The Remarkable Case of Jesse Chavez
by Brandon Jopko | Posted on Thursday, April 24th, 2014
As of April 24th, 2014, Oakland Athletics’ starting pitcher Jesse Chavez ranks third in the league for ERA (1.38), sixth for both WHIP (0.92) and BB/9 (1.73), and fifth for K/BB ratio (5.6) after only four starts. This is from a guy who’s been through six other organizations and was an emergency fill-in for Oakland after two starting pitchers went down with injury.
The fact of the matter is that the Toronto Blue Jays could have retained him. In truth, so could have the Pittsburgh Pirates, Atlanta Braves and the Kansas City Royals. Even the Tampa Bay Rays had him for about a month during the 2009 offseason, and that’s not even including the team that drafted and signed him, the Texas Rangers. Right now, however, the Oakland Athletics are enjoying everything they can muster out of Chavez, and there’s no sign of him stopping soon.
Back in 2012, the Blue Jays picked up Chavez on waivers from the Royals and had him pitch in a myriad of situations. Blue Jays fans may remember that was the summer of innumerous injuries to the pitching staff and the team consequently used an astounding 34 pitchers during that year. Toronto only used Chavez for nine appearances that year for a total of 21.1 IP. He actually had a couple of decent outings for the club, but overall gave up 25 H, 6 HR, and 10 BB for 8.44 ERA – putrid numbers to be sure – however he did have an intriguing 11.4 SO/9.
Then in early August of that year, Chavez was designated for assignment and subsequently optioned down to Triple A Las Vegas where he actually stayed on the 40-man roster. However, later that month, he was traded to Oakland for cash considerations. It seems to me that Chavez was dealt to the A’s because was he wasn’t too likely to hold onto a 40-man roster spot over the course of the offseason when so much roster shuffling occurs, yet that’s pure speculation on my part. Maybe the club just saw enough and gave up on him, although the truth of the matter remains. Hindsight is always 20/20 though, and it’s hard to fault teams to not hold onto players who struggle especially when they are given chances to impress and fail to do so.
With the Athletics, you can see below that Chavez has become an entirely different pitcher showcasing a repertoire of four different pitches (cutter, sinker, changeup, and curveball) as opposed to earlier in his career when he was mostly a fastball type pitcher mixing in a slider and changeup with minimal effectiveness.
Consider how Chavez no longer uses a slider; a pitch that resulted in an overall .441 SLG against from seasons 2007 thru 2011. His foreseamer and changeup were even worse with a SLG against of .526 and .504, respectively. Upon his arrival in Kansas City in August of 2010, Chavez immediately started using a two seamer (sinker), which immediately became his most effective pitch (BAA of .200 and SLG against of .320).
Fastforward to 2012 when his new team, the Athletics, had him throw his curveball at a 23 percent clip compared to just 11 percent while with the Blue Jays. However, what’s most obvious is the usage of his cutter when he got to Oakland; it became his most used pitch that September. It appears likely that the Blue Jays helped him develop that pitch; Chavez has just took it and ran with it on the West Coast.
Below is a graph showing the speed and horizontal movement of his pitches so far this year.
Below is the above information, but in tabular form except it also includes Chavez’s 2013 season with Oakland.
For comparison sake, below is the same table except it showcases Chavez’s results during his time as a Blue Jay in 2012. At first glance, it looks like his sinker, changeup, and cutter are exhibiting more movement as an Athletic together with a slight decrease in velocity. This may speak to the fact that Chavez has learned that location and movement are the most important aspects for an effective pitcher, not how hard he can throw a fastball by somebody. Chavez himself told the San Jose Mercury News"I used to throw a fastball most of the time, and I threw it hard enough, but a lot of the time, too much of the time, it would get up in the zone."
Clearly, the difference between pitchers is night and day. Chavez again told the San Jose Mercury News, “… now I'm a completely different pitcher than I was two years ago. My arsenal has changed. My cutter has taken over, and I'm throwing more strikes." He adds, "From the time I came here [to Oakland] in 2012, I've focused on keeping the ball down. As a kid, I could throw 95, 96 mph. Now I'm happy if I throw 92 as long as I can keep it down and hit the corners."
Unquestionably, Chavez has developed an entirely new repertoire and mixes in effective off-speed pitches with good movement. He’s also stabilized an Athletics rotation that some fans feared might suffer without the contributions of Jarrod Parker or A.J. Griffin. Now, it’s hard not to picture Chavez being a significant player on this team.
All stats are from Baseball-Reference.com and BrooksBaseball.net.