Those of you who drafted Chapman for this season, took him hoping that he would make the rotation out of spring training. He certainly looked the part – with a 2.12 ERA, 18 K and 2 BB in 17 innings. Yes, they are spring stats, but with Chapman, it was all that we had (other than a handful of starts at Triple-A back in 2010) – and the scouting reports were positive.
We all know what happened from there. Chapman ended up getting bumped from the rotation in favor of Mike Leake and ended up turning in one of the greatest seasons a relief pitcher has put together in the last decade or two. He threw 71 2/3 innings with a 1.51 ERA, 0.81 WHIP and a 122-23 K/BB rate. Not only was he completely dominant, but he took over the closer’s role from Sean Marshall in May and racked up 38 saves in essentially four months on the job. If Chapman was going into 2013 as the Reds’ closer again, he’d be the #1b at the position to Craig Kimbrel’s #1a (who’s making history in his own right).
However, things appear about to finally change for the flame-throwing left-hander. The Reds signed Jonathan Broxton to a 3-year deal earlier this week, and not only gave him closer money, but also spoke publicly about wanting to move Chapman into the rotation for 2013. And therein lies the dilemma for keeper/dynasty league owners. In this off-season of both role and performance uncertainty, how do you value Aroldis Chapman?
It’s tempting to look at other reliever-to-starter conversion projects and extrapolate data from those successes/failures, but the problem with that is every circumstance and pitcher is different. The first thing you’re probably thinking of is 2012 Chris Sale – another hard-throwing lefty who moved from a pretty dominant relief arm to a pretty dominant starter. But even Sale couldn’t hold a candle to Chapman out of the ‘pen. In 2011, Sale had a 2.79 ERA, 3.12 FIP and 10.0 K/9 in relief . In 2012, Sale had a 3.05 ERA, 3.27 FIP and 9.0 K/9 in the rotation. If you start trying to measure out Chapman’s potential numbers in the rotation based on what Sale did, Chapman comes out as potentially the #1 fantasy starter in baseball. But we know that’s extremely unlikely to happen. Jeff Samardzija went from reliever to starter and improved, but it was mostly due to a new approach. Daniel Bard went in the opposite direction after his command completely abandoned him. Neftali Feliz also went south, but in his case, it was his elbow that abandoned him.
So if we can’t look to other examples for clarity, we just need to view the entire package and the risk involved in each outcome. This may be a little simplified, but here are the five potential outcomes, as I see it, for Chapman in 2013: 1) The Sale – he ends up being a dominant starter, but pitches only around 180 innings. 2) The Darvish – he ends up being an inconsistent starter with flashes of brilliance. 3) The Feliz – he ends up pitching OK and then getting hurt. 4) The Bard – he pitches poorly in the rotation and the Reds move him back to the bullpen. 5) The 2012 Chapman – the Reds change their minds and keep him in the bullpen the whole year.
The chart below shows my best approximation for both the odds of each scenario happening and the what he should be worth if it ends up coming true:
Because his valuations are not only better than my non-existent valuations, but would be better than ones I would create anyway, I used Mike Gianella’s AL/NL only values for the outcomes (you can check them all out at Roto Think Tank). The only ones I altered was the Bard, because it accounts for the additional value Chapman would have in the bullpen during the second half over what Bard ended up having (Bard was actually worth -$2 in 2012), and the Darvish, because I scaled it down to reflect a 175 IP season, rather than the 191 innings Darvish pitched (he was worth $23 in 2012).
This exercise tells me that $20 is a good jumping off point for Chapman’s 2013 value. And if you’re curious how that lines up with 2012′s auction prices, we’re talking about the Wainwright, Darvish, Shields, Moore level from the pre-season – so right around the #20 spot among starters. And based on how you felt about Moore and Darvish going into the season, you can pretty much judge whether your risk tolerance as an owner is in line with this assessment or not.
For keeper league owners, it’s not a matter of whether Chapman should be kept – unless you’re in a league which keeps fewer than 100 players, he’d kind of a no brainer – it’s more about whether you can get more for him on the open market right now than you think he’ll be worth in 2013. If someone is willing to pay you near 2012 Chapman value or 2012 Sale value for him, it may be a good time to cash in and spend elsewhere on someone more reliable. Same for dynasty league owners, although this is all a little less of a concern, as the issues around his uncertainty are mostly limited to 2013, and possibly 2014. I’m not particularly worried that the Reds continue to send Chapman out there in the rotation if he ends up being a middling option at best, since that would be where his value would be most depressed. So, while it’s a pain to have to not be confident about where one of your best arms will end up long-term, you should at least feel comfortable that he’ll hold value. As long as he stays healthy.