A toxic narrative has developed that the Reds assigned Aroldis Chapman to the bullpen because of the pitcher’s mental weakness, a condition that disqualified him from being in the starting rotation. It’s a scurrilous notion that needs to be examined and, in my opinion, flatly rejected.

The root of the theory comes from a single statement the pitcher made through a translator that he enjoyed the excitement of closing. From there, some analysts (and then fans) immediately inferred that Chapman was communicating a reluctance to be a starter. It then followed that if the Reds assigned Chapman to the starting rotation he’d be uncomfortable with it. Chapman’s statement became viewed as a call for help, and people have come to darkly question whether Chapman has the “mental makeup” to be a starter.

New conventional wisdom: “The Reds know a deep secret about Chapman’s mental state that dictates he remain in the bullpen.”

But Aroldis Chapman didn’t say that he didn’t like being in the rotation. In fact, a couple months earlier, he said the opposite. Here, straight from the Missile’s mouth:

“I enjoyed being a closer, and I’m going to miss it, but I still like to be a starter,” Chapman said at the Reds’ fan fest. “I would love to do both, but my career is so short, and I always enjoyed being a starter. That’s what I want to do.”

Chapman subsequently expressed a preference for coming out of the bullpen. Fair enough. But if the “Chapman is mentally unfit to start” theory is premised on the idea that he didn’t like starting, then it’s pretty easy to demonstrate as false.

Second, are we to believe a pitcher has the mental makeup to be a closer, but not a starter? Please explain that. If anything, the closer potentially confronts more compressed, pressure-packed situations. Starters develop more routinized schedules and know well in advance whom they will face and the circumstances.

It’s certainly possible for a pitcher to have physical limitations (only one pitch, etc.) that warrant them being in the bullpen instead of the rotation. But it’s really hard to imagine a credible theory for a mental barrier.

Third, the theory of his unfitness for the rotation is belied by the plain fact that Chapman has been the best starter on the club in at least the past two spring trainings. Moreover, he was a successful starting pitcher in Cuba, for an authoritarian government that puts an intense spotlight on its baseball team. The idea that Chapman somehow doesn’t have the mental makeup for being a starter doesn’t really pass the smell test, based on his own history.

Finally, Chapman is just 25 years old. If a club isn’t sure whether a young pitcher has the sufficient maturity to be a starting pitcher all that means is that the pitcher is normal. So you send him out there and give him a reasonable trial period and find out. Then you give him another chance. And another. Especially when an athlete has the obvious potential that Aroldis Chapman has.

You know what you don’t do? You don’t give up on him being a starter at age 24 or 25 based on maturity or mental makeup. See: Homer Bailey and Mat Latos and Johnny Cueto and virtually every other successful starting pitcher who began with less maturity than they eventually developed.

Bottom line: The Reds organization simply calculated that Aroldis Chapman had more present value as a closer than as a starter. You can legitimately agree or disagree with that. But to take it a step further and say that the pitcher has an irremediable mental weakness is, like most speculation about the psychological makeup of athletes, complete nonsense.

And a quite unappealing brand of Chapmania.

46 Responses

  1. renbutler

    But playing armchair psychologist is a staple of the Internet! If you take that away from people, they’ll have to find another way to express their superior intelligence. 😀

  2. CP

    Good article. Bailey, Votto, and Phillips have all been subject to the same fan-based psycho analysis. It’s always extremely yucky. You don’t have to be a SABR-type to recognize the lunacy of tv/radio diagnosis

  3. Noggy

    I haven’t heard much about the mental weakness of Chapman actually. From the forums I follow it’s a different viewpoint that could be grouped into a critique on Chapman’s mentality. You are spot on about people that criticize his mental capacity, which you explained especially well in your third point.

    But there’s a difference from what some fans/critics think about Chapman, that is Chapman would rather pitch 1 inning than 5-8 innings while getting paid the same. It suggests a laziness but I don’t believe that at all. From his viewpoint, would you rather work for 10 minutes or 2 hours for the same price? Starters also have higher risk of injury, would you risk that when you don’t have to? Let’s be honest, closers get the glory. Unless a starter completes a game, most leave to a smatter of applause in the 7th. In the 9th, they play his song, he runs by himself from the bullpen and all eyes are on him. This is my theory about the situation. Any thoughts?

  4. Sultan of Swaff

    We all work with people who are a bit odd in their demeanor and mannerisms, and those are the ones who are generally viewed as less trustworthy. I think the same thing is happening here.

    There IS something about him that is not like everyone else. As an athlete, it’s probably not a weakness, maybe it’s even a strength, but it is real. I mean, ever notice neither Hanigan or Mez ever have a meaningful exchange with the guy following a save? It’s like he’s a complete stranger.

