Oakland Athletics: What Happened to Jesse Chavez?

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Oakland Athletics: What Happened to Jesse Chavez?
Elaine Thompson/Associated Press
Jesse Chavez's career year spiraled into misery under the hot July sun.

Jesse Chavez began the year as a legitimate part of the Oakland Athletics' one-two-three punch behind Sonny Gray and Scott Kazmir but was rocked by offenses in July. Now Chavez has been moved to the bullpen, completing a roller-coaster ride from long reliever to starting pitcher to ace back to long reliever.

All hope seemed to be lost for the Oakland Athletics' starting rotation when Jarrod Parker and A.J. Griffin both underwent Tommy John surgery before the season began. Chavez took over a rotation spot with just two career starts to his name and helped the A's not miss a beat in the first half.

Trades for Jeff Samardzija, Jason Hammel and Jon Lester pushed Chavez to the pen with an 8-7 record, 3.44 ERA and 1.30 WHIP in 21 starts. Not bad, but nothing like April, when he gave up one run or fewer in five of six starts.

So why did Jesse Chavez flame out after three months of dominance? Simple: overuse, opponents making adjustments and a deceptively good start to the season.

 

He wasn't built for the workload

Many critics thought Chavez's 6'1", 160-pound frame wouldn't withstand a full season as a starter. His last couple appearances seemed to suggest he was tiring out, as he completed six innings just once in his last six starts.

Chavez has switched back and forth between the rotation and the bullpen throughout his career, so he has thrown less innings than a regular starting pitcher. He threw 123 innings for the Class A Clinton LumberKings in 2004 but hadn't thrown more than 90 in a season until this year.

When Chavez was yanked from the rotation, he had accumulated 125.2 innings in four months on the mound. He's likely to be more effective after a little rest and could even make a spot start or two later in the season.

 

Hitters figured him out

In the Athletics' 18-inning win over the New York Yankees last season, Chavez closed out the game with 5.2 scoreless innings. Yankees first baseman Mark Teixeira told MLB.com after the game, "That last guy was the best guy we faced all day. That guy was nasty."

Chavez had previously faced Teixeira in 2010 with the Kansas City Royals, though, Tex didn't seem to remember him. The righty has developed into a more well-rounded pitcher since then, lowering his xFIP every season in the process.

As a reliever early in his career, Chavez mainly threw four-seam fastballs with the occasional slider or changeup mixed in there. He's since eliminated the slider from his arsenal, established a cutter as his primary pitch and added curveball and two-seamer.

Chavez had all his pitches working in a win over the Minnesota Twins on April 9.

Opponents' scouting reports must have had Chavez pegged as a different sort of pitcher than he really was early this year. Even in 2013, his approach as a reliever was to throw more hard stuff and use his changeup less.

 

He's just not that good

Given his past record, Chavez's brilliance was unlikely to last throughout the entire season. The 30-year-old's 3.92 ERA as a long reliever in 2013 was the lowest mark of a career spent going back and forth between Triple-A and the majors.

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Chavez struggled against the lowly Houston Astros in his last start, giving up six earned runs in 5.1 innings.

Batters hit just .255 on balls in play against Chavez in April, which led to a 1.89 ERA and 0.95 WHIP. Some regression was bound to follow, and opposing hitters' BABIP rose to .312 in May, .311 in June and .360 in July.

Chavez actually struck out 10.41 batters per nine innings during his July meltdown, fourth among American League starting pitchers. Unfortunately, his 4.23 walks per nine innings were the second-most in the AL during that span.

Jesse Chavez has proven he can be a serviceable pitcher in the majors. He'll contribute to Oakland's playoff push throughout the rest of year. But he isn't the same.

 

All advanced statistics courtesy of Fangraphs.

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