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Thursday, March 21, 2013

MLB: Where should Chapman pitch? Ask Smoltz

“I’ll be honest. When I first heard they might make him a starter, I said, ‘Oh, my God. They’re going to take the most dominant left-handed closer in the game and put him in a role that has a lot of ifs, ands or buts,’” said Smoltz, the future Hall of Fame starter—or is that closer?—over the phone from San Francisco, where he is covering the World Baseball Classic for MLB Network.

Added Smoltz: “[The Reds] still have a real good bullpen, but if he starts, they’re going to have to bring him along in a way where they’re going to discover quickly that this won’t be the guy who throws 97, 98, 99 mph for seven innings, I don’t think. He’s got to learn his cruising speed, and he has to learn a lot of other things.

“You move him out of that closer’s role, you run a risk. People say that if it doesn’t work, they can just put him right back in the bullpen. I don’t think that’s a fair assessment.”

Translated: The odds of Chapman—or anybody else—becoming another Smoltz aren’t the best.

...“One of the things that makes this so complex is that we haven’t had a guy from the left side who has the potential to do something intriguing on both ends [as a closer and a starter],” Smoltz said. “He has had such tremendous success at a young age in the role.

“As a starter, the unknown is that you are putting him into a situation where he’s had no success. There also are [no starting innings] for Chapman, and that is such a huge topic now.

“So when you think about how the game is evolving, you’re going to have to treat him the way you treated [Stephen] Strasburg and all of those other young pitchers.

“As a starter, you’re not going to get the full fruits of a Chapman for some time, based on the theories that exist today.”

Nope. So keep him in the bullpen.

Thanks to CP.

Repoz Posted: March 21, 2013 at 06:17 AM | 48 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: reds

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   1. AROM Posted: March 21, 2013 at 07:50 AM (#4393358)
I guess he didn't see much of Chris Sale last year.
   2. Der-K, the bloodied charmer Posted: March 21, 2013 at 07:58 AM (#4393359)
But that was so long ago!
   3. Nasty Nate Posted: March 21, 2013 at 08:53 AM (#4393380)
I guess I don't understand the implied thing in these Chapman articles that says he must be just as effective as a starter as he is a reliever for a conversion to be a success.
   4. Chris Fluit Posted: March 21, 2013 at 10:15 AM (#4393429)
It's simple: Dominant closer = dominant starter. Therefore, Chapman has to be a dominant starter. You don't honestly think that a very good starting pitcher is equal to a dominant closer, do you? /sarcasm (in case it wasn't clear)
   5. John M. Perkins Posted: March 21, 2013 at 10:52 AM (#4393456)
Neftali Perez, 1.4 WAR(B-Ref) each of 2011 (closer) and 2012 (starter, injured).
Yes, you'd have to Strasburg Chapman just like Johan Santana, Pedro J. Martinez, and every Earl Weaver starter.

Does Chapman have three pitches?
   6. snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster) Posted: March 21, 2013 at 11:12 AM (#4393468)
It's simple: Dominant closer = dominant starter. Therefore, Chapman has to be a dominant starter. You don't honestly think that a very good starting pitcher is equal to a dominant closer, do you? /sarcasm (in case it wasn't clear)

It seems like a lot of these people think the goal of baseball is to throw as fast as possible, or for Chapman to have the lowest possible ERA (regardless of IP).

You'd think the fact that great SPs get $150M contracts, and great closers get $30M contracts would sink in more. If Chapman becomes a #1/#2 SP, he's worth $20M p.a., if he becomes a great closer, he's worth $10M. That makes it pretty obvious to me he should start.
   7. SoSH U at work Posted: March 21, 2013 at 11:24 AM (#4393478)
If Chapman becomes a #1/#2 SP, he's worth $20M p.a., if he becomes a great closer, he's worth $10M. That makes it pretty obvious to me he should start.


I don't think it's obvious he becomes a great starter, or even a good one. At the absolute height of his relieving powers, Goose was a back of the rotation SP.

Couple arsenal questions with Chapman's health concerns, plus his own preference, and I don't think it's the no-brainer some suggest.

If Chapman can be converted to a good SP, it's obviously the right call. But I don't think it's certain that would be the outcome.

   8. Nasty Nate Posted: March 21, 2013 at 11:29 AM (#4393486)
I don't think it's obvious he becomes a great starter, or even a good one.


It's also not obvious that he will be a great closer if he remains in that role.
   9. SoSH U at work Posted: March 21, 2013 at 11:31 AM (#4393492)
It's also not obvious that he will be a great closer if he remains in that role.