    I think the source of this comes from our natural human need to feel like he’s ‘one of us’.

    • Matt WI

      @Sultan of Swaff: Don’t discount the cultural aspect of some of that. I don’t know if either Mez or Hanigan speak fluent Spanish, and I can’t readily think of witnessing more than the congratulatory high-five or butt slap from most catchers and pitchers anywhere. And those 20 sec on tv speak to nothing about the relationships within the clubhouse itself. I’m reading a book right now, “Class A Baseball in the Middle of Everywhere” (to be reviewed on an off day thread) but it notes the racial divide in the clubhouse of a minor league team a bit. I’d guess that’s largely true even in the bigs, as much as we’d like to imagine differently.

      But I don’t think it’s unreasonable to think Chapman is still feeling his way through American culture in the spotlight.

  5. I-71_Exile

    The problem rests with members of the Redleg Nation coming to the conclusion that Aroldis and the Reds would best be served by him starting. When the Reds chose a different path we had to come up with a rationale for their decision besides “are they crazy/stupid?!?”. Therefore, it must be his “make-up” or his lack of secondary pitches.

    We don’t know what it is. It could be simple necessity, immaturity, make-up, or something else entirely. We don’t know. We DO know that Aroldis and the highway patrol don’t mix and that his judgement for on-the-road companionship is sketchy at best.

    • Matt WI

      @I-71_Exile: I don’t think speeding tickets for a newly minted millionaire speaks to much. Somehow stealing from Macy’s isn’t preventing Mike Leake from starting, and doing well at that.

      • Matt WI

        @Matt WI: And just to be clear… I care very little and extrapolate even less about any of these off the field incidents.

      • I-71_Exile

        @Matt WI: My only point there really was that Aroldis is immature. I’m not trying to pass judgement. Most 25 year olds are. That said, a classmate of my son is part of the Cuban community here in Louisville and has driven with Aroldis. He says it’s terrifying. It could just be a kid telling stories. I know I’m terrified when I my own son drives me around. 🙂

      • greenmtred

        @Matt WI: :The explanation that I heard about the “stealing” episode was that he was exchanging stuff he’d bought and trying to avoid the hassle of doing it by the book. Silly, but not really stealing. If it’s true.

    • CP

      @I-71_Exile: I disagree with the #1st paragraph completely. In fact, I’d say the people saying Chapman should start are the least likely people to suggest that he (or any other player treated in a similar manner) has mental issues.

      • I-71_Exile

        @CP: That’s fine. I don’t really know the source of the “bad make up” meme. Just postulating and more pop psychology. Judging by the tone of your comment, may we agree that it’s unfair to Aroldis?

    • Steve Mancuso

      @I-71_Exile: I’m sure Aroldis Chapman is the only major league baseball player to have questionable judgment about his on-the-road companionship. Or any of the rest of us, for that matter. 🙂

      • I-71_Exile

        @Steve Mancuso: True. Maybe one of the adjustments to American life is learning to hide these things? 🙂

    • NYredfanatic


      Agreed… We have no idea what the “real” reasoning is for him being in the pen and not the rotation. The fact is the organization and powers that make the decisions feels it is best for him to be the closer. Plain and simple… They make the decisions.

      Fans often want to jump on those people and make their own opinions known (which is great… God Bless America). My question to those same people though is aren’t we far better off right now following the Reds and this manager and the FO we have than we were 5 years ago? Ten years ago? 15 years ago? We had some rough years of fan experiences and over look that we have a team whose success is no longer a fluke anymore. Have fun and enjoy being a Reds fan right now and enjoy this success of being one of the best teams in the game!

  6. reaganspad

    I agree Matt. I have a bigger problem with Leake’s off the field behavior as a college graduate versus a young guy from cuba racing in his new car.

  7. bohdi

    The whole argument about Chapman is best summed up by this:

    “If a club isn’t sure whether a young pitcher has the sufficient maturity to be a starting pitcher all that means is that the pitcher is normal. So you send him out there and give him a reasonable trial period and find out.”

    Bottom line, the guy has way too much talent not to at least be given that “trial period.” Everything else is superflous.

  8. Richard Fitch

    I never got the impression that many people thought there was some “irremediable mental weakness” with Chapman. Nor do I think the theory came from his supposed change of heart. He was being pulled in two different directions and reacted the way any young man would act who wants to please his employers.

