clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Yankees Potential Free Agent Target: Jhoulys Chacin

The 32-year old had a successful 2017 and 2018. His bad 2019 is scaring teams away, but he won’t take more than a spring training invitation

MLB: Baltimore Orioles at Boston Red Sox Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

Jhoulys Chacin was a successful starting pitcher in 2017 and 2018 for the San Diego Padres and the Milwaukee Brewers, respectively. That said, his 2019 was so bad that he hasn’t been able to find a team for the 2020 season. The most-likely scenario at this point involves a minor-league deal with incentives. That doesn’t mean his career is over, though. The Yankees should, at least, kick the tires.

Chacin started the season with the Brewers. In 19 starts and 88.2 innings, he had a 5.79 ERA and a 1.56 WHIP. He was absolutely shelled, and Milwaukee released him in August. The Boston Red Sox scooped him up but he was even worse there: he covered 14.2 frames of a 7.36 ERA and 1.57 WHIP.

He just turned 32, so he isn’t necessarily old or finished. For the Yankees, it doesn’t hurt to know whether he has something left in the tank by signing him to a minor-league deal and inviting him to spring training.

A successful major leaguer

Chacin may not be flashy or spectacular, but as his 4.03 career ERA indicates, he has been a serviceable rotation arm and a successful major leaguer. He was effective in 2017 and 2018, as well as several seasons before that.

In 2017 with the Padres, he covered 180.1 innings in 32 starts, finishing with a 3.89 ERA and a 4.26 FIP. The 2018 season with the Brewers was even better, as he started 35 games and pitched 192.2 frames of a 3.50 ERA (4.03 FIP.) He is not known for his bat-missing ability (7.26 K/9), but he has a deep arsenal that includes a very good slider and other secondary offerings.

The primary issue with Chacin is that both his four-seam fastball and his sinker are awful at this stage of his career.

A candidate for pitch-mix experimentation

According to Baseball Savant, Chacin throws five pitches: a slider (49.5%), a sinker (31.4%), a four-seamer (12.9%), a changeup (5.6%), and a curveball (0.6%.) He barely uses the curve, but it has above-average spin rate (2582 rpm, in the 63rd percentile) and 13.4 inches of break, or 44% over the average for the pitch.

The changeup had a 27.3% whiff rate and a .295 xwOBA, but the sample size (16 batted ball events) wasn’t very big in 2019. It is a useful pitch, though, and it had a positive 1.4 runs above average, per FanGraphs.

The slider is his best offering. A .281 xwOBA and a 25.7% whiff rate, not to mention a .215 batting average against, is proof of that. FanGraphs lists it as having an 8.5 value.

The four-seamer had a -10.4 value, and the sinker a -15.9 mark. The latter was absolutely tattooed, as opposing batters hit .371 and slugged .652 off it.

Maybe the Yankees could “fix” Chacin’s sinker with the help of Matt Blake. Perhaps a new grip, or a different release point, or attacking hitters in a different plane or zone will do. But the best thing at this point may be ditching the pitch and adopting a new strategy.

Chacin already has a high slider usage, but maybe he could gain benefits from including more curveballs and changeups in his arsenal. If you are already being beaten with four-seamers and sinkers, why not focus on your secondaries and force an adjustment?

The key will be, as it almost always happens with low-velocity hurlers, the command of his fastball. If he can get consistent strikes with the heat, he will get the best out of the slider and induce soft contact with his changeup or curveball.

A future as a reliever?

Chacin’s average fastball velocity was 90.0 mph in 2019. Maybe, just maybe, he can get his career back on track if he makes the transition to the relief corps.

He could throw harder and gain a tick or two by throwing in shorter stints, better setting up his very good slider and throwing a changeup or curveball here or there to mess with hitters’ timing.

Again, the Yankees are very much set when it comes to major-league arms, especially starters. However, Chacin could turn out to be a useful reliever, spot starter of swingman. Heck, he was successful for two years in a row before 2019 and the juiced ball happened, covering almost 400 innings serviceably. Is it that far-fetched to think he has the potential to help the Yankees in 2020?

It wouldn’t cost the Yankees too much to find out.