Braves: Jhoulys Chacin and his slider provide an experienced alternative in 2020

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With two additions in two days, the Braves followed up their signing of lefty-hitter Matt Adams with the inking of right-handed pitcher Jhoulys Chacin. Like Adams, Chacin is expected to provide depth for the Braves, though anything can happen in a given season. 

And we don’t have to go very far back to pick out the most-recent over-30 starting pitcher that wound up making significant contributions for the Braves, as I bet Anibal Sanchez’s 2018 is still fresh on everyone’s minds.

But keeping with a “best-case” scenario regarding the Braves’ upcoming 2020 season, where nothing catastrophic occurs injury-wise, it would be quite unrealistic to expect Chacin to become a regular in the Braves’ starting rotation by merit alone. However, it never hurts to go ahead and examine just what the guy brings to the team. 


A 2019 season to forget

Before going too deep into Chacin’s current ability, his player page sort of gives off a Tanner Roark vibe, which could be rather valuable for the Braves if someone like Mike Foltynewicz or Sean Newcomb fails to perform quite as we hope in 2020. 

Chacin is most definitely not a power-pitcher, and though he did post one of the highest K/9 rates of his 11-year career last season, his actual strikeout percentage in 2019 remained within just a few percentage points of his career average. In fact, Chacin has six other seasons during his career in which he has tallied more punchouts, so I wouldn’t give his 8.8 K/9 last year too much thought. 

I wouldn’t pay too much attention to Chacin’s overall 2019 performance, in general. Sure, he pitched poorly for 19 starts with the Brewers, but he also suffered an injury to his right rib while swinging the bat in late July, sending him to the IL and ultimately resulting in his release. I would imagine a hurt rib, especially one on the pitching side, would make life miserable for a guy expected to throw a ball as hard as he can for a living. However, after a little more than a month on the shelf, Chacin got another chance when he signed a minor-league deal with the Red Sox. But by then, it was early September, and it’s apparent that Chacin was still bothered by his ailment as he posted a 7.36 ERA in the final six games of the season with Boston. 

For a more accurate outlook as to what Chacin is currently capable of, it’s the three seasons before last year that should garner our attention. That is what the Braves are hoping Chacin can replicate if given the opportunity in 2020. 

Chacin (2016-18)

89 starts, 12 app, 4.00 ERA, 7.5 K/9, 3.4 BB/9

What’s not shown in the line above is Chacin’s 34-26 record during that span. I know, I know… win-loss records aren’t supposed to matter anymore, but acquiring a pitcher who won roughly 57% of his decisions over a recent three-year span is quite the pick up for a last-second signing. Of course, that’s also completely ignoring that Chacin only managed to win 20% of his decisions in 2019 (3-12 record), but like I said… let’s not focus too much on last year. 


Chacin’s current repertoire 

Two things are a given when it comes to Chacin and how he goes about his business on the mound. First, he’s going to throw his slider a lot. And second, most of the time, his slider will get batters out, as he has allowed a .186 AVG with the pitch over the last two seasons combined.

Per FanGraphs‘ Pitch Values, only two starting pitchers have thrown a better slider than Chacin over the last four seasons (Max Scherzer and Clayton Kershaw). And understandably, only two starting pitchers have thrown the pitch more frequently than Chacin during that time frame (Chris Archer and Jakob Junis).

Here’s the pitch in postseason form back in 2018…


Though, the problem is that’s all Chacin has at the moment, other than a changeup that has frankly seen mixed results (.182 BAA in 2019, but a .365 BAA in 2017-18 combined). 

And then there’s Chacin’s fastball velocity and spin, which amongst all MLB pitchers rank in just the 11th and 16th percentile, respectively (per Statcast). FanGraphs has the 32-year-old averaging 90.3 mph with the heater in 2019, and given its lack of movement, it’s easy to see why batters hit .410 against the pitch last year (no, that’s not a typo). 

Chacin also throws a ton of sinkers, and like his slider, he likes to use it against right-handed batters. But Chacin’s sinker is currently his worst swing-and-miss offering, and over the last two seasons, batters have combined to hit .311 against it. Fortunately, after years of getting pummeled throwing the pitch, Chacin finally started cutting back on his sinker usage in 2019. 

Overall, like the changeup is to Cole Hamels, the slider is currently Chacin’s best bet at success in 2020. And it will be interesting to see if the Braves can help him out on that front because it’ll be hard to survive with just one pitch

Though their careers went very differently, signing Chacin is no different from the Felix Hernandez pickup back in January. Like King Felix, Chacin is also coming off a bad 2019, and the Braves are merely offering him an opportunity to contribute this coming season. 

As our own Chase Irle reported here yesterday, the fifth and final spot in the Braves’ starting rotation is Kyle Wright’s to lose right now, though with Hamels due to miss some time, Chacin makes for a decent alternative in the event someone else gets banged up. And as mentioned above, Folty and Newcomb still must prove they can pitch consistently in the regular season before it’s safe to declare them permanently entrenched in the rotation, so there’s also the potential that Chacin works his way in due to ineffectiveness by others. Also, Chacin has experience as a multi-inning reliever, which gives the Braves another Mike Tomlin-like option when low-leverage innings need to be covered.

Regardless, adding pitching is rarely a bad thing, no matter how short the season. And we’ve already examined this week just how successful GM Alex Anthopoulos has been recently when it comes to timely additions, both right before Opening Day and mid-season. All-in all, the Braves’ pitching depth just got a little deeper with Chacin in the mix. 

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