With Strasburg Dominating National Headlines, Chapman Seems Totally Anonymous

↵Before the season began, two of the biggest story lines in the National League were where pitching phenoms Stephen Strasburg and Aroldis Chapman would start the season. Some wanted the Nationals and Reds, respectively, to pull the trigger on a spot in the rotation for each high-priced newcomer. Smartly, neither team did. ↵

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↵For both pitchers, their Minor League debuts made headlines around the baseball world, and their home debuts created enormous ticket demand. Chapman's first home game for the Louisville Bats – on April 17 – drew 13,131 fans. The Reds, by comparison, drew 12,965 fans for their next home game three days later against the Dodgers. Mel Antonen of USA Today pointed out this week that Chapman's first home start coincided with the kickoff of Louisville's pre Derby celebration, so the crowd may have been there more for fireworks than flame-throwing from Chapman. ↵

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↵We made the comparison before that the two hurlers may be baseball's version of Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin. Now, neither will be asked to save the entire sport, but heading into the season it seemed plausible that both could be asked to revitalize the sport for an entire city. That's obviously true for Strasburg, who differs from Chapman – signing as a free-agent after defecting from Cuba – in that he comes with the expectations of being the No. 1 pick in the draft, and by all accounts, being "Major League ready" right out of college. ↵

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↵Over the last few weeks, the Strasburg countdown was on. People were using everything short of a Farmer's Almanac to figure out when each of his minor league starts would come in an effort to get tickets when he came to town. And then there's June 4, a date that became the unofficial Stephen Strasburg day in Washington, as everyone assumed that would be the day he'd make his official start with the Nats. Except nobody from the Nats ever announced that. As Dan Steinbog reported, there could be a really angry sold-out crowd on June 4, full of people who thought they were witnessing history, but ended up witnessing a run-of-the-mill baseball game between the home side and the visiting Reds. ↵

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↵Just like the Nats fans, the Reds faithful started the season on prospect watch. So what happened since? Their team is in first place. ↵

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↵Leading the division could make people focus on the now a little more than the future. Per Antonen: ↵

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↵⇥"We don't have a need right now," Reds general manager Walt Jocketty says. "We are happy with the progress he's making, but he has a lot to learn about how we play the game. The more experience he can get, the better." ↵
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↵Of course, it hasn't helped matters that Chapman, while solid in the minors, has been bitten by the injury bug. Nothing has been too serious or changed his trajectory to the majors, but it does mitigate some expectations when he's not actually on the field. Chapman was there last night, pitching his first start back after missing a start because of blisters. He seemed no worse for the wear: ↵

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↵⇥Aroldis Chapman (5-2, 3.55) was taken out after five. It was his second consecutive start without giving up a run and he allowed only three hits. During tonight's start against Gwinnett, Chapman struck out seven batters and walked just one. He threw 90 pitches, 57 of which were strikes in arguably his best start of the season. Chapman also had a good night at the plate going 1-for-2 with an infield hit. ↵
↵Strasburg has been insanely good in the minors this season with a 0.99 ERA including just five earned runs in 45.1 innings pitched and a .139 batting average against and a 5.4/1 strikeout to walk ratio (man alive this kid is great). Chapman has been, shall we say, just good. He has a 3.55 ERA after giving up 18 runs in 45.2 innings. His K/BB ratio is just on the plus side of two-to-one and opponents are hitting .247 against the fireballing lefty. ↵

↵Yet a close look at his splits indicates his numbers were inflated with just two bad starts, giving up six earned in five innings in a start on April 28 – in which he recorded the win – and giving up eight runs in just 3.1 innings in another start on May 14. It's impossible to just eliminate those starts from his statistics, but he has given up just seven earned runs in his other seven outings combined this season, most recently pitching five or more innings while surrendering just three hits and no runs in back-to-back appearances. ↵

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↵But in the minors, it's always more about "stuff" than numbers. Chapman has devastating stuff, but Reds executives continue to stress he needs work on his pitches other than the fastball. As the Reds expected, he's a project. It's a luxury – a luxury the Nationals don't have – that the Reds have enough arms to give him time to properly develop. ↵

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↵Like Strasburg, the expectations for Chapman are there, but it probably feels good to be relatively anonymous right now. ↵

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This post originally appeared on the Sporting Blog. For more, see The Sporting Blog Archives.

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