Tag: Homer Bailey

Domination Versus Potential: The Story of the Converted Reliever

Chapman2Aroldis Chapman has impressed many this spring with his 2.25 ERA and 1.13 WHIP over 8 innings, as he continues to be stretched out for the purpose of becoming a starting pitcher. Or is he? Who really knows at this point, the Cincinnati Reds certainly don’t have any idea what they are doing. Certainly, prior to giving three-years and $21 million to Jonathan Broxton to become their closer this winter, they should have had an idea of where they were going to put “The Cuban Missile”, the rotation or the bullpen.

Chapman was absolutely dominant in 2012, posting a 15.3 K/9 with a 1.51 ERA, 0.81 WHIP and a 122:23 K:BB over 71.2 innings. A one-time starter for the Cuban National Team, the Reds have flirted with the idea of returning him to the rotation a couple of times, falling in love with his fastball and brilliance out of the bullpen, instead, while basking in the glory of having all of their starters healthy (Johnny Cueto, Mat Latos, Bronson Arroyo, Homer Bailey, and Mike Leake) for the entire 2012 season.

With those same five guys back for the 2013 season and Tony Cingrani and Daniel Corcino reaching the upper levels of the Cincinnati Reds minor league system, the Reds are still debating as to how to handle their flame-throwing lefty, with less than two weeks remaining before Opening Day at Great American Ballpark.

For the Cincinnati Reds, the potential that Aroldis Chapman has as a starter seems to be the enticing factor in the thoughts and decision-m  aking of the upper management, while the dominance that he has shown as a relief pitcher is overlooked.

That way of thinking isn’t terrible, it has happened many times in recent seasons…

Bard1Daniel Bard went from a dominant Boston Red Sox relief arm (2.62 ERA, 0.98 WHIP, and a 150:54 K:BB over 147.2 innings in 2010 and 2011, combined) to an afterthought in a devastatingly disappointing 2012 season for the Saux. Bard was moved to the rotation, where his potential was greater, getting 54 innings over 10 starts and posting a 5.33 ERA, 1.62 WHIP and a 32:36 K:BB. After going to Triple-A Pawtucket to work on his release point, he posted an even worse 18.71 ERA, 3.23 WHIP and a 4:6 K:BB over just 4.1 innings. Needless to say, Bard won’t be starting any games for Boston in 2013, and he may not have a spot in a very deep Boston bullpen to start the season.

Neftali Feliz was one of the top relief pitchers in baseball from 2009 through 2011, posting a 2.54 ERA, 0.95 WHIP, and a 164:56 K:BB over 162.2 innings, while saving 74 games for the Texas Rangers. With those fantastic numbers, how great would he look pitching every fifth day, providing the Rangers with 200-plus innings instead of the 60 to 75 that he was giving as their closer? In 2012, Feliz went to the rotation and did pretty well. For whatever reason, he was brought out of the bullpen for one outing on April 25 against the New York Yankees, four days after tossing 119 pitches in a complete game loss to Detroit, and then the wheels came off. Not right away, though, as he did manage four starts with a 3.32 ERA and 1.38 WHIP before being shut down due to Tommy John surgery, which he didn’t even undergo until August, which will cost him the entire 2013 season, as well. When he returns in 2014, the Rangers will have other starters coming up through their impressive minor league system, which may allow Feliz to move back to the bullpen, taking over the closer role for the aging Joe Nathan.

