Bjarkman: Historical Cuban perspective on Aroldis Chapman’s season

From SABR member Peter C. Bjarkman at Baseball de Cuba on October 11, 2012:

There should be little doubt that third-year Cuban big leaguer Aroldis Chapman has now proven wrong the numerous doubters and naysayers with his rather overpowering summer-long 2012 performances out of the Cincinnati bullpen. The young Cuban missile thrower remained locked in a virtual dead heat with Pittsburgh’s Joel Hanrahan throughout August and a good part of September for the senior circuit lead in games saved, he posted some truly eye-popping numbers across his near 70 games of strictly single-inning outings (68 games and 71.2 innings), and he even stirred up a bit of premature Cy Young Award buzz during the Dog Days of August (especially across Cincinnati media circles).


So where does one stellar if not record-breaking season leave Chapman among top Cuban-born big leaguers? I would contend here that Chapman still has a difficult and lengthy road to travel in order to earn a significant page in Cuban baseball lore. He certainly has not experienced a year like [Dolph] Luque had back in 1923 in the same National League city; Luque remains unchallenged as Cincinnati’s greatest island import no matter how much damage Father Time as done to his image among short-memory modern-era fans. Neither has Chapman come close to matching [Luis] Tiant’s mastery and durability during more than a decade of 1960s and 1970s stardom. Luque and Tiant were not merely crowd-pleasing and radar-gun busting diamond sideshows; they were in fact legitimate Hall of Famers (despite their still-inexplicable absences from Cooperstown). Not until Chapman hoists a Cy Young trophy (not likely indeed as long as he remains a “one-inning-and-out” mop-up reliever) will he stand shoulder-to-shoulder alongside Miguel Cuéllar. It is still not even all that certain that he will replace Danys Báez on the Cuban saves leader board, although that is the one pitching feat that may now be most reachable.

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Originally published: October 12, 2012. Last Updated: October 12, 2012.