I like his chances of continuing to be a great closer more than I like them of becoming something he's never been.
   10. Nasty Nate Posted: March 21, 2013 at 11:37 AM (#4393502)
me too

But in general, I think people are too quick too assume that these small samples of reliever brilliance are automatically going to be repeated.
   11. SoSH U at work Posted: March 21, 2013 at 11:40 AM (#4393507)
I think people are too quick too assume that these small samples of reliever brilliance are automatically going to be repeated.


That's true.
   12. Spectral Posted: March 21, 2013 at 11:41 AM (#4393509)
I don't think there's any way to be particularly sure of how good of a starter he is until he does it. The ceiling seems, to me, very high, but the collapse chance is probably unpleasantly high too. I hate this sort of answer, but it seems like the people in the best position to evaluate that that are the coaches and management that work with him in simulated games and other throwing sessions.
   13. snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster) Posted: March 21, 2013 at 11:48 AM (#4393522)
But in general, I think people are too quick too assume that these small samples of reliever brilliance are automatically going to be repeated.

Well, we know great closers are very unstable. Only a small handful have done it for even 10 years. Relievers flame out all the time.

Chapman may be more reliable as a RP for the next 3 years, but over a 5-10 year window, I like his chances as an SP much better.
   14. Ivan Grushenko of Hong Kong Posted: March 21, 2013 at 12:06 PM (#4393535)
Apparently Chapman in Cuba pitched in 78 games, 65 as a starter for 341 IP and a 3.72 ERA, 379 K, 210 BB. That's about 5 IP per start and lots of walks. Sure he's probably better now, but I can see why people might not think he's best suited to starting.
   15. Dan Posted: March 21, 2013 at 12:08 PM (#4393537)
Word is that Chapman will be moving back to the bullpen. So now in addition to the money Chapman got to be a starter when they signed him, they're paying Broxton $7M for each of the next 3 years to pitch in the 8th inning. Chapman's 6 year, $30M deal doesn't look like a great one for a pre-FA reliever either. To really get a good return on that contract he needed to be a starter.
   16. Nasty Nate Posted: March 21, 2013 at 12:18 PM (#4393545)
Apparently Chapman in Cuba pitched in 78 games, 65 as a starter for 341 IP and a 3.72 ERA, 379 K, 210 BB. That's about 5 IP per start and lots of walks. Sure he's probably better now, but I can see why people might not think he's best suited to starting.


He also had a 3.60 ERA and 41 BB in 50 innings while relieving in 2011. Control might be a concern for him no matter the role.
   17. The District Attorney Posted: March 21, 2013 at 12:19 PM (#4393546)
If Chapman either preferred starting or didn't have a preference, I'd definitely want him to start. The thing is that he prefers relief.

Now, obviously every player doesn't, and can't, get to do whatever they want. But Chapman has already established himself as a star, so he has leverage. And this is not like batting 2nd rather than 1st or something -- it's a hugely big deal that requires him to almost become an entirely different player, in terms of his responsibilities and how he prepares for them. It's the type of thing that requires full buy-in from the athlete.

As the Reds, I'd be disappointed that Chapman doesn't want to start, and I'd try to make him see the value in it. But ultimately, if he wants to make less money and be in a less important role, I think it's better for him to be fully committed to that than to be half-committed to a more important role.
   18. What did Billy Ripken have against ElRoy Face? Posted: March 21, 2013 at 12:22 PM (#4393547)
“You move him out of that closer’s role, you run a risk. People say that if it doesn’t work, they can just put him right back in the bullpen. I don’t think that’s a fair assessment.”


And you base this on...what exactly?
   19. snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster) Posted: March 21, 2013 at 12:45 PM (#4393564)
He also had a 3.60 ERA and 41 BB in 50 innings while relieving in 2011. Control might be a concern for him no matter the role.

Given his low hit rate, doesn't the high walk rate play better as a starting pitcher?

I mean, if a SP has a bad inning where they walk 3 guys and let in 1-2 runs, no big deal. But for a closer, that's deadly.
   20. Squash Posted: March 21, 2013 at 01:01 PM (#4393580)
The thing is that he prefers relief.

What he prefers is closing, for all the obvious reasons. If he had been pitching in the 7th/8th innings last year I'm guessing he wouldn't be quite as eager to return to that role in 2013. Never make your young stud into a closer, he'll never want to leave.
   21. SG Posted: March 21, 2013 at 01:28 PM (#4393598)
Given his low hit rate, doesn't the high walk rate play better as a starting pitcher?


Not really. Ks and BBs mean lots of pitches. If he's only going five innings a game, you are putting more stress on the pen.