JobaJoba Chamberlain…what might have been for the one-time dominant reliever for the New York Yankees. After coming up in 2007 and posting a 0.38 ERA, 0.75 WHIP, and 34:6 K:BB in just 24 innings in 2007, the Yankees moved the powerful right-hander from the bullpen to the rotation on June 3, 2008, before moving him back to the bullpen September 2, when he came back from a stint on the DL due to shoulder tendinitis. He was solid over 12 starts, posting a 2.76 ERA and 1.30 WHIP over 65.1 innings with a 74:25 K:BB. After returning from his shoulder injury, though, Chamberlain posted a 2.38 ERA over 11.1 innings with a 14:3 K:BB. That didn’t stop the club from trying him in the rotation again in 2009, this time making 31 starts and amassing 157.1 innings while posting a pedestrian 4.75 ERA and 1.54 WHIP. Chamberlain was moved back to the bullpen in 2010 and wasn’t nearly as dominant as his first go-round there, posting a 4.40 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, and a 77:22 K:BB in 71.2 innings. However, since the start of 2011, it has all been downhill for the big righty. He had Tommy John surgery in June of 2011, he broke his ankle while recovering from that and missed most of the 2012 season, and now, heading into his contract walk year, Joba Chamberlain wants to start, but seems to be on the outside looking in to the Yankees rotation.

 

SaleThe reason that teams will want to move young, successful, dominant relief pitchers to their rotations lies in the results of those like Chris Sale of the Chicago White Sox. After dominating out of the bullpen in 2010 and 2011 (a combined 2.58 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, and a 111:37 K:BB in 94.1 innings), the White Sox moved Sale to the rotation in 2012. He didn’t disappoint even the harshest observers, posting a 3.05 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, and a 192:51 K:BB over 192 innings. The issue now is whether or not Sale’s elbow can handle the rotation, as jumped from 71 innings in 2011 to the whopping 192 in 2012, while missing a couple of starts with “shoulder fatigue” in late-July and early-August, and he was rail thin, standing 6’6″, 168 pounds last season. Chicago seems to have faith in him, though, as Robin Ventura named him the Opening Day starter and the team extended him for five-years, $32.5 million already this spring.

Some other converts from the bullpen to the rotation (or even flip-flopping during their careers)  include: C.J. Wilson, Ryan Dempster, John Smoltz, Derek Lowe, Adam Wainwright, Pedro Martinez, Mark Buehrle, and Brett Myers. While some of those names aren’t very…attractive…they did have some success in the rotation during their careers and there are a couple of Hall of Fame pitchers there.

Craig Kimbrel
Craig Kimbrel (Photo credit: cmaybourne)

Potential is a scary thing in sports. It is why players get several opportunities before finally being shipped off to become Triple-A depth. It is why roster spots are wasted on Rule 5 draft picks. It is why teams go over slot recommendations to land their draft picks. It is why teams risk injuries to their superstars to see if they can get a little more out of them. You don’t see the Atlanta Braves trying to get more out of Craig Kimbrel, do you? Why should the Cincinnati Reds try to get more potential out of Aroldis Chapman when they know what they have: the second best reliever in baseball (next to Kimbrel), who is nearly a lock to close out the game when you have the lead in the 9th inning.

For every Chris Sale, there is a frayed elbow ligament and a Joba Chamberlain or Neftali Feliz story…and Chris Sale is no sure thing to repeat. Pete Schourek won 18 games for the Cincinnati Reds in 1995 at the age of 26, throwing 109 more innings than he did in the 1994 season, and he followed that up with elbow and shoulder injuries before being out of baseball at the age of 32.

Which do you prefer: Domination or Potential?

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Who is the Odd Man Out?

When the Cincinnati Reds signed Jonathan Broxton to a three-year, $21 million deal on Wednesday, it did a couple of things. It solidified the back end of the bullpen for 2013, the same ‘pen that finished 2012 as the best in baseball, and it opened the door in moving Aroldis Chapman to the starting rotation.

The opportunity to see what Chapman can do as a starter is very enticing, but due to his success in the bullpen the last couple of seasons, you have to wonder if this is the right decision. One could even mention the fact that the 2012 Cincinnati rotation did not miss a start and all five men are supposed to be back in 2013.

So, while some fans may question Chapman’s move to the rotation, you now have six starting pitchers, a gluttony in baseball, capable of pitching well above average…if healthy. What do you do now?

Courtesy: Dayton Daily News

Johnny Cueto is the ace. 28-14 with a 2.58 ERA and a 1.14 WHIP since the start of 2011, with his peripheral stats showing positive tendencies. In 2012, Cueto finally reached 200 innings in a season, and while there were some bumps in the road toward the end of the season, he posted a 1.35 ERA over his final three starts of the season. He is the anchor of this rotation and is signed through 2015.

