5 Keys to Aroldis Chapman Avoiding Bust Status as a Starting Pitcher

Kyle NewportFeatured ColumnistMarch 18, 2013

5 Keys to Aroldis Chapman Avoiding Bust Status as a Starting Pitcher

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    All of Major League Baseball will be watching to see how Cincinnati Reds pitcher Aroldis Chapman does this season, and he will need to continue to progress if he wants to avoid being a bust in the rotation.

    There still has not been a decision made by the organization as to what the phenom's role will be, but the southpaw has continued to get starts in spring training.

    He was without a doubt the most exciting closer to watch last season, and has made great progress since entering the league in 2010. Moving from the closer to the rotation, however, will require even more adjustments.

    If Chapman joins the rotation, he will need to make changes to his game in order to succeed.

     

    *All stats are courtesy of MLB.com

Mixing in Different Pitches

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    When Aroldis Chapman was at his best in 2012, he was throwing nothing but fastballs. That won't cut it as a starter.

    Here is a breakdown of how often he threw each of his pitches last season (according to FanGraphs):

    Year Avg. FB Velocity % Fastball % Slider % Changeup
    2010 99.6 mph      74.4    23.3        2.3
    2011 98.1 mph      79.4    15.6        5.0
    2012 98.0 mph      81.6    11.9        6.5

    In each season since joining the team, he has fallen in love with the fastball more and more. It's hard not to when he is throwing it 99 miles per hour on a regular basis. However, he has seen his average velocity dip in each of the past two seasons.

    When he was the closer, he could come in and throw 12 fastballs as fast he wanted and end the game. He won't be able to throw that hard every pitch as a starter, so his other pitches will need to be used more frequently.  

    Chapman has a great slider which nicely complements his fastball. He has made hitters look foolish time after time when he throws his breaking ball, and will need to rely on it more often as a starter.

    Outside of those two pitches, Chapman hasn't shown the ability to throw another pitch consistently for strikes. The numbers say he has a changeup, but it's rarely been used. Whether or not he can throw three or four pitches for a strike remains a mystery.

    If he wants to be an ace in the rotation, he's going to have to get away from using only his fastball.

Leaving Some in the Tank

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    Everyone knows how hard Chapman can throw. He can throw over 100 miles per hour with ease and is usually at 98 miles per hour at worst. When he dips any lower, it's usually a cause for concern.

    Chapman struck out a career-high 44.2 percent of the batters he faced last season, according to FanGraphs. Chances are that he won't be able to do that as a starter, but he's going to have to learn how to save his best stuff for key situations.

    Guys like Justin Verlander are great pitchers because they don't throw their hardest right away. They leave some in the tank for tough jams or late-game situations.

    Verlander has great control of his pitches and mixes in other pitches to make his "slower" fastball more effective. He keeps hitters guessing early in the game and can throw a heater at 99 miles per hour when needed.

    With Chapman likely throwing anywhere from 93 to 96 as a starter, he will need to make sure he doesn't wear himself out early. Hitters will be able to hit him more at that speed and he'll face more runners on base, so his off-speed pitches will be crucial and he'll need to kick it up a notch in those tight situations.

    As long as he doesn't use up his good fastballs in the first inning or two, he will be able to whip them out when needed later in the game.

Location, Location, Location

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    The biggest issue with Chapman has always been location. There's no denying how much talent he has, but he has struggled at times to control his pitches.

    Last season was a great sign out of the southpaw. He pitched 71.2 innings in 2012 and walked only 23 batters, all coming after a season in which he walked 41 hitters in only 50 innings. He also went from 71 strikeouts to 122.

    Control was the key to his success as the closer. Outside of a rocky September, he never walked more than four hitters in a month. He was shut down in September after dealing with shoulder fatigue, so that helped explain why he lost some of his control.

    Now that he has to take something off his fastball, he will need to be pitching rather than throwing. He came into the league just blowing hitters away, but then they adopted a more patient approach forcing him to throw strikes. He showed that he can throw strikes consistently in 2012, but now he will have to be able to throw them to certain parts of the zone.

    Locating his fastball will be very important, but he doesn't need to locate his slider as often. With the break on it, he will get hitters swinging all over the place as usual.

    If he goes to the rotation, Chapman will need to be throwing his other pitches for strikes in order to find success as a starter.

Controlling the Running Game

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    Chapman has struggled with stopping the running game.

    Last year he allowed five stolen bases and only had one runner caught stealing. As a starter, he will need to be able to cut down on his delivery and get the ball to the plate quickly.

    With Ryan Hanigan behind the plate and a ball going 100 miles per hour, it should be difficult to get steals. However, Chapman doesn't use much of a slide-step, so runners can take off early on him.

    The 25-year-old does have a good pickoff move. His high leg kick freezes runners, so most will just go on his first move. If he does decide to throw over, he has an easy out.

    Chapman will need to shorten his delivery and get the ball to Hanigan quicker with runners on base. A few more throw-overs to first would help hold runners, but he needs to take some zip off his throws. Joey Votto can get to most balls, but it can't be easy to catch a pickoff throw as fast as Chapman delivers it.

    Holding runners will be a work in progress for Chapman as he adjusts to the rotation. As a left-hander, he has the advantage over the runners on base.

Have the Right Mindset

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    Chapman came out and said that he wanted to be the closer after his latest spring start, according to John Fay via USA Today Here is what he had to say:

    Truthfully, I would like to be a closer, but that’s not in my hands.

    If that is what he truly wants, it may be difficult to come out every five days and be ready to pitch. That's not to say that he can't pitch well as a starter, but he would be more focused as a closer.

    Having the right mindset also deals with being able to focus when things aren't going your way on the mound. 

    His current mindset is to blow hitters away. He will need to find some other mindset as a starter or he won't be able to go five innings in a game.

    There have been times when he has not gotten calls and he just laughed in disbelief on the mound. That's something that can't happen as a starter. When he comes in for only one inning at the end of the game, he doesn't have to worry about getting along with the umpire. The ump won't like it if he's laughing at a call in the first inning, and it will hurt him the rest of the game. 

    If Chapman doesn't have his best stuff or can't control his pitches, he will need to be able to concentrate on letting his defense help him out. There have been outings where the lefty just can't throw strikes. Those outings end with the bases loaded and him being taken out of the game.

    He won't be able to have those kind of games as a starter. If he does, he leaves the bullpen having to pitch the rest of the game and puts pressure on the next game's starter.

    When he comes into the game in the ninth inning, he is on a mission. There's no messing around. He gets the ball, stares down the catcher and zings the ball in there. There may not be a more intense pitcher on the mound in baseball, especially in the ninth inning.

    Chapman has to work on a few things to be a great starter, but his mindset may be the toughest thing to work on.