    I’ve used the phrase “mental makeup” as a possible reason. It’s not unreasonable to think that there are reasons beyond the physical. Like loneliness. The stress of having to leave behind your home country knowing you can’t go back. Leaving your child and your child’s mother and not knowing when you will see them again. Or the retribution they might face because of your decision. There are legal issues as well some people don’t know about. Plus, there’s just some very strange behavior since he’s been in the U.S. that suggests at the very least immaturity.

    That’s a lot of stuff to deal with, even if he were 35, let alone 25.

    As far as I’m concerned, the signing of Broxton to close meant the FO was committed. Then, they weren’t. Could be physical concerns. Could be all the other extraneous stuff swirling around his life. Maybe they only came to the realization of how dramatically it was affecting him late in the process.

    I see nothing dark here.

    • rightsaidred

      @Richard Fitch: You talk about Broxton and that raises an interesting point. As with most decision the motivation was probably an assortment of factors, not the least of which was the other options at closer.

      Walt on Sean Marshall (12/11): “It’s a possibility,” Reds general manager Walt Jocketty said. “We’re still talking with (Francisco) Cordero. If we don’t sign him or acquire a closer, we have several guys who we feel can go to that role and Sean would certainly be one of them.”

      Walt was more reticent on Broxton but he said this during the offseason and prior to signing Broxton: “It depends on if we re-sign [Jonathan] Broxton and [Ryan] Madson,” Jocketty said. “Or if we get another closer.”
      He then signed Broxton at a closer’s price. Everyone and their mother wisely speculated that changes were in store for Chapman.

      When Walt announced the decision to keep Chapman in the pen his message was clear: Reds GM Walt Jocketty says Aroldis Chapman, as closer, gives Reds the best chance to win.

      Marshall was tepidly tried as a closer and the dividends weren’t immediate. Broxton was considered an option but perhaps the Reds saw a guy who wasn’t as strong as last year. Between that and Leake’s performance (and the supposed scouting evals indicating significant improvement) the decision suddenly seems simple for the time being: kick the can down the road because it’s best for the team.

      All in all, I agree that ‘mental’ makeup of Chapman has been considered widely and mentioned and as Steve has shown, it is an illogical argument.

      • Richard Fitch

        @rightsaidred: I don’t think people speculated about Broxton as closer as much as we were told as much. In November of 2102, Mark Sheldon, the Reds beat writer for MLB wrote this:

        Before the Reds make any decision about moving Aroldis Chapman to the rotation, they had to be sure they had a capable and experienced closer ready to step up.

        The club felt that person was free-agent reliever Jonathan Broxton, who was re-signed Wednesday to a three-year, $21 million contract. The deal includes a $9 million club option for 2016 and a limited no-trade clause. If he is traded, it becomes a $22 million contract with a mutual option.

        Like you said, they gave him Closer Money. Don’t think they would have done that if they felt he wasn’t going to be as strong as last year.

        Something changed their mind around the time of Spring Training. And it certainly wasn’t his performance.

      • Hank Aarons Teammate

        @Richard Fitch: Richard, I addressed my interpretation of this on the other thread. Here’s a question though (and I don’t know the answer): what is Closer Money? I.e., for guys signed on the open market, what’s the going rate? Because my intuition is that 21M over 3 years is below the going rate.

      • Richard Fitch

        @Hank Aarons Teammate: I think the average closer was making under $5M back in 2008. The top closers were making $10M a year. The Reds were paying Coco $8.5M in 2008. Some teams went out and paid top closers around $10M and sometimes more. I think the Brewers tried that with Gagne for $10. The Phillies signed Papelbon for around $12.5M per. in 2012 after tying to resign Madson for $11M. He ended up getting $8.5 from the Reds.

        But the bottom has kind of dropped out as teams saw that paying the Brad Lidges and K-Rods of the world wasn’t cost effective when guys like Joel Hanrahan could close for less. But as the Pirates discovered, when you can have Grilli close for $3.5M a year, why pay Hanrahan $7M, like Boston is doing?

        Sounds about right to me.

      • Hank Aarons Teammate

        @Richard Fitch: I haven’t paid much attention, but was Grilli actually signed to be a closer (I can’t remember)? As for Hanrahan, isn’t Bailey the stopper there?

      • Lost and Found

        @Richard Fitch:

        I think what changed was Marshall’s shoulder. It was found to be ailing him in ST, and much like 2012 when Madsen went down, they turned to Chapman out of perceived necessity.

        Good reasoning or not, that’s my guess as to what happened.

    • Big Ed

      @Richard Fitch: I have said that Chapman has some “quirks,” but not meaning that he is mentally weak. I meant instead that he seems to be comfortable as closer, and the Reds don’t see any need to get him out of his comfort zone. And Dusty, when asked, kind of mutters his way around the point, rather than being specific; Dusty being Dusty. Chapman is still raw as he can be as a pitcher, and I can see where other teams think he’s a headhunter and don’t like him, but he is not mentally weak.

