Projecting Jhoulys Chacin

The Milwaukee Brewers have been relatively quiet this winter. With money to spend and the urge to spend it for the first time in a handful of years, the expectation was that the Brewers would make a big splash in free agency. David Stearns has been rumored to be interested in Jake Arrieta, and it’s no secret the team would be in favor of re-signing Neil Walker. And while there’s still plenty of time for those moves or other noteworthy acquisitions to happen, the Brewers have decided to make plays for under-the-radar and low-cost players.

Their first “significant” offseason move was bringing back an old friend in Yovani Gallardo on a $2 million contract that includes incentives. After two forgettable seasons with Seattle and Baltimore, there’s no guarantee the former Brewers’ ace makes the roster, and even if he does, he’ll probably be used as a long reliever rather than a starter. The acquisition of Gallardo didn’t — for good reason — make much noise around baseball, but a few days later the Brewers made another move that, while not flashy at its base, has the potential to be great.

On Thursday the team announced that it had signed Jhoulys Chacin to a frontloaded two-year contract worth $15.5 million that includes a $1.5 million signing bonus. At face value, Chacin seems like a league-average pitcher. In 2017 he posted a 3.89 ERA and a 4.26 FIP on his way to a 2.3 WAR over 32 starts. His career numbers aren’t nearly as positive, but he provided optimism with the Padres last year. His slider is considered one of the best in the game, and that’s backed up by this fact:

Chacin also forced more swings-and-misses via his slider than Chris Sale. That’s right, Chris Sale. The right-hander threw his slider almost 35 percent of the time last season and limited hitters to a lowly .155 batting average against it. As a result, Chacin finished with the 14th-highest groundball rate (49.1 percent) among qualified pitchers. He’ll need to continue to do that in Miller Park, a stadium known as a hitter’s paradise due to the amount of home runs it allows.

The biggest knock on Chacin is his home/road splits and his difficulty in getting out left-handed hitters. Chase Anderson also suffered from the latter problem until the Brewers altered where he stood on the mound last season, and he just turned in his best year to date. I’m not saying Chacin will automatically dominate lefties if he makes the same adjustment, but it’s definitely a possibility, and there’s absolutely no harm in trying. The home/road splits are more of an issue. Chacin threw in pitcher friendly Petco Park in 2017 and was unbelievably great (1.79 ERA, 3.80 FIP) at home. However, he was very different away from his home stadium (6.53 ERA, 4.85 FIP), and that’s somewhat worrisome going forward. Miller Park is considered a hitter’s park, so it’ll be interesting to see how he adjusts to his new atmosphere. Limiting home runs will be key to his success.

Here’s how RW23 projects Chacin to perform in 2018:

IP ERA FIP xFIP K/9 BB/9 K% BB% HR WHIP BABIP
RW23 161.1 3.78 4.20 4.07 8.08 3.43 21.2% 9.0% 19 1.29 .282

 

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