Mat Latos was the huge acquisition prior to the start of 2012. It cost the Reds a pretty penny as far as their future, but Latos showed his worth, finishing 14-4 with a 3.48 ERA and 1.16 WHIP. He proved that he could pitch anywhere, even after moving from San Diego’s spacious Petco Park to Great American Ballpark. Latos is arbitration-eligible for the first time this winter and his 41 wins prior to the age of 25 will surely drive up his price. Luckily, he is under team-control through 2015, giving the Reds an Ace A and Ace B option for the next three seasons.

Bronson Arroyo is the crafty veteran of the group. In Arroyo’s three best seasons in Cincinnati, he is 43-31 with a 3.62 ERA and in his three worst seasons, he is 34-38 with a 4.68 ERA. Considering he has been around for seven seasons, which pitcher is he? Arroyo thrives on being able to mix his offspeed arsenal in with his fastball, changing speeds and leaving batters guessing. With power pitchers surrounding him in the rotation, it is possible that Arroyo will be able to capitalize on his stuff, dropping in his loopy curve and average fastball to one more successful season in Cincinnati. He turns 36 years old in February and reaches free agency after the 2013 season.

Homer Bailey has been driving Cincinnati fans crazy since 2007, never capitalizing on his stuff and potential…until 2012. Bailey finally put it all together and went 13-10 with a 3.68 ERA, tossing a career high in innings with 208. His masterful seven inning, ten strikeout start against the San Francisco Giants in the NLDS was one for the ages, and he will probably receive a huge amount of support the first time that he toes the rubber at GABP in 2013. Bailey turns 27 next May and he is team-controlled through arbitration until reaching free agency in 2015.

Mike Leake is just 25 years old and he doesn’t reach free agency until 2016. Leake is a rare breed, a player who is in the majors without ever having played in the minors, a pretty short list of players can say that. He has a career 28-22 record and a 4.23 ERA over 83 games and 485 career innings. Leake wasn’t very impressive in 2012, posting a 4.58 ERA and a 1.35 WHIP. His stuff is very similar to Bronson Arroyo‘s, in that he thrives on location and changing speeds. He could very well become the crafty, mid-rotation starter that Arroyo is upon Arroyo’s eventual departure.

This doesn’t even take into consideration the fact that the Reds have Daniel Corcino and Tony Cingrani ready or near-ready to contribute as starting pitchers at the major league level.

However, are any of these pitchers worth booting from the rotation? How would Bailey do as a setup man, being able to throw his fastball at increased velocity for short outings? Should Arroyo or Leake be removed from the rotation to step in as a long-man, possibly shadowing Aroldis Chapman every fifth day to limit his innings throughout the season? Or, are one of these pitchers trade bait now? Could the team upgrade in centerfield or find a leadoff man by including Leake in a deal for someone like Denard Span?

The Cincinnati Reds have a good problem right now, but if they started the season tomorrow, they probably won’t be using a six-man rotation. How do you see this, realistically shaping up?

To Start or Not to Start?

Courtesy: mlbreports.com

 Chapman has made 137 appearances in his brief major league career, all of them out of the Cincinnati Reds bullpen. He has posted a ridiculous 212:69 K:BB in 135 career innings, allowing just 68 hits and compiling a 2.33 ERA and 14.1 K:9 in those 137 appearances.

What more could Chapman do, though? Could he dominate in the same way as a starting pitcher?

Chapman started four games in spring training prior to the 2012 season. He compiled a 1.80 ERA, 1.07 WHIP, and a 15:1 K:BB in 15 innings. While it was a small sample size, the focus on location and being smart with his pitch count may have led to his increase in strikeout rate (44.2% in 2012 vs. 34.3% in 2011) and his dramatic decrease in his walk rate (8.3% in 2012 vs. 19.8% in 2011). Chapman’s average fastball also dropped from 98.1 in 2011 to 98.0 in 2012, which isn’t as dramatic as the drop from 99.6 in 2010.

