Mark J. Rebilas-US PRESSWIRE
The Reds are going to get Aroldis Chapman ready as a starter. But Chapman is coming off a year in which he threw 71 2/3 innings. Big jumps in innings often lead to injuries for young starters.
The Cincinnati.com article suggests that Chapman will be on an innings-limit to be determined, which makes sense. There are a few cautionary tales in the recent history of reliever-to-starter conversions. Neftali Feliz's elbow injury might have been mostly unrelated to converting … or it might have been very much related. Daniel Bard might still be among the land of the living if he were still a reliever. Lance Lynn wore down, moving from All-Star to emergency starter in October. Even Chris Sale -- the biggest success story from last year -- had dead-arm periods and issues with a tender elbow.
There's also the recent cautionary tale of Aroldis Chapman. If you'll remember, this chap threw 103, but he went on the DL in 2011 after a disastrous stretch during which he couldn't find the strike zone. He got right (and how), but even last year he struggled with fatigue problems toward the end of the year. He might be a young pitcher, or he might be a finicky sports car, always in the shop.
But you have to do it, right? That's the default argument, that you can't waste an arm like that out of the bullpen, even if there are risks to stretching him out. And I agree with it. It's one of the things that comes with your Internet-baseball-fan manual. Starters are more valuable than relievers, therefore it's always a good idea to turn your best relievers into starting pitchers. Here's a quick Q&A about it:
Q: What about the repertoire? Don't starters have to have more than two pitches?
A: Maybe. But that can be overblown. There's really only one starting pitcher who survives solely on two pitches (Justin Masterson), but there are several who pretty much survive on two pitches. Over 96 percent of the pitches Wade Miley threw were either a fastball or slider. Over 90 percent of the pitches Ross Detwiler, A.J. Burnett, and Gio Gonzalez threw were fastballs or curveballs.
The idea of learning a new pitch sounds impossible and daunting, but it wouldn't have to be thrown that often. With a heavy fastball and nasty slider, the other pitch could develop over time with increasingly more frequent usage … or it could forever remain the kind of pitch that Chapman throws every 15th pitch just to keep the hitters honest. Either way.
Q: What about the injury risk and the fatigue? Shouldn't those be a concern?
A: Probably. But relievers get hurt, too. Each team has to decide how they'll set their own risk/reward sliders. Because the reward is huge. The reward for an arm like Chapman's in the rotation is Randy Johnson. That's one of the few times where that comparison isn't hyperbole. Chapman's fastball/slider combination over 200 innings has a chance to rank as one of the best arsenals in the history of the game.
Q: Got it. So what you're saying is that even though there's a risk, and even though the Reds need to introduce something else into Chapman's arsenal that he can throw a small percentage of the time, you're in favor of the move.
A: Yes, for sure.
Q: So why wouldn't you be in favor of a similar move for Craig Kimbrel?
Q: Or the Royals, who could desperately use a frontline starter … shouldn't they convert Kelvin Herrera now? Heck, Herrera and Greg Holland. Take a chance, lest you be left with some relievers to hold leads that you won't have in the first place, right?
Q: What's the difference?
A. I don't know … it's complicated. There's more to it than pushing a button. There's frame and endurance. There's the opinion of the coaches and the organization.
A. Get out of my house.
Searching my own feelings about Chapman led me to an epiphany: Converting a reliever to a starter is only a good idea if the team suggests it first. The Reds say Chapman can start? Oh, hell yes he can. That's what I'm talking about, yessiree. Should the Braves move Kimbrel to the rotation, too? What are you, high? No, he's too small, he wouldn't hold up over a full season, and he has only two pitches.
The difference is that one organization thought it was a good idea, and they said so out loud, which gives you the support of the people who know more than you do.
There's no point, really. Just sharing my epiphany. I know it's more complicated to convert a starter than a lot of people might think, that it wasn't just a matter of throwing pitches until you have enough experience points to level up. But I didn't realize how patiently I was waiting for teams to suggest a reliever conversion before I'd hop on the bandwagon.
Well, you know what? I'm tired of being a subservient yes-man. I'm going to go out on my own for this one. Craig Kimbrel should start. Yeah, I wrote it. Who's with me? Come on, people, let's get a movement going!
If it's okay with the Braves, that is.
Eh, I'm just happy that Chapman is starting. And I'll wait patiently for the next team to announce something similar.