All pitchers are born pitchers.
Of course, when DiMaggio uttered those words, pitchers were a completely different breed. They took the ball and they would not let it go unless you pried it from their cold, dead fingers. Today’s pitchers are in fact born that way (I’m not going to get into a conversation about creation or anything like that), but now they are born into specific roles.
And Aroldis Chapman is a born reliever.
The 24-year-old Cuban flamethrower was a bonafide Cy Young award candidate in the National League in 2012. Chapman’s season was absolutely filthy for the Reds, making 68 appearances with a 1.51 ERA, 1.55 FIP, and 122 strike-outs (15.32) in 71.2 innings pitched. Only Craig Kimbrel of the Braves was more devastating out of the bullpen in 2012 and was the only man in baseball to post a lower FIP (0.78) and higher K/9 (16.66) to Chapman’s respective statistics in those categories.
So why are the Reds looking at possibly moving Chapman to the starting rotation?
It comes down to greed. The Reds are hoping are weighing if Chapman’s dominance is worth more to them over the course of 175 to 200 innings a season, but only once every five days, or 65-70 innings a season but in high leverage situations.
The true gauge on any such experiment will be whether Chapman can remain effective while having to dial back his fastball and utilizing his other pitches. His average velocity with the fastball last season was 98.1 MPH according to FanGraphs, while he dialed it back with a slider that averaged 87.5 MPH and a change-up that sat at 93.1 MPH.
The problem there was Chapman relied on his fastball an astounding 80% of the time, throwing his slider just 14.3% and his change-up 5.7 %. As a starter, he’d need to rely on his other pitches in order to keep batters honest, especially if he cannot sit in the triple-digits with his fastball for 6 innings an outing. And it is tough to rely on a change-up that is still a 93 MPH pitch and only gets a swinging-strike 11% of the time it is thrown. As a starter, Chapman is going to look awful enticing to hitters once the fourth or fifth inning hits.
There are other factors to consider here as well. Chapman experienced shoulder fatigue late in the season in 2012, so adding to his workload in 2013 seems counter-productive. There is also the recent example of Boston trying to convert their own flame-throwing reliever, Daniel Bard, into a starter, only to watch his control completely dissipate and batters teeing off on his reduced velocity.
No, Aroldis Chapman belongs in the bullpen, being the rock at the end of the game for the Reds. Nevermind the chances of bringing back Ryan Madson or Jonathan Broxton as possibly replacements and moving Chapman into a role where he will be nearly meaningless at least four days a week.
That is, unless you enjoy watching Dusty Baker breaking pitchers.