Well, I wrote in the season on the beginning of the Chapman-as-closer Era, and as we’ve seen, it’s turned out to be quite a success. That era may already be over, as the club has indicated that the signing of Jonathan Broxton is partially a move to put Chapman in the rotation for good. Chapman had a pretty decent starter-audition in spring training last year before we all learned that Madson was going to be out for the entire year, and it sounds like he’ll get a good chance this year, as well. As much as I loved watching Aroldis Chapman close, I’m pretty sure I’ll love him watching him start games at least almost as much.
Still, having Chapman close was a pretty great time for Reds fans, so I wanted to look back and see how Chapman’s one, and maybe only, season as a closer stacks up against the historical Reds seasons. So, I did what I always do, Pinky, and set up a spreadsheet. This one has every season by a Reds pitcher with 30 games finished or more. It’s a little bit of an arbitrary cut-off, but it gets the job done. There have been 81 such seasons for the Reds, starting in 1942 – which means between 1 and 3 different players for each year from 1961-2012, approximately. Going back before 1960 it gets a little patchy. (Here’s the spreadsheet, if you want it. )
At 24 years of age, Chapman is one of the youngest to appear on the list – and the youngest since Scott Williamson’s Rookie-of-the-Year winning 1999 (Williamson was 23). By the traditional closer’s yardstick of saves, Chapman comes in at seventh – but that’s to be expected, since Chapman didn’t even get the closer’s job until Marshall lost it. Could Chapman have gotten 7 saves if he had been the closer all year, to beat out Jeff Brantley’s franchise record (Chapman’s first save was on May 20)? Almost certainly, but that’s not what happened, and it’s probably a good thing for the Reds if it never does.
Moving into non-save statistics, you can see what an incredible season it really was. He has the second-lowest ERA on the list at 1.51 – the only one lower is Ted Abernathy in 1967 (Chapman’s also got the second-highest ERA+, if you want to do it that way). ERA isn’t always sensible to apply to relief pitchers, even normalized for park and league, so consider that he has the lowest WHIP of any season on the list, and it’s not close. At 0.809, Chapman’s mark is over 0.150 better than Jeff Shaw’s 1997 WHIP. That’s almost entirely due to a ridiculously low hit rate. Chapman’s 4.4 H/9 is also the lowest of any Reds closer on the list, while his 2.9 BB/9 is just about in the middle of the pack.
Of course, anyone could guess that the area where Chapman really stands out is strikeouts. His 15.3 K/9 mark is also easily first on the list, with three Rob Dibble seasons coming in at #2, #3, and #4. For one of those seasons, though, Dibble walked (on average) a batter per inning. If you move off the rate stats, Chapman is in third place for strikeout totals, just barely sitting behind one Dibble season, and Sam Ellis in 1964. Ellis really hardly counts for this list, as he also made 5 starts, and thus threw 122 innings. But, according to my self-imposed rules, he’s still allowed, since he finished over 30 games. (If you take out his two complete games, he really only squeaks by with 30 games that he finished and didn’t start, but he still makes it.) Somewhat sadly, Chapman’s impressive 5.3 K/BB rate is pretty well outdistanced by Jeff Shaw’s 1997. Shaw, of course, was a very different pitcher, but his 1.1 BB/9 rate, and 42 saves also put him up there with the very best closer seasons the Reds have ever had.
In 2012, Aroldis Chapman had a magical, amazing, history-making season as the Reds closer, and you didn’t really need me to give you a spreadsheet to know that. It’s probably too much to ask that Chapman have an equally magical season in 2013 as a starter, but I can really, really, hope.