      Actually, Chapman’s career has been very similar to Jonathon Papelbon of the Red Sox/Phillies. Papelbon was a starter in the Sox organization with a live arm (fanning 153 in high-A in 129 innings), but got some relief work in a late-season call up. He then by circumstances got designated as temporary closer, and after a year or so decided to stay in the bullpen. (Papelbon has more than quirks, if you ask me, with that awful, slow, slow routine he goes through, but . . .) Apparently, there is an adrenaline rush to closing that Papelbon liked, so he stuck with it. Maybe Chapman feels the same way.

      I’ve wanted him to be a starter, but frankly, starting pitching is a strong suit, so maybe it’s worked out for the best.

    • steveschoen

      @Richard Fitch: If the front office was committed to Chapman starting this season, they would have never put him at closer this season. You are reading something that just isn’t there. Much more believable that Chapman starting was going to be nothing more than an experiment and, if it worked, Broxton was going to be plan B for closer.

  9. WVRedlegs

    Steve, you Mythbuster, you. Stamp that myth as “Debunked” now.
    Now debunk for those that Chapman’s trade value, if it ever comes to that, has been deminished because other teams don’t look to him as a starter now. No need to trade him though. By most accounts, Arroyo won’t be in Cincy next year. And unfortunately, if Homer Bailey doesn’t sign an extension and he wants to test the FA market after 2014, he probably won’t be in Cincy next year either. Enter Chapman as a starter in 2014 then. I like Bailey alot, and as much as it pains me, I can envision a rotation of Cueto-Leake-Latos-Chapman-and Cingrani next year. The 3C2L rotation.

    • rightsaidred

      @WVRedlegs: I think that’s a fairly realistic scenario. The question becomes what will Homer merit is terms of a pick. I would think his trajectory would eventually land a 1st round compensation.

  10. WVRedlegs

    Lets get Latos to 7-0 tonight. Latos for 7 innings, Cingrani for the 8th and Chapman for the 9th. Lets get some runs and no bullpen malfunctions tonight and put one more games distance between the Reds rear bumper and the Bucco’s grill. Get used to the view Buccos.

    • Hank Aarons Teammate

      @WVRedlegs: They’re winning today. That’s my bold (and maybe dumb?) statement. Morton gets bashed around. Take it to the bank (but Hank’s Teammate doesn’t have any money, so don’t sue me).

  11. Jason1972

    Haha, is this whole post a response to that single comment thread in yesterday’s recap?

    • Steve Mancuso

      @Jason1972: No. I’ve seen this in a lot of places, not just at Redleg Nation. But I have seen it here more than once. It wasn’t a response to any particular thread or comment. It’s something I’ve been talking about with friends for a couple of weeks and probably seeing it mentioned in the recap this morning prompted it.

      • Richard Fitch

        @Steve Mancuso: It was clearly a shot across the bow at me, since I’m the only person that used those words. Nevertheless, “mental makeup” was an unfortunate choice of words because what I meant had nothing to do with the “dark and toxic” meaning Mr. Mancuso was peddling, so I’ll have to eat it because I did say it. However, I was referring to all the drama going on in the rest of his life and specifically how that could affect him mental state and the possible desire by the Reds to simplify his life by keeping him in a role he was used to and would draw less media attention.

        Needless to say, I’m not happy about the post and the inferences made therein.

  12. RC

    Thank you, Steve. I think the only mental weakness I see any evidence of is the one where a guy with great potential is approaching the middle of his *4TH season* in the major league organization and WE STILL DON’T KNOW WHAT HE’S CAPABLE OF.

    Seek help for that.

  13. VottoManCrush

    I, like the majority of RL Nation, was disappointed that Chapman was not in the starting rotation this year. I was legitimately angry. You know what, though!?


    I would ask RL Nation this:

    Who should’ve Chapman taken the starting job from? Leake? He’s been arguably the best pitcher on this team. If all of you (and me) had our way at the beginning of the season we would’ve traded Leake and started Chapman, right? Looking at that today, I’m not so sure that would’ve been a wise trade. Some of you probably think it still would, but are the people who disagree with you still morons?

    Should he take the place of Homer? Arroyo? Cueto? Latos? I can’t say with much confidence that Chapman would be a better starting pitcher than any of those guys.

    Furthermore, if Chapman wasn’t the closer, who should be? Hoover? He’s blown several tight games and started off the year 0-5. Broxton? Marshall? Both are currently hurt and Broxton was ineffective when he was healthy. Marshall’s been hurt more so than not this year.

