With some suggesting the Brewers have found the price of adding frontline starting pitching overwhelming this winter, it looks like GM David Stearns has returned to trying to find value signings to get his 27 outs every night. With the signing of Jhoulys Chacin, Stearns may have found a steal.
After getting a short stint in the majors at the age of 21, Chacin's first extended look at the big league level was an impressive one. As a 22-year-old in 2010, he put up an ERA+ of 142 in 137.1 innings, posting a 3.28 ERA despite calling Coors Field home. He ended up with a 3.78 ERA (4.03 FIP) over his 6 years in Colorado before his tenure ended with shoulder troubles that got him released just before the 2015 season.
After bouncing around on minor league contracts and getting big league looks from the Diamondbacks, Braves and Angels in 2015 and 2016, Chacin finally got a chance to prove he was back to his old self this past year, making 32 starts for the rebuilding Padres. He returned to career norms in San Diego, putting up a 3.89 ERA (4.26 FIP) and 106 ERA+ in 180.1 innings.
While typically not a big strikeout pitcher, Chacin did punch out 20% of the batters he faced in 2017, ranking 37th among qualified starters. That mark is better than Lance Lynn (19.7%), who's likely looking at getting twice the annual salary Chacin will be getting from the Brewers. A lot of that is because of his slider, which was actually an elite strikeout pitch in 2017.
In case you had to do a double take at the word "elite" appearing in a post about Jhoulys Chacin, here's some evidence to back it up:
Chacin upped his slider usage to 34.8 percent in 2017. Saw the highest strikeout rate of his career, posted a 2.3 fWAR. A two-year, $16 million deal is very good, especially if he keeps this up. 4.13 DRA is the second-best mark of his career.— Devan Fink (@DevanFink) December 20, 2017
2017's best sliders, weighted runs above avg:— Devan Fink (@DevanFink) December 20, 2017
1. Max Scherzer, 30.0
2. JHOULYS CHACIN, 22.4
3. Ervin Santana, 21.6
4. Clayton Kershaw, 17.3
5. Chris Archer, 16.9
6. Luis Severino, 16.8
7. Yu Darvish, 13.3
8. Carlos Martinez, 12.5
8. Patrick Corbin, 12.5
10. Carlos Corrasco, 12.3
As Devan Fink notes, Chacin leaned heavily on that slider, using it almost 35% of the time. His curveball also graded out well, although he used it sparingly in 2017. Considering he doesn't otherwise throw very hard -- his sinking fastball was clocked at about 91.8 mph last year, in line with his career averages -- that slider is a huge weapon in avoiding contact.
When opposing batters do make contact against him, though, odds are the ball isn't going very far. Despite playing the vast majority of his career with the Rockies, Chacin is averaging less than one home run surrendered every 9 innings in his career. A little more than 49% of balls put in play against him last year were hit on the ground, and 20.2% of balls in play were considered weakly hit. That ranked 20th among qualified starters and would've been behind just Jimmy Nelson on last year's Brewers team. It's also roughly the same amount of softly hit balls Jake Arrieta allowed in 2017, and Arrieta wants hundreds of millions of dollars. The Brewers will not have to pay Chacin hundreds of millions of dollars.
Chacin’s weak contact rates also rival those of Zach Davies, and like Davies, Chacin defends his position very well. As Fangraphs’ Jeff Sullivan notes, Chacin has graded out as a positive defensive pitcher for his career and also does a good job of holding baserunners and preventing stolen bases — something that could prove to be valuable if he’s ever paired up with Stephen Vogt.
Low home run rates, high groundball rates, and a ton of weak contact induced sure sounds like the ideal pitcher of Miller Park, doesn't it?
Yes, Chacin's home/road splits in 2017 were pretty obscene. But as we noted on Wednesday, his career splits in that department are much more appealing, especially considering -- again -- that he pitched very well despite pitching most of his games in Denver. He only turns 30 in a month, and it appears he may have found something with his slider. There's plenty of reason to think this signing could work out very well for Stearns and the Brewers.
Nobody is saying Jhoulys Chacin is going to be a frontline starter. Sometimes guys who give up a lot of weak contact end up giving up 5 runs on 10 weak hits against the St. Louis Cardinals because Of Course The Cardinals Would Do That, but by and large, pitchers with Chacin's profile will give teams like the Brewers a chance to win most nights they take the mound. Chacin is only expected to be a mid-to-back of rotation starter for the 2018 Brewers, and that's more than okay. When you only have to pay him for 180 innings what a lot of teams are paying for less than 80 innings this year, it has the makings of a really good deal.
Statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference and Fangraphs