, he will be in prime position to win the Cy Young.

    Eric Gagne is the only reliever to win the award in over two decades. Leaving the bullpen makes it that much easier for Chapman to get more consideration from the voters.

    Last spring training, Chapman was the Reds' best starting pitcher and appeared to have won a spot in the rotation. He has worked out some of the kinks in his mechanics recently, so the move should be seamless.

    Chapman has the ability to win at least 15 games in his first year as a starter. He will need to mix in his slider and a third pitch more, which will keep hitters guessing. His strikeout total will still be phenomenal, but he can't rely on throwing his best fastball for six innings every start.

    He went through a stretch of having a strikeout in 29 straight appearances to start the season and strikeouts in 52 of his first 53 outings. He probably won't light up the radar gun as much next season, but his filthy slider will help keep the strikeouts coming.

    As the closer, he cut down on the walks. When he was healthy, he was keeping runners off base and blowing them away with the fastball.

    Not only did his command improve, but he managed to hold batters to a career-low .141 average.

    Inserting Chapman into the rotation will make it one of the best in baseball. If he can consistently throw a third pitch for strikes, the Cy Young will be his to lose.

...Or Back to the Closer's Role

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    There are a few scenarios in which Aroldis Chapman could find himself back in the bullpen:

    1. He is ineffective as a starter.

    2. Jonathan Broxton gets hurt, especially in spring training (please stay healthy).

    3. Ownership takes a different approach with his innings limit.

    Two of the three scenarios would be bad for the team, but it's not impossible for the southpaw to find himself back in the closer's role.

    He has only thrown 243.2 innings in three seasons with the Reds organization, so there will be an innings limit.

    An interesting scenario would be if management approaches his workload differently than what the Washington Nationals did with Stephen Strasburg. Instead of letting him start all year and losing him before September, the 24-year-old could pitch the first month or so out of the bullpen to keep the innings down.

    It might be difficult for him to prepare all winter to be a starter, start the year as a reliever and turn back into a starter, but it would allow him to be available for the entire season.

    I don't think Reds fans want to go through a Strasburg-like situation. Going into October without Chapman is exactly the opposite of what management is trying to accomplish here.

    So, if Chapman finds himself in the bullpen at all, he will have a chance to rack up the strikeouts and shut the door on games. The Cuban Missile will be able to put up unreal numbers and grab headlines.

    Last year, Chapman and Craig Kimbrel (Atlanta Braves) both received votes for the Cy Young. That shows that voters are willing to recognize them even if they don't pitch as much as the starters.

    He won't see much time as a reliever, but even a short amount of time in the role could help him pad his stats and make an interesting case for the Cy Young.

    If the third scenario takes place, Chapman could make a claim to being the best reliever and starter in baseball all in the same season.

Already in the National Spotlight

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    As mentioned in the previous slide, Aroldis Chapman has already gained national attention despite being a reliever in Cincinnati.

    Voters have already been willing to show him some love, and converting to a starter will make it even easier for him to draw attention to his numbers. The left-hander shocked the baseball world by signing with the Reds in 2010, but he has been a major spectacle ever since he joined the team in the middle of a playoff run.

    He's already thrown the fastest pitch ever recorded, gone full months without allowing a run and made the All-Star team.

    Oh, his somersaults last season may have actually helped him gain even more attention. His acrobatic display made the highlight reels for everyone to see, and not just baseball fans.

    Assuming he will be in the rotation next season, he and Strasburg will be the two biggest headliners in the National League. R.A. Dickey is now in the American League, so last year's Cy Young winner is out of the competition.

    Analysts will have to change from being fascinated with the knuckleball to being blown away by the fastball in 2013.

    Chapman has the advantage over his teammates when it comes to the voters because more people pay attention to him. He has an extraordinary arm, which separates him from the other members of the rotation.

    A good spring training could make Chapman the favorite for the Cy Young heading into the regular season.

Pitching for a Playoff Team

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    Speaking of national attention, the Cuban Missile has already appeared in two postseasons. Had it not been for a series of unfortunate events in Game 2 of the 2010 NLDS, his numbers would be sensational.

    Things beyond his control went wrong that October night in Philadelphia, so fans can't hold that game against him. He battled back after a September injury in 2012 to pitch in the postseason, and he did not disappoint.

    Chapman closed the door in Game 1 against the San Francisco Giants and gave the Reds a chance to win in Games 3 and 5 by throwing scoreless innings.

    Let's not forget that the first game he closed out after being injured last year was the day the Reds clinched the NL Central. He has shown he isn't afraid to pitch down the stretch.

    Whether he pitches in the postseason or not in 2013 is irrelevant because the Cy Young is a regular-season award. However, Cincinnati looks poised to win the division again and a strong year for a playoff team will put Chapman at the top of the list of candidates.

    If Cincinnati's staff can repeat their performance from last year, Chapman will get more votes because he was part of one of baseball's best rotations.

    Winning helps candidates make an argument for awards, so Chapman's case will be helped by his team's success.

Pitching to Ryan Hanigan

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    As the year went on, it looked like Aroldis Chapman was more comfortable with Ryan Hanigan as his catcher. Manager Dusty Baker even occasionally brought Hanigan in for Mesoraco to catch for the hard thrower.

    With Chapman moving into the rotation, it will likely become a situation similar to Bronson Arroyo. Hanigan will be behind the plate for all of Chapman's starts to help him grow as a starter. Hanigan will see the majority of the playing time anyways, but it is a lock that he will catch every start (assuming he's healthy) for both pitchers.

    Mark Sheldon of MLB.com shared some interesting statistics that show how valuable Hanigan is behind the plate:

    Among Major League catchers, Hanigan's 3.05 ERA for his pitchers was the lowest in baseball. He caught 11 of the staff's 12 shutouts and six of the nine complete games, including Homer Bailey's Sept. 28 no-hitter at Pittsburgh.

    Those numbers don't lie. He successfully managed a great pitching staff despite having only one pitcher above the age of 26 years old.

    Hanigan also led the National League by throwing out 48 percent of opposing baserunners trying to steal. Chapman has the tendency to give up stolen bases, but Hanigan can help him slow down the running game.

    The veteran catcher knows that Chapman will need to change up his pitches more often as a starter, and he will be capable of handling the calls.

    Having Hanigan behind the plate can only help Chapman's chances of winning the Cy Young.