Chapman started 13 games in 2010 when he was coming up through the minors, but he was brought up for the 2010 postseason push, making 15 appearances out of the bullpen in September and another two in the NLDS loss to the Philadelphia Phillies. He then “started” three more games in 2011 in the minors, but those were games that he was in the minors working on his command issues, not legitimate starts to develop arm strength or to stretch him out.

Aroldis Chapman was an All-Star in 2012. He finished 8th in NL Cy Young voting, while finishing 12th in NL MVP voting. Is he replaceable as a closer?

Ryan Madson is coming back from Tommy John surgery and the Reds could sign him at a discount, hoping that he returns to his 2011 form. Madson, after all, posted a 2.89 ERA over 329.2 innings with a 314:97 K:BB from 2007 to 2011 before missing all of the 2012 season.

Courtesy: BleacherReport.com

The Reds could also try to sign Jonathan Broxton, whom they acquired from the Kansas City Royals at the trade deadline in 2012, now a free agent, as well. Broxton posted a solid 2.82 ERA over 25 appearances for the Reds down the stretch. While he doesn’t strikeout nearly as many as he used to (a K:9 of 13.5 in 2009 but just 7.0 in 2012), he is also not issuing as many walks, posting a career best 2.6 BB:9 in 2012.

So, the Reds could have other external options at closer, while possibly handing over closer duties to in-house candidates J.J. Hoover, Logan Ondrusek, Sean Marshall, Nick Massett, or Jose Arredondo. While some fans may worry about how some of those mentioned would handle stressful situations, you never know until they are given the chance.

If Chapman were to move to the rotation, the Reds would have Johnny Cueto, Mat Latos, Homer Bailey, Bronson Arroyo, and Mike Leake to work around him. Could the club shop a starter for a leadoff hitter if they go ahead and count on Chapman, or could they move Leake to closer? Maybe his off speed junk would confuse opposing hitters late in the game?

Then…you have the reasons for concern. One name jumps out for the transition from closer to starter: Neftali Feliz. In his first 154 appearances in the majors, Feliz saved 74 games and posted a 2.55 ERA over 162.2 innings with a 164:56 K:BB. The Texas Rangers then tried to move him to the rotation in 2012, trying to get the most out of their 24-year-old star, but it didn’t go well. Feliz lasted all of eight games, seven starts, and 42.2 innings before being shut down with elbow soreness in May before having Tommy John surgery on August 1.

The Reds have Chapman under team control until after the 2016 season. Is it finally time to see how much he could dominate over 170 to 200 innings, or is he too important at the end of games? Reds fans were, at times, terrified when Danny Graves or Francisco Cordero came out to close games, but, with Chapman, things seemed safe.

Chapman is a fantastic talent, and even if he “only” throws 95 miles per hour as a starter, he still has the stuff to make opposing hitters look foolish. However, are those 32 starts and abundance of innings more valuable to the Reds and their $25.25 million investment than the 70 games that he finishes?

After watching, or not watching, what happened to Neftali Feliz, the Reds should probably keep him in the closer’s role. He has dominated there and there isn’t anything saying Chapman is guaranteed to become Justin Verlander as a starting pitcher. It isn’t like the Atlanta Braves are thinking about moving Craig Kimbrel to starting pitcher this offseason. Some pitchers are designed for certain roles. Chapman has proven that he is a lockdown, shutdown closer. Keep him there and keep your bullpen, which was best in baseball (based on their 2.65 ERA), intact.

With the respectable rotation of Cueto, Latos, Bailey, Arroyo, and Leake, the Reds can afford to keep Chapman in that role. And with Tony Cingrani and Daniel Corcino ready to step into the rotation from the minors, there really isn’t a reason to tamper with the makeup of what worked so well in 2012.

Elimination: Unable to Hide the Homer

Just one…You couldn’t win…ONE!?!