I still think they should at least try him as a starter, but I wouldn't be surprised to see that he wouldn't make a good one.
   22. Spectral Posted: March 21, 2013 at 01:38 PM (#4393615)
And you base this [risk that he won't be the same] on...what exactly?


Presumably, this is a matter of priors, right? If your prior is that not everyone can return to roles they were previously successful in when they start doing something different, you might need a fair bit of evidence to change your mind about this. Right now, I think we probably don't have much evidence at all that guys can be excellent in relief, fail at starting, then go back to being excellent in relief. I might be misinformed, there might be quite a few more examples of this than I'm aware of, but I don't think it's wildly unreasonable for the Reds to think that an experiment with him as a starting pitcher decreases their chances of having him as an excellent reliever.
   23. snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster) Posted: March 21, 2013 at 02:21 PM (#4393664)
Presumably, this is a matter of priors, right? If your prior is that not everyone can return to roles they were previously successful in when they start doing something different, you might need a fair bit of evidence to change your mind about this. Right now, I think we probably don't have much evidence at all that guys can be excellent in relief, fail at starting, then go back to being excellent in relief. I might be misinformed, there might be quite a few more examples of this than I'm aware of, but I don't think it's wildly unreasonable for the Reds to think that an experiment with him as a starting pitcher decreases their chances of having him as an excellent reliever.

What examples do we have? Off the top of my head:

1) Gossage was an excellent closer for one year (141.2 IP, 212 ERA+), became an avg. SP for one year (224 IP, 91 ERA+), and went right back to being an excellent closer (133 IP, 244 ERA+).

2) Wilhelm the same. 7 seasons as mostly a RP (797.2 IP, 10 GS, 134 ERA+), excellent SP in '59 (226 IP, 173 ERA+, bst ERA in lg), returned to being an excellent RP (12 years, 1205.1 IP, 156 ERA+).

Anyone else?

   24. Swedish Chef Posted: March 21, 2013 at 02:30 PM (#4393672)
Anyone else?

Daniel Bard
   25. Spectral Posted: March 21, 2013 at 02:30 PM (#4393674)
Wilhelm strikes me as a not very useful comp because of his knuckleball. Maybe I'm just cherrypicking, but I tend to think of knuckleballers as special cases in general. Gossage, on the other hand, is probably something close to a perfect example of what we're looking for, right down to style.

Smoltz did the opposite, and I suspect that there's every good reason to believe he could have gone back into relief pitching if he'd wanted to. Then again, he didn't fail at anything, he was just plain good. Still, I'd regard him as an example of transitioning back and forth seamlessly.

I think the better question than what the examples of this succeeding are is what the frequency of success is. I don't know how to address that usefully. I'd guess that the answer is that there's just not a lot of precedent for it, simply because guys who were in a position to be potentially very good starters usually don't get moved to the pen; there's usually something quintessentially wrong with someone as a starter that gets them turned into a relief pitcher in the first place.

Which, again, leads me to the not very interesting position of deferring to the judgment of the Reds and Chapman.
   26. snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster) Posted: March 21, 2013 at 02:38 PM (#4393681)
Anyone else?

Daniel Bard


Except we haven't seen yet what he does in a return to the pen.
   27. snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster) Posted: March 21, 2013 at 02:47 PM (#4393697)
Found another:

Jeff Russell in the '80's: crappy SP for 3 seasons (312 84 ERA+), decent RP for 2 seasons (179.1 IP, 111 ERA+), decent as mostly a SP for one season (188.2 IP, 34 G, 24 GS, 106 ERA+), then became a top closer for 5 years (290.1 IP, 159 ERA+, 141 SVs).
   28. SoSH U at work Posted: March 21, 2013 at 02:51 PM (#4393700)
Except we haven't seen yet what he does in a return to the pen.


Well he performed even worse when he got shuttled back there last year. At the very least, it resulted in a lost year.

   29. snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster) Posted: March 21, 2013 at 02:52 PM (#4393704)
Well he didn't do very well when he got shuttled back there last year. At the very least, it resulted in a lost year.

Right, we know a lost year is a possibility with a transition, but if Bard is back to a 150 ERA+ RP this seasons, it's not that much of a loss, and was probably worth chancing.
   30. Spectral Posted: March 21, 2013 at 02:54 PM (#4393707)
Bard will be a good test case. Chapman could have been a good test case too.

