Creative Ways the Reds Could Limit Aroldis Chapman's Early-Season Innings

Tyler Duma@@TylerDuma_BRFeatured ColumnistJanuary 20, 2013

CINCINNATI, OH - AUGUST 03:  Aroldis Chapman #54 of the Cincinnati Reds throws a pitch during the game against the Pittsburgh Pirates at Great American Ball Park on August 3, 2012 in Cincinnati, Ohio.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

The Cincinnati Reds are transitioning Aroldis Chapman to the starting rotation in 2013. According to Reds beat writer John Fay, Chapman will have an innings limit next season.

Though Fay was unable to attain any kind of number for an innings limit, pitching coach Brian Price seemed hopeful that the 24-year-old lefty would be able to make "25-30 starts" before he had to worry about his innings.

As with any reliever moving to a starting role, there is a certain amount of risk involved in extending him beyond his normal workload.

Last season, Neftali Feliz, Kris Medlen, Chris Sale, Lance Lynn, Jeff Samardzija and Daniel Bard all attempted to make the jump from relieving to starting. Of the six pitchers to move into their respective rotations, four met with success (Sale, Medlen, Lynn and Samardzija). The other two (Feliz and Bard) had disastrous results.

Feliz underwent season-ending Tommy John surgery in August, while Bard pitched so poorly that he was sent down to the minors after just 10 starts.

One thing Chapman will have in common with three of the four success stories (Medlen, Lynn and Samarzdija) from last season is a cap on his innings. Medlen, Lynn and Samarzdija each pitched fewer than 176 innings in 2012, so the Reds will have to get creative if they're going to have Chapman available as a starter toward the end of 2013.

There is always the possibility that Chapman doesn't need a limit. Chris Sale was able to move from the 'pen to the starting rotation with very little starting experience and tossed 192 innings. 

However, it seems like the team has made up its mind on a limit for Chapman. Here are some ways the Reds coaching staff can limit Chapman's innings early on in 2013.

Spot-Start Mike Leake

Mike Leake was the team's fifth starter in 2012. Although he suffered through a dismal follow-up to an otherwise solid first two professional seasons, Leake is still a capable starter with limited upside.

If the Reds are smart, they'll look to keep Chapman available for their late-season run and the postseason (assuming they get there). One way they can do this is to spot-start Mike Leake. 

Leake has pitched well against several National League teams throughout his three-year career, including the Mets, Cardinals and Pirates.

The move also works well for Leake, who pitches best on extended rest. In his 15 starts coming on six or more days of rest, Leake owns a 3.59 ERA—the best of his days of rest splits.

On days when Chapman is scheduled to pitch against teams in the bottom half of the NL, the Reds could insert Leake in order to conserve Chapman's innings.

The team still has to beat the teams of perceived lesser quality if it's going to be successful. However, it's not unreasonable to think that Leake could perform well against teams like the Cubs, Mets, Marlins, etc.

Having too many starting pitchers is a wonderful problem for a team to have. However, the Reds could take that "problem" and really use it to their advantage in the season's early goings.

(Check out my full article on this topic here.)

A Six-Man Rotation?

It sounds crazy, but the Reds could theoretically use all six starters early in 2013. It works against the normal routine of a starting pitcher, but it would certainly work to keep Chapman's innings down.

Having Chapman around for the postseason stretch should be a priority for the Reds.

Seeing the Nationals go through the playoffs without Stephen Strasburg should make Reds fans who aren't sold on Mike Leake very, very worried. If Chapman isn't available to start for the Reds in the playoffs, Mike Leake will become the team's fifth starter.

The last time Mike Leake started in the playoffs, the Reds lost Game 4 of the NLCS to the San Francisco Giants. He was much to blame for that loss, as he gave up five earned runs in just 4.1 innings pitched.

Unless the team is content with trotting Leake out there for another playoff game, the Reds will need Chapman to stay fresh for the playoffs.

The Kris Medlen Approach

One of the major success stories from 2012 was the continued transition of Kris Medlen to the Atlanta Braves starting rotation. The Braves allowed Medlen to pitch out of the bullpen until July 31, when he made his first start of the season.

He finished the 2012 season with a 10-1 record, a 1.57 ERA, a 0.91 WHIP and ratios of 7.8 K/9, 1.5 BB/9 and 5.22 K/BB. As a starter, Medlen was 9-0 in 12 starts with a 0.97 ERA, a 0.80 WHIP and ratios of 9.0 K/9, 1.08 BB/9 and 8.4 K/BB (per Baseball-Reference.com)

By all accounts, Medlen had a stellar third season in the bigs, and the Braves have done a wonderful job managing his innings.

Though Medlen's case is slightly different given the fact that he was returning from Tommy John surgery, the Reds could take a page out of the Braves' playbook and work Chapman into the rotation in similar fashion.

Having Chapman work as a reliever early in 2013 would guarantee his availability late in the season. Gradual increases to his innings per-appearance would allow him to build the stamina necessary to go six or seven innings per start by the stretch run.

Based purely on ability, Chapman has the stuff to pitch like Medlen did as a starter last year.

Though no one really wants to see him be limited next season, it's a reality many fans will have to come to grips with. And just because his innings will be capped doesn't mean that Chapman should be rendered useless by the time the Reds need him most.


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