Will Jhoulys Chacin Help Make the Milwaukee Brewers a Contender?
The Milwaukee Brewers were one of the most surprising teams in baseball last season. Going into 2017, most analysts picked them to finish near the bottom of the National League Central, and it appeared they were at least a couple years away from emerging from their rebuild.
But Milwaukee's young talent jelled, and the team went 86-76, missing out on the NL's final wild card spot by just one game. They hit 224 homers as a team, tied for the most in the NL, and led the league in stolen bases, too (128). Travis Shaw, Domingo Santana, and Eric Thames all blasted more than 30 bombs.
But in order for the Brewers to catapult themselves into NL relevancy once again, they had to address their starting pitching this offseason. And so far, that has been the focus. They reportedly signed Yovani Gallardo to a Major-League contract earlier this week and, most recently, inked former San Diego Padres starter Jhoulys Chacin to a two-year deal.
The Brewers are trying to help a rotation that is missing their stud, Jimmy Nelson, for the start of the 2018 season. Nelson suffered a shoulder injury last year and isn't expected to begin throwing again until spring training. Unfortunately, Gallardo wasn't very good last year for the Seattle Mariners, going 5-10 with a 5.72 ERA and a -0.1 rWAR. In 45 starts over the last two seasons, Gallardo has gone 11-18 with a 5.57 ERA. That's not a signing that helps all that much.
But Chacin is a different story. Or is he?
In San Diego last season, Chacin posted a 3.89 ERA in 32 starts, good for an rWAR of 2.8. Opponents hit just .231 against him, and his slider was one of the best in baseball.
According to FanGraphs, Chacin's slider saved 22.4 runs above the average slider (wSL) last season, making it the second most effective slider in baseball behind only Max Scherzer's (30.0). It's an impressive weapon that helped him hold right-handed hitters to a .213 batting average and a weighted on base average (wOBA) of .266.
However, there are a couple splits that should be a cause for concern for Brewers fans.
Lefties were not as kind to Chacin in 2017. They batted .251/.356/.433 for a wOBA of .338. While he struck out 8.60 batters per nine innings against right-handers and had a strikeout rate of 23.9%, his K/9 number against left-handed hitters was 6.54, and his strikeout percentage was 16.1%. His strikeout-to-walk percentage against righties was 3.9% but ballooned to 17.1% against lefties.
Given these numbers, teams will stack left-handed hitters against Chacin unless he is able to develop a changeup that effectively neutralizes those batters.
The other split of concern is his home/road splits. San Diego is a noted pitcher's park, ranking second to last in runs per game last year (only Minute Maid Park was lower), and Chacin took advantage with a 1.79 ERA, a .175 batting average against, and an OPS against of .549 in 16 home starts.
The road was a different story. In 16 starts, he posted a 6.53 ERA, gave up a .302 batting average to opposing hitters, and surrendered an OPS of .851 away from Petco.
Chacin has also been inconsistent throughout his career, bouncing between effective and poor throughout his career.
He was hurt in 2014 and missed most of the season with a shoulder issue. He then bounced around a few different organizations in 2015 and 2016, pitching most of the time in the minors or shuffling back and forth between the bullpen and the rotation.
Last year, Chacin proved to be healthy, and -- if you look at his overall numbers -- he looked good. But there are real reasons to be concerned that Milwaukee is not exactly getting someone who is going to help them all that much over the next two seasons.