Realistically, this is going to be a circumstance where if it fails a few times, it'll be awhile before anyone tries it again, since it probably goes against conventional wisdom to move a relief ace into a starting role, and if they're unable to adapt back to relief (even if it's only a couple pitchers and there's little evidence that the starting is what messed them up), it's hard to see teams being willing to take a PR risk in exchange for relatively marginal returns. On the other hand, if Bard is able to move back to the pen and have success, it should embolden teams, particularly if losing a year from a pitcher to ineffectiveness isn't likely to have a strong effect on their playoff chances.

I'd rather see Chapman start and I'd rather see him be good, I'm just unconvinced that this will occur.
   31. SoSH U at work Posted: March 21, 2013 at 02:55 PM (#4393708)
it's not that much of a loss,


I disagree. Lost seasons by valuable commodities in the team-controlled period are pretty significant.
   32. snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster) Posted: March 21, 2013 at 02:57 PM (#4393713)
Another:

Steve Bedrosian. 3 years as a very good RP (341.1 IP, 136 ERA+, 41 SVs), 1 season as an avg SP (206.2 IP, 100 ERA+), returned to being a closer for 4 good years (338.1 IP, 120 ERA+, 120 SVs).
   33. snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster) Posted: March 21, 2013 at 02:58 PM (#4393714)
I disagree. Lost seasons by valuable commodities in the team-controlled period are pretty significant.

What would he have been worth? 1.5-2.0 WAR? You usually can find RPs who can give you 1.0 WAR pretty easily. Even last year, they were able to did up Atchison, Tazawa, Mortenson, Miller and Albers when Bailey, Melancon and Aceves sucked.

It's maybe a $5M gamble. Very little for a team like Boston, and given the way the season went, it didn't cost them anything. They would have sucked with 1977 Goose Gossage as their closer.
   34. Sweatpants Posted: March 21, 2013 at 03:02 PM (#4393719)
The Reds tried Danny Graves as a starter in 2003 after he'd given them several very good years at closer. He bombed in the rotation and went back to closing the next year. He had an okay season (41 saves with an ERA slightly better than average) followed by two bad ones, and that was it for his big league career. How much of it was starting messing him up as opposed to his turning 30 I have no idea.

At the break in 2000, the Reds moved Scott Williamson to the rotation, where he pitched well before a toe injury ended his season in mid-September. Then they switched him to the bullpen at some point in spring training, and he pitched only two games before having Tommy John surgery. I don't know which came first - the injury or the move to the bullpen.
   35. snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster) Posted: March 21, 2013 at 03:08 PM (#4393731)
I don't know which came first - the injury or the move to the bullpen.

That's the issue with the Joba example. He was pitching very well in the rotation when they made the switch in 2008 (11 GS, 60.2 IP, 2.23 ERA, 69 K, and 23 BB) and then he hurt his shoulder in Texas.

Did starting contribute to the injury? Who knows?
   36. Greg Pope thinks the Cubs are reeking havoc Posted: March 21, 2013 at 04:16 PM (#4393782)
Probably not a good comp due to age difference, but Rick Aguilera.
   37. attaboy Posted: March 21, 2013 at 04:51 PM (#4393803)
Joba went back to relief and was never the same. Extenuating circumstances, perhaps.
   38. Walt Davis Posted: March 21, 2013 at 05:06 PM (#4393812)
All Smoltz said was he didn't think that was a "fair assessment." He's built a bit of a strawman in the bit that precedes that but all he seems to be saying is that moving him to the rotation is not a no-risk move. To the extent there really are other people essentially saying that the downside here is Chapman going back to being a dominant closer, I'd have to go with Smoltz.

As a (not great) analogy, I recall Szym saying that research had shown substantial declines (on average) in defensive value after a position player had spent as little as one season away from his old position.

There's a lot to be said for "if it ain't broke, don't fix it." In this case there's obviously also a lot to be said for "fix it anyway." But then I'm a guy who probably never would have put him in the closer role to begin with. But then I'm a guy who probably wouldn't have a closer role. So I'm probably not the guy to ask.
   39. toratoratora Posted: March 21, 2013 at 05:37 PM (#4393831)
Didn't Derek Lowe go back n forth too? Crappy starter into decent closer then became a decent starter after
   40. snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster) Posted: March 21, 2013 at 06:08 PM (#4393847)
Joba went back to relief and was never the same. Extenuating circumstances, perhaps.

As I said above, we was pitching great as a starter, hurt his shoulder, then was bad in relief, had 30 great innings in 2011, then broke his ankle in that trampoline thing, and was bad last year.

He's been hurt too much to really judge anything.

