Chapman Leads Impressive Baker-Free Reds Bullpen

The Cincinnati Reds bullpen offers little in the way of drama, unless you consider shut-down, lights-out closers to be dramatic.

Yes, it’s Aroldis Chapman atop the food chain in the Queen City, and there’s little reason to doubt he’ll once again be one of fantasy baseball’s premiere closers. Of course, there’s always the hope the Reds decide to use him more, further leveraging their $5 million investment for 2014.

Chapman is good. Very good.

As a professional, he’s posted a 2.40 ERA, 2.27 FIP and 2.35 xFIP over 198.2 innings, striking out 324 batters. He’s blown just 13 saves in 90 opportunities and has 108 shutdowns to just 23 meltdowns. He is, in a word, ridiculous.

And really, that could be the entire post on the Reds bullpen right there.

However, new Reds manager and former pitching coach Bryan Price reportedly wants to get more use out of Chapman, which would be a noble and much-appreciated pursuit. From a non-fantasy perspective, it’s no secret that only using your closer only in save situations is a pretty terrible use of resources.

Dusty Baker under-utilized Chapman, such that despite his dominant performance he was worth just 1.6 wins above replacement with just a 1.09 win probability added. Of the 35 closers with at least 10 saves in 2013, Chapman ranked just ninth in average leverage index when he entered a game, 20th in total innings pitched and 13th in RA9-WAR. For a guy who led all relievers in strikeout rate and had a WHIP just north of 1.00 (1.04), those rankings seem far too low.

If Price does, in fact, use Chapman more, perhaps even topping his 71.2 innings from 2012, the benefits are obvious for fantasy owners: more strikeouts and a greater impact on your ratios. Cross your fingers for Chapman to take on a bigger role outside of just 1-2-3 ninth innings.

The Setup Guys
J.J. Hoover
Sean Marshall

Hoover and Marshall are a really nice setup duo, giving the Reds a solid back end overall. Neither figures to matter in the saves chase unless Chapman goes down, of course, and in that event it would be Hoover who you scramble to add. In formats deep enough to own relievers (or holds leagues), Hoover might be ownable, anyway. He strikes out a shade over a batter an inning and has a 2.61 ERA (3.38 FIP) in 96.2 career innings. The walk rate isn’t great and the low HR/FB rate is a bit scary considering the ballpark and how low his ground ball rate is, but the strikeouts are enticing. Marshall, meanwhile, has been an elite lefty setup man for years now, though his 2013 was obviously derailed by injury, limiting him to 10.1 innings. When healthy, the profile is even more impressive than Hoover’s. The Reds are clearly okay with a lefty closer (Chapman), but the lack of left-handed depth in the pen means the team may not be able to afford promoting Marshall if Chapman goes down.

Middle Relief
Sam LeCure
Manny Parra
Logan Ondrusek
Alfredo Simon

LeCure gives the Reds another righty with an appreciable strikeout rate and a track record of excellent ratios, but he’s a rung or two down the ladder when it comes to save-chasing. Parra has looked far better as a reliever the past few years than he did as a starter, spiking his strikeout rate and becoming death to lefties. There’s no path to saves, but boy, does this Reds pen look pretty solid. It feels like Simon is 100 years old (he’s 33), but somehow he still dances around an inability to punch batters out to provide decent back-end help. Ondrusek is just kind of there, perhaps set for another minor league stint whenever Broxton’s healthy.

Oh Yeah
Jonathan Broxton
Broxton is here, too, getting paid handsomely (read: more than Chapman) to eventually assume a setup role once again. He struggled with performance and injury in 2013, limiting him to 30.2 innings and a 4.11 ERA. It’s almost as if the Reds shouldn’t have rewarded his 2012 (2.48 ERA in 58 innings) simply based on ERA, even though his strikeout rate and velocity weren’t in the ballpark of his peak years. As it is, Broxton will earn $7 million to pitch in middle relief. Three-year strikeout rate be damned, Broxton could be second in line for saves based on “closer experience,” though it’s tough to get a read on how Price would handle such a situation yet.

Blake Murphy is a freelance sportswriter based out of Toronto. Formerly of the Score, he's the managing editor at Raptors Republic and frequently pops up at Sportsnet, Vice, and around here. Follow him on Twitter @BlakeMurphyODC.

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