    I know, I know, anyone can close. It doesn’t matter, right?

    What makes you all perpetuate your hate for Chapman in the closer role is how he is continually used in 2-3 run ballgames. I do not disagree. That argument, however, is more about the closer’s role in general, not about Dusty’s use of his closer. A majority of his “misuse” has simply been bad luck. If Chapman was faced with and converted as many close game save opportunities as Jason Grili has for the Pirates, would you still be as angry? Probably not. The Pirates have simply played in far more close games and save situations than the Reds have so far this season.

    Everyone, please shut up. For this Reds team, today, Chapman is where he should be and the starters are where they should be, and the bullpen guys should be where they should be. WE ARE ALL WRONG. What will it take for people to realize that? Does Leake need to throw a perfect game first or something?

    • Mwv

      @VottoManCrush: Couple disagreements here. First, I’m not sure where you got the idea that most folks wanted Leake traded if Chapman were to start. I know some folks probably said that but the smart comments wanted Leake kept for depth. At that point in the year we had a stacked lineup on paper, a deep rotation and a deep pen. We didn’t need to trade for anything except arguably better bench depth but really.. there was no smart money on trading Leake away.

      The second point is that your entire argument is based on the win-now mentality. At that point in the year though it looked very likely we could afford to have Chapman move into the rotation and have his growing pains while still fielding a contending team. For that matter you could still make the argument that the Reds are a near-lock for at least a wildcard spot. The biggest reason to start Chapman this year was for future investment, not for this year’s sake alone.

      The situation in my eyes does not look drastically different if we’d had Chapman in Leake’s spot to start the year. Everything would have played out differently but the overall result would probably be similar.

    • al

      @VottoManCrush: i think you’re using a bunch of hindsight and assuming the reds had a crystal ball. if they knew broxton was going to stink and then get hurt, why did they give him all that money i wonder?

      what i always said was that they should prepare both leake and chapman as starters, and whoever lost the battle in spring training should be used as a long reliever UNTIL one of the starters got hurt, which we all had to expect was going to happen.

      i still think that was the best thing to do.

      now that broxton is on the DL, marshal is on the DL for the second time, other relievers like hoover are stinking up the joint, AND cingrani has been a very effective back-up starter (interesting how he’s effective as a hard throwing lefty without developed secondary pitches and inconsistent control), AND leake is having his best year ever… of course it seems like he’s in the right spot.

      but it also would have been nice to pitch him for more innings as a long reliever, and then when cueto went down, given him some starts. if broxton was really ineffective as a closer, it’s not like they couldn’t move him back during the season also.

      the point is it’s dumb never to have tried him as a starter when they’ve had numerous chances to, and it’s not “wrong” to still believe that.

  14. reaganspad

    It is not how Chapman is used with a 3 run lead… it is a guy who has a 1.51 ERA only gets 71.2 innings. That is the issue. Yes Chapman has been bad with control issues this year, and his ERA is all the way up to 2.03. He is tracking for the same this year

    Who is Chapman better than? Everyone. He is left handed. he is under control for 3 more years.

    “before the Reds make any decision about moving Aroldis Chapman to the rotation, they had to be sure they had a capable and experienced closer ready to step up.”

    bullfeathers. Pittsburgh traded their closer last year and the guy they have now is doing the job every bit as good as Chapman. Why do elite starting pitchers make more than closers? It is a harder job and you need your best arms there.

    Could Chapman go through an adjustment period as a starter? Sure, just like EVERY ONE of our starters has.

    That is the debate; where and how do you use your best players. Should Joey Votto sit on the bench because he might be the best pinch hitter on the team and that way we can control when he gets into the game?

    The Oakland A’s seem to come up with a closer every year

    And who would I like to start playoff games? Mike Leake is #5 on that list of our current starters

  15. reaganspad

    “He is tracking for the same this year”

    meant to say that Chapman is tracking for about 70 innings again this year

  16. Mike Martz

    Can Chapman swing a bat?
    If he is affraid to go to the plate with a bat in his hand, maybe that is why he wanted to stay in the pen.
    Could it be that simple?

    Just a thought…

    • Mwv

      @Mike Martz: If that was actually the reason he’d be laughed out of the league. That would be truly a story for the ages.

      • Mike Martz

        @Mike Martz: If that was actually the reason he’d be laughed out of the league. That would be truly a story for the ages.

        I agree 100% but if he was leary of looking bad at the plate he surely wouldn’t make it public.

  17. steveschoen

    Idiotic. People stretching words. Nothing here. Move on.