The Startlingly Effective Jesse Chavez’s Repertoire, Illustrated

On April 9th at Minnesota, Oakland right-hander Jesse Chavez recorded a 9:0 strikeout-to-walk ratio against 26 batters over 7.0 innings, en route to a single-game 1.79 xFIP (box). Yesterday (Monday), Oakland right-hander Jesse Chavez — in this case, away at Anaheim — recorded a 9:0 strikeout-to-walk ratio against 26 batters over 7.0 innings, en route to a single-game 1.79 xFIP (box). Now, including an April 4th start against Seattle that was also rather successful, Chavez has produced a 22:2 strikeout-to-walk ratio over 20.0 innings and the seventh-best park-adjusted xFIP among 100 qualified starters.

What’s notable about the pitchers who appear towards the top of the leaderboard to which I’ve linked just above is that all of them either (a) entered the season having recorded more career major-league starts than Jesse Chavez or (b) signed a seven-year, $155 million contract with the Yankees this offseason after a celebrated career in Japanese baseball.

“How,” one wonders, “has the relatively unknown Chavez — in his age-30 season, having basically never been utilized as a starter in the majors — how has Chavez produced three starts of such quality?” Indeed, that would be an excellent question to have answered, and I look forward to such a time as a competent author pursues that particular line of inquiry.

In lieu of such an ambitious endeavor, however the present and much less competent author has provided the following alternative to such a study — namely, by attempting to document Chavez’s repertoire as it exists right now by means of however many GIFs are necessary.

In particular, I’ve taken interest in Chavez’s start at Target Stadium on April 9th, which park offers one the league’s better center-field cameras — one that’s much superior, for example, to Chavez’s home camera and all the others in the AL West, basically.

Overview
During his start against Minnesota — as with his other two starts (one before, one after) — Chavez exhibited four pitches: a first kind of fastball at 90-95 mph that’s sometimes divided into two separate classifications (a four-seamer, on the one hand; a two-seamer, on the other) but which creates one mostly distinct mass on the PITCHf/x chart below; a cut fastball with considerably more gloveside movement at 87-90 mph; a changeup at 84-87 mph; and a curveball with considerable vertical break at 76-78 mph.

cHAVEZ rEPERTOIRE

Through three starts, Chavez has thrown each pitch at least about 15% or more of the time, relying most heavily on the cutter. As the chart above demonstrates, Chavez threw each pitch quite a bit against Minnesota, as well — with the distinction that he utilized the fastball more often than any of this other pitches.

Fastball
Regardless of how one classifies it — whether four-seam or two-seam or sinker — the thing which Chavez throws that most resembles a fastball is the pitch most likely to end up in the zone and least likely to induce a swinging strike (by kinda a lot), making it both (a) probably an important part of Chavez’s success, but also (b) much less compelling in the visual sense.

Here’s an example of it from the fourth inning against Minnesota, for a called first strike to Chris Herrmann:

Chavez Hermann 4th Complete Fastball

Cutter
Against Minnesota, Chavez succeeded in throwing his cutter in at least three ways: within the zone while behind or even in the count, with a view to inviting weak contact; with the count in his favor, for a strike looking; and as a swing-and-miss offering.

Here’s an example of the middle one of those — in this case from the first inning, to strike out Chris Colabello looking:

Chavez FC 1st Colabello

And here’s an almost identical pitch, from the third inning — except one at which Brian Dozier offered and missed:

Chavez FC SS 3rd Dozier Medium

Finally, here’s perhaps the most aesthetically pleasing sort of Chavez’s cutters: the backfoot variety for a swinging strike — in this case to Pedro Florimon, also during the third inning, also for a strikeout.

Chavez FC SS 3rd Florimon Fast

Changeup
Not surprisingly, Chavez (according to Brooks Baseball) has utilized the changeup about twice as often to left-handed batters this season as right-handed ones — ca. 18% and 9%, respectively. Also not surprisingly, Chavez’s changeup has produced the highest swinging-strike rate against left-handed batters among his repertoire.

Here’s an example of Chavez inducing a swinging strike from a batter against whom such a thing is generally quite difficult, Joe Mauer — in this case, during the first inning of that game in Minnesota.

Chavez CH SS 1st Mauer Fast

Here’s the same thing, except slower and sexier:

Chavez CH SS 1st Mauer Slow

Curveball
Chavez’s curveball and his cutter have produced pretty similar whiff rates thus far this season, both at just under 20%. Chavez’s usage rates for the curve against right-handers demonstrate the two ways in which he appears to most often utilize the offering: either as a change of speeds for a strike looking or as a chase pitch down and out of the zone.

Here’s an example from the Minnesota game of Chavez striking out Jason Kubel with the curve:

Chavez CU SS 4th Kubel Second Fast

And a slower version of that, for the enjoyment of everyone:

Chavez CU SS 4th Kubel Second Slow

Finally, here’s some footage from Monday night, against Anaheim, in front of that stadium’s inferior center-field camera. First, one finds here, in the first inning, an instance of Chavez throwing the curve at such a point in his confrontation with Mike Trout (against whom Chavez recorded four swinging strikes) as the latter was clearly not anticipating the pitch, which he takes for a called strike three:

Chavez Trout 1st CU K Looking

Just a few batters later, Chavez utilizes the curve in slightly different fashion, as a pitch below the zone at which Howie Kendrick offers fruitlessly.

Chavez Kendrick 1st CU K Swinging

Note: the author’s colleagues at RotoGraphs, Jack Weiland and David Wiers, have also both considered Chavez’s utility of late.





Carson Cistulli has published a book of aphorisms called Spirited Ejaculations of a New Enthusiast.

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