In the course of human events, there aren’t many things worse than late spring training injuries.
Wars? Pandemics? Human-enslaving robots? Broken hearts? Male bike shorts? People who microwave fish at work? These things are all very bad, but they are not worse than late spring training injuries. So it has been a tough couple of weeks in baseball, as fans and fantasy owners have watched pitcher after pitcher go down. Good ones, too. Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy and Patrick Corbin and Jarrod Parker and Aroldis Chapman and Josh Johnson. Now even Yu Darvish and Clayton Kershaw and Doug Fister. Some of these are worse than others, and certainly Chapman’s was more jarring than your run-of-the-mill Tommy John surgery, but they are all significant blows on the eve of the season nonetheless.
We can wallow in our collective self pity, or we can attempt to pick up the pieces and move on. This is where Jesse Chavez comes in. Kind of. Maybe.
Due to injuries in the Oakland rotation (particularly Parker’s second round of Tommy John surgery) the would-be reliever will have a spot among his team’s starting five. He might even be useful, too.
Despite his inexperience in the rotation (he’s started just two games at the big league level, and appeared in 189 others as a reliever), Chavez may have the stuff to stick, and to be an effective major league starter. It’s worth a shot, anyway. But don’t take my word for it; listen to totally not biased manager Bob Melvin!
“Chavez was always one of the guys we targeted to be a starter because of his stuff and his repertoire,” Melvin told the San Jose Mercury News earlier this month.
Chavez was moved to the bullpen before he progressed past Single A, back in 2005 as a member of the Texas Rangers organization, both due to durability concerns and command issues. He was dealt in 2006 to the Pirates for Kip Wells, and made his major league debut in the bullpen with the Pirates in 2008. By last season, he had gone from the Pirates to the Rays (for whom he never played) to the Braves to the Royals to the Jays to the A’s. He’s been everywhere, man.
So far it doesn’t sound like we’re talking about someone you want on your fantasy baseball team. So what of that repertoire? For a guy pigeonholed into a relief role, it’s pretty deep. Classification confusion aside, he’s pretty much your classic fastball/slider/curveball/changeup/cutter guy … and he’s even experimented with a few sinkers. None of his pitches stand out in any fantastic way; they all oscillate around or below average by swSTR%.
His curveball grades out the best by that metric, generating 18.4% swinging strikes (relative to the benchmark of 11.1% provided by our fearless leader Eno Sarris last week). It’s a relatively new offering for him; he threw just seven of them in 2011, but upped his usage to 12.2% in 2012 and just under 18% last season. He also added a cutter in 2012, and in 2013 it was his most used pitch (at 41.6%). He’s generated solid whiffs there as well, producing a career swinging strike rate of 9.9%, that was 10.3% last year (relative to the benchmark of 9.7%).
This change in approach and usage has presumably been part of the reason his splits against left-handed batters have improved over the years, to the point that last season he was used almost equally against hitters on both sides of the plate, and fared about as well against each set.
His command has also improved over the years. It’s not much better than average, but that’s a step forward from where he was as a prospect.
This is all encouraging for a guy widely available, but it’s important to remember that we’re talking about someone who has started exactly two games in the major leagues. His per pitch metrics will likely be different in longer outings.
We should also discuss home runs, because they’ve been a problem. In fact, Chavez has allowed 37 of them over his 234.2 major league innings. He’s like a one man souvenir shop, and unless your league has that as a category, it might be a problem.
It seems like he’s had more than his share of bad luck, however. He gave up three homers on just seven flyballs with the Royals in 2011, and seven on just 27 flyballs between the Blue Jays and A’s in 2012. He’s not an extreme flyball pitcher, though, and plying his trade in Oakland will help. O.co Coliseum was the sixth best at limiting longballs last season, and is generally among the top third among MLB’s stingiest ballparks. It won’t hurt, at least.
Parker’s injury opened the door here, but A.J. Griffin will also miss early season time with elbow issues, and Scott Kazmir was dinged up earlier this spring, so the opportunity is there for Chavez to stake his claim to a spot in the rotation for the duration of the 2014 season. He’ll have to earn it, but what else is new?
So what exactly are we looking at? A career reliever with little hype, a varied arsenal, and a solid grasp on a starting job for at least the first month of the season pitching in one of the friendliest pitching parks in the game. That sounds like a solid investment to me, and at least some consolation for the dreadful spate of injuries we’ve seen over the past few weeks.
Jack Weiland is not just a pretty face. He resides in Boston with his wife and family (they're dogs) and watches the Cubs at levels not approved for public consumption. He likes chatting on twitter, too: @jackweiland.