Offseason Stories: The Reds' Rotation

Posted by Jonathan @ RGB Cards | Posted in , ,

Quick - name the only team who had their Opening Day five-man rotation start 161 games last season, the most in the majors?

If you guessed the Cincinnati Reds, you either really know your box scores, or you surmised it from the headline at the top of the page.

Yes, the Reds were the most hardy rotation in the big leagues last season. And the good news for Cincinnati fans is that everybody returns; well, sort of.

Last year, the rotation was Johnny Cueto/Mat Latos/Bronson Arroyo/Homer Bailey/Mike Leake. And all five are still with the Reds. But Leake will be shifting to the bullpen. That's because a spot in middle relief opened up when Jonathan Broxton was anointed the club's new closer. And that's because the moment Reds fans have been waiting for these past three years has finally arrived:

Aroldis Chapman, the possessor of the fastest pitch in the history of Major League Baseball, is now a member of the Reds' rotation.

I'll admit, I am a member of the group of Reds fans that have been calling for this since the Cuban Missile was signed back in 2010. I didn't understand what was taking so long. If you want to ease him into big-league life, then sure, keep him in the bullpen during his September 2010 call up. But why did you spend all that money and a huge signing bonus on a set-up man (which is what Chapman was in 2011, and the start of 2012).

Another thing - Chapman always seemed like the type of pitcher who needed to get going. Not from a velocity standpoint, obviously, but from a control standpoint. When he was pitching out of the bullpen, it seemed like his modus operandi was to get himself into a jam, then pitch out of it (the "Francisco Cordero method" if you will). However, as the inning wore on, and if he were called on to pitch a second inning, he got much more dominant. For this reason, as late as May 2012, I was still advocating Chapman's entry into the rotation, given Leake's early-season struggles and my general distrust of Bailey.

Of course, Dusty Baker and Bryan Price had more faith in Bailey and Leake than I did. And, as it turns out, less faith in Sean Marshall. Thus, Aroldis the Closer was born.

It was, of course, the right move. The Reds rotation proved both dominating and hardy. Chapman thrived as a closer, and Marshall was much more comfortable in his previous role as a situational lefty. He'll stay in that role this year.

However, let's play "What if?" What if, for whatever reason, Broxton flames out as the closer? Well, my money is on Chapman, not Marshall, taking over the spot, with Leake reclaiming his place in the rotation. The thinking, of course, is that the pitching staff was so good last season, why not recreate it?

The answer of course, is that you can't. And the Reds know this, or else they wouldn't have moved Chapman to the rotation in the first place. 2012 was a very good year for the Reds in general and the pitching staff in particular, but it's already gone. I hope we see a full year of Chapman in the rotation, and that he lives up to all the expectations. I hope he breaks his 105.1 mph record at some point. I hope Johnny Cueto wins 20 games, Mat Latos surpasses him as the Reds' ace, and Bronson Arroyo has one last great season. And I hope that Homer Bailey doesn't do anything that pisses me off. The past five seasons in Cincinnati have been leading up to this. Now is the time.

How strange it is, then, that the most intriguing member of the rotation, the most durable and reliable in the majors, is the one who has exactly zero big-league starts to his name.

By the way, the reason the Reds' rotation only started 161 games instead of 162 wasn't because of injury, or incompetence, or general suckitude. It was because of a double-header that necessitated a pitcher called up from Triple-A for one start. If you can name that sixth starter for the Reds last year, I'll give you a prize. Please be honest - it'd be easy to look it up, but as we all know, the internet and smart phones are the bane of trivia contests everywhere.

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