Keeper Search: Aroldis Chapman

I hate to judge a player’s long term value on only 26 1/3 innings spread out over two seasons (as of May 18), but given all the buzz Cincinnati Reds lefty pitcher Aroldis Chapman has generated since signing with the Reds before the 2010 season, it seems like now is a critical time to get a good read on his potential.

Defecting from Cuba and signing a 5-year deal with the Reds, Chapman lights up radar guns every time he takes the mound. His debut season in the US would have been the biggest story of the year if Stephen Strasburg hadn’t also made his pro ball debut.

Chapman’s debut was a success and teased of things to come as he went 2-2 in 13 1/3 IP while posting 19 K, 5 BB and a 1.05 WHIP. The early success fueled the talk about Chapman during the offseason and many wondered if he would actually end up taking over the closer role in 2011 given the fact the Reds had no need for a starter.

Buzz continued to grow once 2011 got underway as Chapman opened the season with 11 2/3 scoreless innings in which he went 2-0 with 12 K and a 1.03 WHIP but the chinks in the armor were showing as Chapman had walked 8 of the 12 batters he had allowed to reach base.

In the four appearances since his scoreless streak ended, Chapman has allowed 10 earned runs in 1 1/3 IP (ouch!) while walking 12 batters and striking out only 3. His ERA to-date (he hasn’t pitched since May 15) sits at 6.92 and his K/BB ratio sits at 0.75 (15K and 20 BB). Obviously something is horribly wrong with Chapman and given his track record with guys like Mark Prior and Kerry Wood, everyone’s wants to know if Dusty Baker ruined another promising young arm.

Chapman is now on the 15-day DL with shoulder inflammation and owners in re-draft leagues are dropping him like crazy. Obviously a 15-day DL stint shouldn’t have that much impact on a keeper league roster, but if Chapman doesn’t profile as a keeper then you can use his roster spot for someone else.

Given how easily his small sample size can be influenced by one or two good or bad outings, looking at the underlying skills can be deceiving. Before this season Chapman had a 3.80 K/BB but this year it has dropped to  0.75. However, his K/9 rate remains above 10.0, opposing BA has dropped from .196 to .143 and opposing SLG is down from .217 to .190 – these are all elite numbers.

Unfortunately, Chapman is still valued more on his name than his production and while middle relievers are valuable to have if you are trying to control your ratio categories, there are few, if any, that have any business being kept from one season to the next. And as things look right now, there are no immediate plans to move Chapman into the rotation and he is not next in line to inherit the closing role. Unless something changes that allows Chapman to move to one of those roles, he is not worthy of a keeper spot at this point.

If you can stash him on the DL, it won’t hurt to keep him there for the time being but if he’s on your bench, I would look to try and cash in on his name value before it’s gone. Chapman and his heater will eventually make a bigger mark on the MLB landscape but the odds are it won’t be for a couple more years.

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About Jim Higgins

Jim grew up in San Diego the son of a Washington, D.C. native so naturally he roots for the Washington Redskins and San Diego Padres. After seeing his favorite teams win a couple of titles early in his life, he has spent the last 20 years wondering if his teams will ever amount to anything again. At least he has multiple fantasy baseball and football titles to soften the blow.

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