On Sunday night, I was excited. The Cincinnati Reds had won Game 2 of the NLDS series, winning both games in San Francisco. Heading home for three games, it was a cinch that they would clinch…or so I thought.

I write for Bleacher Report when I’m not writing here, and I was given the assignment of completing a live blog for Game 3 between the Reds and Giants. It was a fantastic game, dominated by pitching, especially Reds (ace?) Homer Bailey, but when third baseman Scott Rolen bobbled the grounder in the 10th inning, it was the beginning of the end. We all know now that the Reds would lose on Wednesday and Thursday at Great American Ballpark, crushing the dreams that came along with a fantastic season.

The Reds won 97 games in 2012. They had not won that many games since winning 108 games in 1975 and 102 games in 1976, also known as the greatest team ever, The Big Red Machine. Why shouldn’t hopes have been high for this team?

As a baseball fanatic, I have a hard time rooting for a specific team. I have a tendency to root for specific players, as long as they aren’t on the St. Louis Cardinals. I like to think of myself as a baseball connoisseur, finding and appreciating the talent of the era, while hoping that the underdog finds a way to win the title, as long as the underdog isn’t the St. Louis Cardinals.

However, the Reds elimination hurt me to the core. It was worse than being told my those you love that you’ve disappointed them. It was worse than the club missing the playoffs last year, or losing decisively to the Philadelphia Phillies in 2010. This was catastrophic.

While I wrote for Bleacher Report as their Featured Columnist for the Cleveland Indians this season, I saw just how awful their fans have it. I was 9 years old when the Reds went wire-to-wire in 1990, winning the only title worth mentioning for a Cincinnati team in my lifetime (sorry ECHL/IHL Cyclones, you don’t count). The first game I can remember was the Reds 11-2 win over the New York Mets on July 19, 1988. Jose Rijo dazzled and even hit a home run off of Dwight Gooden that night. I was 7 years old.

I remember Paul O’Neil robbing home runs in right field, Eric Davis hitting for amazing power with incredible speed, and Deion Sanders making Davis look slow, flying around the bases. I remember the end of Dave Concepcion’s Hall of Fame worthy career, Chris Sabo and his awesome RecSpecs, and Barry Larkin’s entire, underappreciated career. All of those memories, all of those games with my cousin where we bought “Top Six” tickets and moved all over the ballpark, and all of those years of not committing myself to the team that I grew up loving made the losses that much more difficult.

When Scott Rolen struck out on Thursday afternoon, the homer in me was crushed. I don’t remember ever rooting for the Reds as hard as I have the last three days. I was a kid again. I loved the team that I always loved again. All of the times that I just said I loved baseball and I wanted to just enjoy the game…apparently that was a lie. I wanted nothing more than to celebrate a three-run home run by Jay Bruce, or to see Scott Rolen redeem himself for his costly error in Game 3 with a game-winning walk-off homer in Game 5.

I realized that I am still the kid who loved Eric Davis, stood for Rob Dibble’s blazing fastball to close out the game, and the man who now watches the radar to see how high Aroldis Chapman can make it climb.

The postseason in Major League Baseball is incredible for so many reasons, but, today, it made me realize that I never stopped loving the team that I grew up loving. That is why elimination was absolutely heart-breaking today.

Homer Bailey: Pirates Had No-No Chance

Courtesy: ESPN.com

In 109 career starts heading into Friday night, Homer Bailey was 37-33 with a 4.59 ERA. In those 109 starts, he had one shutout, way back on May 12, 2010 against, who else, the Pittsburgh Pirates in Pittsburgh.

Friday night, Bailey earned his second career shutout while tossing the seventh no-hitter of the 2012 MLB season. It shouldn’t be too shocking that it came on the road, and, especially, against the Pittsburgh Pirates.

First of all, over his career, Bailey had been much better on the road:

Home: 18-19, 5.13 ERA, 60 starts, 344 innings, 286:130 K:BB, 52 HR allowed, 1.49 WHIP

Road: 19-14, 3.95 ERA, 49 starts, 287 innings, 204:91 K:BB, 26 HR allowed, 1.29 WHIP

In five starts at PNC Park in his career, home of the Pirates, heading into Friday, Bailey was 4-0 with a 1.75 ERA, 36 innings, 21:11 K:BB, zero home runs allowed, and a 0.92 WHIP.

