It’s time for our Depth Chart Discussions. In an effort to suss out every team, we’ve divided them into four parts (infield, outfield, bullpen, and rotation) and will begin breaking them down for you over the next few weeks. You can find them gathered here.
As Aroldis Chapman inches closer to free agency, decision makers in Cincinnati must be getting uncomfortable. Chapman is signed through 2016. Should he remain healthy over the next two seasons, he will sign a record breaking contract for a reliever. Since they’re unlikely to re-sign him, there will be increasing pressure to trade him while his value is highest.
The scariest part is the state of the Reds bullpen – they have no obvious alternative to Chapman. Cincinnati is lucky. We live in an era where at least 75 pitchers meet the basic requirements of a closer (and that excludes non-major league talent). Replacing Chapman is next to impossible, but finding a viable closer is easy.
The Big Dog
A summary of Chapman’s many elite talents seems redundant. By now, you all know of his many exploits last season. He averaged 100 mph with his fastball. He struck out over 50 percent of batters faced. He threw a changeup that was whiffed in 19 out of 20 swings. The man was a living legend. We may never again see such dominant peripherals.
Despite the ridiculous nature of his season, he only managed a 2.00 ERA. By today’s standards, that’s good but unimpressive. Of pitchers who threw at least 30 innings, he ranked 29th in ERA. In this one measure that counts the most, Chapman was outperformed by Jared Hughes, Fernando Abad, Buddy Carlyle, Bryan Morris, and Dan Jennings. I bet $5 you haven’t heard of at least one of those pitchers. They’re the kind of guys you get to know if your job is to cover relievers.
Of course, we know ERA isn’t very predictive. A 0.89 FIP, 1.20 xFIP, 1.09 SIERA validate his elite performance. Our best metric for predicting future performance – K-BB% – is even sunnier. From 1950 to present, only one pitcher has ever out performed the 40.6 percent K-BB% posted by Chapman. It was the 2012 version of Craig Kimbrel with 44.2 percent K-BB%.
The Other Guys
The Other Guys is an enjoyable movie. Similarly, the blue collar crew in the Reds pen should be pleasant to watch. Just don’t ask anybody to knock down a save.
LeCure is the veteran Cincinnati. He’s the guy who has been around since the war and knows where all the skeletons are buried (in truth, he’s been with the Reds since 2010). The soft-tossing righty lost another two mph off his fastball en route to his worst season since he debuted. A 3.81 ERA, 7.62 K/9, and 3.81 BB/9 aren’t fantast relevant numbers. If he can pitch like it’s 2013 (2.66 ERA, 9.74 K/9), he could be a nice source of holds.
Another southpaw, Parra, was used in a purely situational role. It’s funny to see Parra throw 36 innings in 53 appearances after years of starting with the Brewers. Clearly, Milwaukee misinterpreted his skill set. If he’s kept away from righties, he could rack up 10 to 15 holds with solid ratios.
Improbably, Diaz could be the second string closer if Chapman lands on the disabled list. Jumbo lives up to his name, listed at a generous 315 pounds. For all his size, he can huck mustard. Mostly leaning on a 97 mph fastball and frequent sliders, Diaz posted a 3.38 ERA, 9.61 K/9, and 3.63 BB/9 in his debut season. He’ll be 31 this year.
Another name to watch if Chapman hits the skids is Hoover. The righty was a candidate to close last season, although he’s poorly suited to Great American Ballpark. With a tiny career ground ball rate of 28.5 percent, Hoover is a threat to give up the long ball in any outing. His strikeout rate is sufficient (10.77 K/9), but he walks too many hitters (4.45 BB/9). He generally shows better walk rates, so we can expect his 4.88 ERA to improve.
I challenge you to find a fantasy league where Badenhop is relevant. The Reds recently signed the free agent, so there’s no question they intend to use him. He’s a contact oriented ground ball specialist.
Could the Reds bridge from one Cuban to another in the ninth inning? They want Iglesias to start, but many scouts and his old Cuban managers prefer him out of the bullpen. Per Baseball America, Iglesias combines a mid-90’s fastball with a sweeping curve. I read a lot of glowing reports while he was in Arizona last fall, but I’ve yet to see him in action. He could factor into the late innings as soon as this season. It just depends if and when the Reds give up on him as a starter.
Former closer candidate Marshall is still lurking on the roster. He’s recovering from a shoulder injury. His 14 innings in 2014 revealed a disturbing command problem. Marshall’s always survived with low walk rates. If he makes it back to the majors this season, expect to see a shadow of Marshall-past.
Maholm and Axelrod will compete for the long reliever role. It’s at least conceivable that either or both hurlers could beat out Tony Cingrani, Anthony DeSclafani, Matt Magill, and David Holmberg for the final two rotation spots. Axelrod showed a little sizzle late last season despite underwhelming stuff.
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