Jhoulys Chacin has had an enviable career in Major League Baseball. He debuted in the big leagues as a 21 year old way back in 2009, and since then he has appeared in over 200 games and logged more than 1,100 innings at baseball’s highest level. His 3.89 ERA has been about 10% better than league average over the course of his career, and he’s been able to haul in some $20 mil in earnings.
Chacin has been able to accomplish all this while working predominantly as a two-pitch hurler. He most often pairs his sinking fastball with a plus slider that has served him well throughout his career, and while he’ll also flip a curveball up there on occasion, he’s never really boasted a quality changeup that he can use against left-handers. Predictably, southpaw hitters have produced an OPS some 120 points higher against Chacin than right-handers have during his time in the big leagues. Chacin inked a two-year deal with the Milwaukee Brewers last winter, and this spring there was plenty of discussion about how he’d be working to improve his change and incorporate it more into his arsenal more regularly for this season.
Jhoulys has exceeded anyone’s expectations to this point during his first year in the Cream City, taking the ball every fifth day while posting a sterling 3.32 ERA across 81.1 innings through his first 15 starts. He and Junior Guerra have unexpectedly become the two rocks of Milwaukee’s starting rotation while the two guys the Brewers expected to rely upon, Zach Davies and Chase Anderson, have both battled ineffectiveness and have each spent time on the DL.
All of Chacin’s success this season has come without much improvement from his change, however. He was unhappy with the progress he was making with the pitch and still wasn’t been using it much, only tossing it in there a few times per start. So, in game number 210 of his MLB career last time out against the Cubs, the ten-year veteran scrapped his cambio and replaced it with a completely new pitch that he had never thrown before in a game as a professional:
Across his 1,100+ innings in The Show, Chacin has thrown his changeup to hitters less than 10% of the time. He threw 66 total changeups during his first 14 starts of the 2018 season. Last Wednesday against Chicago, Jhoulys selected his brand new offering 26 times out of 100 pitches thrown. 16 of those pitches were recorded as strikes, with the splitter generating 12 swings and three swings-and-misses. A left-handed hitter was at the plate for all 26 of Chacin’s split-fingers, and he allowed one single and recorded one strikeout with his new weapon. The pitch averaged 88.3 MPH and topped out at 90.9 MPH according to Brooks Baseball’s Pitch F/X tool. He went 6.0 shutout innings against the North Siders that day, striking out seven.
Chacin’s splitter showed similar horizontal break to what his changeup has but more vertical break, and he threw the split some 4-5 MPH harder than his average change. Similarly to his changeup he kept the pitch on the outer-third of the zone away from a left-handed hitter, but he wasn’t afraid to elevate the pitch as well as throw it lower in the zone like his typical changeup.
According to the Pitch Info linear weights listed on Fangraphs, Chacin’s changeup has been worth -5.5 runs to him during the course of his decade-long career in the big leagues. His splitter, however, was worth +0.4 runs in last Wednesday’s start alone. A small sample size caveat obviously applies here, but Jhoulys Chacin may have finally found himself a way to keep left-handed hitters at bay. Junior Guerra is patient zero in the organization’s “split-finger club” under pitching coach Derek Johnson, who has now helped both Chacin and reliever Jeremy Jeffress add the pitch to their arsenals under his watch. At this point, I’d almost expect that any hurler who joins the organization at any level without a legitimate third pitch will be taught the Guerra splitter.
Jhoulys Chacin has been a steady innings-eater throughout his MLB career surviving mainly with two pitches, and that’s what the Brewers were probably expecting him to continue to be when they signed him to an eminently reasonable $15.5 mil, two-year pact last December. With the addition of his new split-finger, however, he now may have third ‘plus’ offering to confidently pair with his already excellent sinker/slider combination. If that is indeed the case, and the right-hander proves capable of retiring batters from both sides of the plate with consistency, Chacin could be in the process of taking his career to new heights at age 30. He’s the scheduled starter for tonight’s series opener on the road against the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Statistics courtesy of Fangraphs and Brooks Baseball