If you want to catch up on all the previous 2017 player profiles, check out my archive here.
In one of the earliest moves of the 2016/2017 offseason, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (they need to fix that name) signed Jesse Chavez for $5.75 million and one year. That’s reasonable for a guy who is 33 years old and just had a 4.43 ERA in relief for the Dodgers and Blue Jays. However, if you’ve been following his career and have seen what he is capable of, that might be a bargain.
Chavez came into the league in 2008 as a mediocre relief pitcher. He was stuck in that rut until 2012, when the Blue Jays decided to see if he could start. He started two games for them before being sent to the A’s. The A’s moved him back to the ‘pen until 2014. He started 21 games that year and finished with an ERA, FIP, and xFIP all under 4, with 8.4 K/9 and good control. That’s a great season for a guy just getting accustomed to starting again. He took a small step back in 2015 with an ERA of 4.18, but FIP and xFIP numbers under 4 again.
Despite two consecutive good seasons as a starter, the A’s moved him back to the bullpen again in 2016 and he was stuck there all year. He was traded back to Toronto at the deadline. That brings us to the Angels signing him. The Angels rotation looks like this right now: Garrett Richards, Ricky Nolasco, Matt Shoemaker, Tyler Skaggs, and “Uncle” Jesse Chavez.
An aside: I didn’t create the “Uncle” Jesse nickname, I think it might have come from Eno Sarris of Fangraphs, I’m not sure. Regardless, I love the nickname even though Chavez looks nothing like John Stamos, has no mullet, isn’t Greek, and has tattoos. Chavez does have his own unique hairstyle though:
Anyway, Andrew Heaney and Nick Tropeano are both recovering from Tommy John and won’t threaten Chavez this year. So, he’s got job security. What will he do with it?
The only stats we’ve got from 2016 are in relief, so we will have to look at a combo of 2016 and 2014/5 numbers to estimate how he will be as a starter in 2017. As a starter, he put up above average numbers across the board, with K%-BB% above 13%. His SwStr% wasn’t great, but his 91 mph average velocity was fine, and his 2015 infield fly-ball % of 16% was excellent. His fly ball-heavy approach (42% GB%) works well in Oakland and should continue to work well in Anaheim.
In 2016, his velocity got a 2 mph relief bump, and his K%-BB% jumped to 16% but his fly ball rate stayed the same, his HR allowed rate shot up, and he allowed the highest contact % of his career at 81.3%. He was at 80% in 2014 and 2015. For a guy without high velocity, ground balls, or elite raw stuff, more contact is bad. His best path to success is to rely on deception and a large pitch repertoire.
In 2015, he had three pitches with above average swinging strike rates (four seam, cutter, and curve). That’s pretty good, especially when you consider that his four seam and cutter amounted to over half his pitches. Over the last three years, he has been tinkering with his pitch mix.
I should point out here that his two-seam/sinker and slider are both well below average at swinging strikes and just about everything else, so he should basically get rid of them. He would still have four solid pitches left. You can see that his very good cutter has always been at the top, but his two seamer was used heavily in both 2014 and 2015 before disappearing in 2016 (with good reason). He used his four seam much more in 2015 and 2016 than in 2014. His slider has come and gone and come back again, but should stay dead.
Here’s what his ERA, FIP, and xFIP looked like over the last three years:
In both seasons as a starter, he appeared to get fatigued toward the end of the year, doing much worse (using ERA) in the second half. It looks like he has had periods of success with several different pitch mixes. It’s not clear there is one best mix for him. However, based on Pitch F/X data, it looks like the best mix would be cutter, four-seam, curve, and changeup. That isn’t far from his 2014 mix, but he needs to drop that two-seam and give those pitches to other pitch types.
His biggest problems so far have been home runs, hard hit balls (30-31% Hard% the last three season), and a high WHIP due to lots of balls in play (over 1.3 WHIP every year, basically). I think the home runs will be suppressed by his home park. Look at this chart and notice how his HR/9 started dropping once he left the AL East and Toronto near the trade deadline last year.
Look how much lower his HR/9 was when he played in Oakland. As for all the contact and hard hits, that will depend on his execution and pitch mix. I can’t say if he will fix those issues or not.
If he can do those things I mentioned above, I think he will have fantasy value in deep leagues or as a streamer in standard leagues in 2017. He plays in a friendly home park in a division with two other pitchers’ parks. Putting all that together with his past performance, here is my projection.
160 IP, 8.0 K/9, 3.9 ERA, 1.33 WHIP (not his strong suit).
He’ll put up a good number of quality starts, too, but won’t pitch deep in games. Still, he’s a mostly known-quantity that is pretty safe in pitcher’s parks. He’s not going to be an All-Star, but will still have fantasy value. Tschus!