Jays From the Couch examines the transition Jesse Chavez is undertaking in the Toronto Blue Jays bullpen as a high leverage option.
When the Toronto Blue Jays sent Liam Hendriks to the Oakland Athletics for Jesse Chavez, it felt a little confusing. Hendriks was coming off a season where the club switched him from starter/long man to an effective short outing reliever. His fastball had more oomph and he was more effective. So, trading him was unsettling.
But, the Blue Jays needed starting depth. They needed a long man. They needed bullpen depth. Jesse Chavez provides all of those things. He started 47 games for the A’s over the 2014 and 2015 seasons. But, many questioned his stamina, so it was thought that perhaps he’d be the long man out of the ‘pen with the possibility of making starts.
Here we are with the 2016 season underway and we are seeing a new idea approaching. It seems that Chavez is going to be used in almost the same manner Hendriks was. Arden Zwelling of Sportsnet brings us a look at how Chavez is adapting as a new “high leverage” option for the Blue Jays. In it, Chavez talks about the adjustment required to come into a game without the benefit of prep work, etc as he would have had in the past couple of seasons:
You don’t have time to get a feel for a hitter or a lineup. You have to just come in and attack. I’m not used to having a guy on base when I come into a ballgame. It’s a different mind factor. You have to walk that line of throwing strikes while being fine at the same time, because you don’t want to give up one of those runs for the guy you came in for. That’s one of the worst things you can feel as a pitcher. (via Zwelling’s piece linked above)
Of course, we all remember the exact type of situation he is describing as he came in and gave up a grand slam to Brock Holt at Rogers Centre. But, can we really judge him based on one outing? Obviously not. So, let’s take a look at just how he is adapting to his new role.
In 5 games (4.1 innings), Chavez has 2.08 ERA and an xFIP of 0.86. His 16.62 K/9 is very impressive. He’s struck out 42.1% of the batters he’s faced while walking just 5.3%. He’s picked up 2 holds already. But, let’s look a little closer at the leverage breakdown:
As he transitions to more of a “high leverage” role, one might look at the above table and get nervous. It doesn’t look good. But, look at the context: it includes the grand slam to Holt. That particular incident came 2 pitches into his outing. Take that out of the equation (which you can’t really do, I realize), the rest of his “high leverage” innings have yielded just one other hit.
Coming in late innings, during high leverage situations will allow him to throw his fastball 2 mph (93.3) more than last year (91.3). Thus far, in 2016 it has resulted in an increased value of the pitch: 2016 wFB: 1.6 / 2015 wFB: -4.1 (via Fangraphs.com) Obviously, a total of 4.1 innings is the smallest of small samples, so these numbers are likely to see some change.
Bullpen pieces, and their usage, require decisions based on small sample sizes. Spring Training provides very little time for clubs to really sort out who will be used when. The Toronto Blue Jays are still trying to figure out how to fill out their bullpen arms. The current hypothesis is that Chavez very well could be a high leverage option moving forward. It is something that is new to him, for sure. But, it is something that he seems to be adjusting well to.
*Featured Image Credit: Joel Dinda UNDER CC BY-SA 2.0
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Shaun Doyle is a long time Blue Jays fan and writer! He decided to put those things together and create Jays From the Couch. Shaun is the host of Jays From the Couch Radio, which is highly ranked in iTunes, and he has appeared on TV and radio spots.