Daniel Kelley posted his closer rankings for 2014 on Monday morning, and he ranked Reds closer Aroldis Chapman as his fourth ranked closer, behind only Craig Kimbrel, Kenley Jansen and Greg Holland. You really can't argue too much on the ranking, as these four closers are the first four off the board in the drafts I have seen, and it comes to personal preference, really.
Remember earlier in the offseason we heard the reports that Aroldis Chapman spends a lot of his down time in the offseason sleeping and smoking cigarettes? He said he was bored. Well, Reds new manager Bryan Price is doing his best to make sure Chapman isn't bored this season.
I am here today to suggest that Chapman may be the #1 closer in 2014. Why, you ask? Well, looking at his spring training appearances, we see the following:
Feb. 28 vs CLE: 1 IP, 3 K
Mar. 3 vs SEA: 2 IP, 3 H, ER, 3 K
Mar. 7 vs CWS: 2 IP, 2 H, ER, 3 K
Mar. 11 vs SFG: 3 IP, 1 H, 0 ER, 1 BB, 1 K
He has pitched two innings or more in three of his four outings thus far. Doesn't make sense to have your closer throw 2-3 innings in each appearance, does it? But maybe it does. Price indicated that he is stretching Chapman out to allow him to pitch multiple innings this season. Price stated earlier this offseason that he would like Chapman to pitch more than 60 innings in 2014, thus the reason for Chapman throwing 2-3 innings in spring training. The increase in innings, if that is still the plan, could result in more strikeouts for Chapman this season.
Here is a look at Chapman's stats over the last three seasons:
2011: 50 IP, 71 K, 41 BB, 3.60 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, 12.78 K/9
2012: 71.2 IP, 122 K, 23 BB, 1.51 ERA, 0.81 WHIP. 15.32 K/9
2013: 63.2 IP, 112 K, 29 BB, 2.54 ERA, 1.04 WHIP, 15.83 K/9
Last season, he led all relievers in strikeouts despite pitching in just 63.2 innings. For comparison purposes, below you will find the innings pitched and strikeout totals for the reliever/closers listed right behind him:
Kenley Jansen: 76.2 IP, 111 K
Trevor Rosenthal: 75.1 IP, 108 K
Greg Holland: 67 IP, 103 K
Koji Uehara: 74.1 IP, 101 K
Craig Kimbrel: 67 IP, 98 K
Ernesto Frieri: 68.2 IP, 98 K
To repeat, Chapman led all relievers in strikeouts despite pitching less innings last season.
If Chapman can exceed the 71.2 innings he pitched in 2012, he could strikeout 130-140 hitters this season. He averaged just under 16 strikeouts per nine innings last season. Let's assume he can strike out 15 batters per nine this season, and he pitches 80 innings, his strikeout total would be in the 130-135 range, to go along with his 40+ saves.
The increase in innings pitched this season, and the resulting increase in strikeouts, could vault him into the #1 spot in closer rankings, as his strikeout totals could be 20-30 more than other closers this season.
Assuming he strikes out 135-140 batters this season, here is a list of starting pitchers who did not strike out 135 batters last season:
Andrew Casher: 128 strikeouts in 175 innings
Wily Peralta: 129 Ks in 183.1 innings
Jarrod Parker: 134 Ks in 197 innings
Alex Cobb: 134 Ks in 143.1 innings
There were others, but those were pitchers who may be drafted in 2014.
The downside of Chapman pitching multiple innings is whether or not he can pitch a day after pitching two innings. Will the idea of Chapman pitching multiple innings reduce the number of save opportunities for him this season. I doubt that. I see Price building up his arm strength and endurance to handle pitching on multiple days even after pitching multiple innings. If you aren't going to put this talent in the rotation, take advantage of his power arm in the bullpen to get more than three outs. I imagine Price has Chapman on a schedule to pitch back to back days pitching multiple innings.
So, should Chapman be the #1 closer due to his strikeout potential?