Didn't Derek Lowe go back n forth too? Crappy starter into decent closer then became a decent starter after

Yup, like Smoltz, the reverse of what we're looking at with Chapman.
   41. Ivan Grushenko of Hong Kong Posted: March 21, 2013 at 07:06 PM (#4393875)
He also had a 3.60 ERA and 41 BB in 50 innings while relieving in 2011. Control might be a concern for him no matter the role.

Right, so if he's going to have bad control and high pitch counts, isn't that more tolerable in relief?

Anyone else?

Randy Myers started 12 games in 1991 and threw 70 IP with a 3.45 ERA and 1.3 K/BB, compared to a 3.65 ERA and 1.4 K/BB that same year in the pen in 62 IP. When he went back to relief he had an off year in 1992 but was just fine in 1993. Neil Allen went back and forth with mediocre results in both roles.
   42. snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster) Posted: March 21, 2013 at 07:40 PM (#4393892)
Right, so if he's going to have bad control and high pitch counts, isn't that more tolerable in relief?

The high pitch counts yes, but I'd think the walks are worse for a closer?
   43. SoSHially Unacceptable Posted: March 21, 2013 at 07:50 PM (#4393899)
Another reason I'd be hesitant is he's already spent parts of three seasons in the big leagues. If you assume 2013 would be a transition year where you're building his innings, then you're not going to have much time when he's that good to outstanding starter, delivering a full season's worth of innings, before he's pitching for the Dodgers.

   44. Walt Davis Posted: March 21, 2013 at 10:07 PM (#4393983)
Yup, like Smoltz, the reverse of what we're looking at with Chapman.

Depends how you look at. Chapman, like most relievers/closers with some recent exceptions, was of course a starting pitcher for most of his pre-majors career. He too would be going from starting to relieving back to starting just not at the ML level. That's probably true of almost all of the other examples offered so far. For example, Bedrosian did nothing but start in the minors. His first few years in the majors (ages 24-26) he kinda looks like your standard middle reliever break-in candidate getting multi-inning relief outings, the occasional start although he was getting a reasonable number of saves. His year in the rotation would suggest he might not have been cut out for starting as his K-rate dropped by about 3/9 ... maybe that would have been a 1-year adjustment but understandably 8+K/9 out of the bullpen in the 80s was a pretty nice thing to have.
   45. Jack Carter, calling Beleaguered Castle Posted: March 22, 2013 at 09:07 PM (#4394666)
He also had a 3.60 ERA and 41 BB in 50 innings while relieving in 2011. Control might be a concern for him no matter the role.

Given his low hit rate, doesn't the high walk rate play better as a starting pitcher?

I mean, if a SP has a bad inning where they walk 3 guys and let in 1-2 runs, no big deal. But for a closer, that's deadly.


Follow it through, though. If a SP has that bad inning only one inning out of seven innings, he's a hell of a starter. If a RP has that bad inning only one appearance out of seven one-inning appearances, he's a hell of a reliever.
   46. snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster) Posted: March 22, 2013 at 09:14 PM (#4394673)
Follow it through, though. If a SP has that bad inning only one inning out of seven innings, he's a hell of a starter. If a RP has that bad inning only one appearance out of seven one-inning appearances, he's a hell of a reliever.

If a starter only has that inning 1 out of 7, he wins the Cy Young award. 1.5 runs per 7 innings is a 1.92 ERA.

Let's say he has it 2 out of 7, As an SP, that's 3.86 ERA, and still useful. As a closer, he won't keep his job 2 months.
   47. I'm Old and I Blame the Pirates Posted: March 23, 2013 at 01:22 PM (#4394970)
Where should Chapman pitch?

In Pittsburgh
   48. CWS Keith plans to boo your show at the Apollo Posted: March 23, 2013 at 01:59 PM (#4394980)
I'm surprised AROM's mention of Chris Sale in the first post isn't discussed more, as it seems a rather easy comp to make (recency, similarity of the two). Sale was drafted in 2010 -- he spent half the year starting for FGCU and, after being drafted, was used as a reliever across several levels. In 2011 he spends the entire year relieving before being re-converted to a starter in 2012. Sale's a point in snapper's favor -- even if his arm falls off tomorrow, he gave the Sox close to a 6 bWAR season. I'd think that season alone puts him above the expected value of 13th overall picks.

Then again, I think TDA's point in post #17 is kind of a big deal. I'm too lazy to look for quotes, but I'm pretty sure Sale was pretty amenable to making the switch back to starter, despite the fact that he almost certainly would've been handed the closer role on a silver platter. Forcing Chapman into a role he's not crazy about doesn't seem like a good idea.

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