- Eric Karabell, ESPN.com Senior Writer
It was almost a bit painful to watch Cincinnati Reds left-hander Aroldis Chapman pitch Tuesday night. Then again, he wasn't really pitching, but rather throwing his intriguing fastballs and having no clue where the ball was going. That wasn't at all fun to see, because this guy is really, really good. Chapman walked three of the four hitters he faced and hit the other one, the scary Matt Downs. In his past three appearances, two of which he hasn't retired any hitters and covering one full inning (three outs), Chapman has issued eight walks. In his past two outings, he's thrown 33 pitches, 10 for strikes.
I'm not here to judge Chapman; something is clearly wrong with his command at this point, or perhaps he hasn't been truthful about his health. The Reds say demotion to the minor leagues is not an option at this time, but I'll tell you what, don't expect to see Chapman in the eighth-inning setup role anytime soon. For the season, Chapman has more walks than strikeouts, and that 1.73 WHIP has been well earned, even though opponents are hitting a mere .146 off him. These are odd splits.
Why am I blogging about Chapman, you might ask? Isn't it obvious that this young Cuban shouldn't be anywhere near an active fantasy roster? Well, this might seem obvious, but Chapman is actually owned in a whopping 28.3 percent of ESPN standard (10-team) leagues, and that's just ridiculously high for a pitcher that isn't starting or closing games, or to get to the point, pitching well. Tyler Clippard should be owned in 28 percent of leagues (he's at 9.4 percent). Chapman is owned because of name value, and right now he's not a factor in a positive sense.
Even when he does regain command -- and he should, because he's just way too talented to be this erratic -- he won't be worth owning in standard leagues. In the shallow leagues, maybe 10-15 middle relievers, or those not in line for saves, are worth owning. For the record, I'd call Washington Nationals bespectacled right-hander Clippard one of them, probably the best of them. He was terrific in 2010, and he's leading all relief pitchers -- even closers -- with 27 strikeouts. Middle relievers really shouldn't be drafted in standard leagues; you should wait a month and see who is pitching well, then add them if you need to control your team's ERA/WHIP, get some strikeouts and punt out a struggling starter like John Danks for a few weeks.
I would also roster the following middle men, in order of their strikeouts: Jonny Venters, Jesse Crain, Grant Balfour, Daniel Bard, Mike Adams, Sean Marshall, Rafael Betancourt, Joel Peralta, Sergio Romo, Jason Motte and Luke Gregerson. And I'd consider, if they continue to thrive, Al Alburquerque, Jose Veras, Taylor Buchholz, Guillermo Mota, Antonio Bastardo, Aaron Crow, Matt Lindstrom and Vinnie Pestano.
Here are relief pitchers owned in way too many ESPN standard leagues (honestly, it's time to let them go):
Fernando Rodney, Los Angeles Angels (34.1 percent): Jordan Walden certainly seems secure in the closer role, and Rodney's WHIP in a season-plus with the Halos is 1.52.
Ryan Franklin, St. Louis Cardinals (25.1): I'm not saying Eduardo Sanchez keeps the closer role, but I find it hard to believe Franklin is remotely in the picture. I can't even remember the last time he pitched.
Rafael Soriano, New York Yankees (10.7): I thought the only reasonable excuse for him pitching poorly had to be injury, and now we hear of a tender elbow. Uh oh. Look, he might have accrued 5-10 saves this season, but I'll take the under now. He's certainly not an asset with his peripheral numbers. It's not 2010 anymore. Good luck in the setup role, Joba Chamberlain.
Jake McGee, Tampa Bay Rays (9.1): This is why drafting him in March was a risk. Kyle Farnsworth has been very good, though walking in the winning run Tuesday could be a harbinger. Even if it is, lefty J.P. Howell is days away from joining the active roster to help out. McGee has a bright future, it's just very unlikely he's a closer this season. FYI, at Triple-A Durham, he's allowed three runs in 3 1/3 innings so far.
Chris Sale, Chicago White Sox (9.0): Again, I can't say I see right-hander Sergio Santos picking up another 25 saves, but if/when he does run into trouble, Matt Thornton is far more accomplished (though probably hiding an injury himself) and Jesse Crain is thriving. Sale has pitched once since May 2, which seems odd, and very telling.
And in his own special category belongs former Los Angeles Dodgers closer Jonathan Broxton, owned in 77.7 percent of leagues. I don't see Broxton saving another 10 games this season. Perhaps injury/surgery is the culprit, but whatever the case, I wouldn't keep Broxton around in standard leagues. I do see the reasoning for patience, though: If healthy, he would be the closer. Vicente Padilla for 20 saves!