The Cincinnati Reds spent the offseason expecting Aroldis Chapman to join the starting rotation in 2013, but now they will have to face the pros and cons of their decision to keep him as the closer.
Although many in the organization wanted him to remain the closer, the decision didn't come until last week. Chapman was the most electrifying closer in baseball last year, and the Reds are hoping he can repeat his breakout season.
With the Reds primed to repeat as National League Central champions, the team needed a shutdown closer to rely on.
The Reds had one of the majors' best pitching staffs in 2012, so the benefits of this move outweigh the negatives.
*All stats are from MLB.com.
2012 stats: 68 G, 71.2 IP, 5-5, 38 saves, 122 K/23 BB, 15.32 K/9, 0.81 WHIP, 1.51 ERA
The numbers are staggering. It doesn't get much better than that, but his numbers would have been even better had it not been for a bump in the road in June.
Chapman had at least one strikeout in 64 of his 71 appearances, including the postseason. He had multiple strikeouts in over 60 percent of his appearances. It's nearly impossible to be much better than that.
During the 2012 season, Chapman set the franchise record by converting 27 straight saves. A rough June—6.97 ERA, 0-4 and three blown saves—made his numbers jump, but he blew only one save the rest of the season.
Now that Chapman has learned to be more consistent, he shouldn't have a two-week stretch where he can't get anyone out like he did last season. He has grown as a pitcher, and the numbers back him up.
Facing a guy who is throwing 100 miles per hour in the ninth inning is unfair. Teams will have very little chance at a comeback when trailing entering the final frame, and hitters will have to cheat to catch up to his fastball. When that happens, look out for his devastating slider.
Chapman is the most intimidating reliever in baseball. Having him come in to get three outs pretty much ends the game.
After making it most of the season without any problems, Chapman dealt with fatigue in September. With the team in control of the division, Cincinnati was able to shut him down for about two weeks.
Injuries would have been a concern had he been a starter or the closer.
Had he been in the rotation, he would have been at risk for arm problems by throwing 96 miles per hour for six innings.
Instead, he gets to throw 10 to 15 pitches at 100 miles per hour every appearance. The 25-year-old will be at risk for injuries by working back-to-back-to-back games, but manager Dusty Baker was able to avoid using him in those situations last season.
It took Chapman over 60 appearances for his body to wear down, but his body is now used to that workload. Throwing that hard would be tough on anyone's arm, but Chapman has been able to hold up pretty well so far.
Not only does Chapman's return to the closer's role help the ninth inning, but it also means the rest of the game is under control.
Jonathan Broxton will now return to being a setup man. He had a 2.82 ERA in 25 appearances with the Reds last season, and he didn't allow a run while pitching at Great American Ball Park.
Sean Marshall will also be a setup man, which effectively means teams have no chance of a comeback if the Reds have a lead heading into the seventh inning. The left-hander appeared in 73 games and had a 2.51 ERA. The veteran managed to strike out 74 hitters while only walking 16.
The way J.J. Hoover has thrown since being acquired from the Atlanta Braves, there was no chance of him not making the roster. He will be used in key situations because he has shown that he can get hitters out. His 0.98 WHIP and 2.05 ERA trailed only Chapman for the best on the team.
After those three relievers, other members, such as Sam LeCure, will be used with the team behind to keep the team in games.
Cincinnati had the best bullpen ERA in baseball last season, so keeping it the same is going to be a good thing.
As mentioned in the previous slide, Broxton will be back as a setup man. However, he was signed to be the closer.
The right-hander will get $21 million over three years, according to MLB.com, and there is also a $9 million club option at the end of the deal. Teams don't pay setup men an average of $7 million per season.
Fans don't see why Broxton was paid so much if he's only going to be a setup man, but it was important to bring him back.
The eighth inning will belong to Broxton, and he will also be used as the closer when Chapman is being overused. The former All-Star gives the Reds leadership in the bullpen.
His contract now makes him look overpaid, but winning will help make him affordable. The more the team wins, the more it can spend on players. Two division titles in three years has helped the Reds bump up their payroll and afford big-name players.
As good as Cincinnati's bullpen was, the starting rotation was just as good.
With a 3.64 ERA, the team's rotation ranked fifth in baseball. None of the teams ahead of them played in a place quite like Great American Ball Park for 81 games.
The Reds had the only rotation in baseball to have all five starters make every start—with the exception of a doubleheader late in the season.
The rotation was also the only one in baseball to have every starter throw at least one complete game, a feat that was accomplished before the All-Star break. Cincinnati's rotation ranked behind only the Philadelphia Phillies for the most innings pitched, and four of the five starters topped 200 innings.
Only Mike Leake had an earned run average above 3.75, and he was also the only one not to top 200 innings. He took a step back in 2012, but he has shown that he can win 10 games. Despite not looking great, an 8-9 record isn't too shabby for a No. 5 starter.
Johnny Cueto went 19-9 with a 2.78 ERA and finished fourth in the NL Cy Young voting. He turned into an ace after adding a twist to his windup and is starting to get more recognition.
Mat Latos recovered after a rocky April to 14-4 in his first season with the team. Bronson Arroyo returned to his usual form, and Homer Bailey had a breakout season. He set career highs in just about every category, including wins, strikeouts and innings. Oh, he also threw a no-hitter.
Latos and Arroyo both suffered scares by getting hit by comebackers on back-to-back days last week, but it looks like they will be ready to go.
If Chapman made the rotation and the team made the postseason, who gets left out of the rotation in October? Cueto is the ace of the staff, and Latos came up big last season in the playoffs. Arroyo and Bailey threw back-to-back gems, with each pitcher only allowing one hit in seven innings.
When a rotation has four guys to throw 200-plus innings, win at least 12 games and have an ERA below 3.75, there's not much to fix. As long as Leake come back with a stronger performance, there is no need to put Chapman in the rotation.
What if Chapman had been made a starter back in 2010 or even 2011? It's a question that will never be answered.
Cincinnati shocked the baseball world by signing Chapman in 2010, and everyone expected him to be a starter by 2011. After three years with the team, he remains in the bullpen.
Chapman may have been an ace and thrown a no-hitter or two. Then again, he may have struggled to get through the lineup more than once. There has never been a situation like his, so nobody knew quite what to do with him.
The Reds did the right thing by putting him where he feels most comfortable, especially when the team didn't need to mess with its rotation.
Unless he wins a Cy Young as a reliever or breaks the MLB record for most consecutive saves, some fans will always wonder what could have been. In the end, the organization made a decision it felt was in everyone's best interest.
Don't think about what he could have done as a starter. Enjoy how dominant he is when he comes in to close out the game. If the Reds make it to the World Series this season, Chapman is the guy fans will want with a title on the line in the ninth inning.