Now, Bailey is a ridiculous 5-0, with a 1.40 ERA in 45 innings, posting a 31:12 K:BB, still having allowed zero home runs, and a slick 0.76 WHIP in his six career starts in the Steel City.

Bailey’s absurd home and road splits will probably be a concern for Cincinnati Reds fans, who will have to wait and see what happens in the Queen City, during the NLDS, when Bailey foots the rubber at Great American Ballpark against the San Francisco Giants in a little over a week. If only they could move the game to Pittsburgh, the Reds may be better off.

Are the Reds the Best Team in MLB?

Joey Votto has been one of the top players in MLB in 2012, posting an absurd .362/.485/.657 slash with 27 doubles, 12 home runs, 44 RBI, and a 49:52 K:BB in 213 at bats. Brandon Phillips is finally hitting, posting a .441/.472/.735 over his last eight games, with one double, three home runs, and nine RBI.  In doing so, Phillips has increased his triple-slash from .259/.314/.392 on May 24 to its current .292/.338/.454 level. With Votto still mashing and getting on base and Phillips finally hitting, are the Reds capable of being the best team in baseball over the rest of the season?

Some will argue that the Detroit Tigers have the lineup to beat due to Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder.  Others say that the Yankees lineup with Derek Jeter, Curtis Granderson, Mark Teixiera, Robinson Cano, and Alex Rodriguez is the greatest of them all.  Others will argue that it is Ike Davis and Jason Bay, and we will mock them ferociously; however, the Reds seem to have what it takes to win.  The rotation can be thin at times with the inconsistencies at the back-end, but look at the front-end of that group…

Johnny Cueto has established himself as one of the best pitchers in baseball, compiling a 16-8 record, a 2.36 ERA, and a 1.12 WHIP over his last 37 starts.  Mat Latos may not have great stats in 2012 (5-2, 4.64 ERA, 1.37 WHIP), but the Reds are 8-2 in his last ten starts. Latos is also in the middle of the season, especially from May to July, where he is now 21-6 with a 2.90 ERA over his career during the early summer months.

What does all of this mean?  The Reds were as many as five games back and they were up as many as 3.5 games.  Now, they are three games up on both the Pittsburgh Pirates and St. Louis Cardinals.  The Reds have gone 25-16 since April 15.  It’s too bad they aren’t the Chicago Cubs because they are 17-8 in day games after Thursday’s  12-5 stomping of the Cleveland Indians.

The Reds have a solid rotation and enough offense to matter.  The American League is filled with punishing offenses, but the National League has…good pitching?  With the dramatic decline of the Philadelphia Phillies lineup, the Cincinnati Reds are in an elite class in the National League.

The Washington Nationals, Los Angeles Dodgers, and San Francisco Giants are the only other teams in the National League with the rotation and lineups that can match the Reds.  Bryce Harper is the real deal and the Nats will, at least, ride Strasburg to the limits of his innings, not his talent.  The Dodgers have had issues with injuries in the rotation and to Matt Kemp, but they’ve managed to hold on thanks to Andre Ethier’s redemption season and Chris Capuano’s best Clayton Kershaw impersonation.  The Giants have had some success from their rotation and offense, definitely not from Tim Lincecum, though, and with the return of Pablo Sandoval from injury, they will be that much better.

However, if Votto and Phillips are clicking like they are right now and the Reds have the 1-2 punch of Cueto and Latos going, then they can sit back and hope that the likes of Zack Cozart, Devin Mesoraco, Todd Frazier, Homer Bailey, and Mike Leake take the steps necessary to keep the team in contention while infusing youth in the every day lineup.  With smart baseball, like Mesoraco plowing into Lou Marson for defensive interference and a free run (see here), and mediocre production from the spare parts, the Reds are a team to be reckoned with.