Toronto Blue Jays 2016 Season Preview: Jesse Chavez
By Ari Shapiro
The Toronto Blue Jays are looking for heroic performances from their pitching staff this year knowing that a good start will be crucial in the American League East. Will this familiar face show the fans of the city that you can go home again and be embraced?
Past Entries: Marco Estrada Justin Smoak Brett Cecil Devon Travis
Darwin Barney R.A. Dickey J.A. Happ Josh Donaldson Ryan Goins
Michael Saunders Aaron Sanchez Ryan Tepera Drew Hutchison Drew Storen
Although this off-season was considered relatively underwhelming by most Blue Jays fans – especially those anticipating a concerted and dedicated effort at signing David Price, it comes as no surprise that the acquisition of Jesse Chavez was lost in the shuffle once management began focusing on stockpiling pitching depth for the upcoming 2016 campaign.
As Estrada and Happ signed their respective dotted lines, the fans were left with the tendered contracts of several less than noteworthy pitchers – and that’s precisely where the Chavez arbitration victory may have fallen under the radar. A closer examination will reveal that he could easily become the darkest of horses who was drafted 1,252nd overall in 2002 – yes, selected in the 42nd round of a draft process that only has 40 rounds today. I’m not making this up – he’s got bragging rights with this unique claim alone.
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My first impressions of Chavez during his initial stint with the team were generally positive and left me with added encouragement that he could be a viable long relief option for games in which Toronto’s starters faltered early…or if innings needed to be eaten during lopsided blowouts – the latter being likely given our modern day juggernaut offense.
However, I remember thinking (even back then) that Chavez deserved a chance to start based on his pitching repertoire alone – a crafty toolbox which included a low to mid-90’s fastball, a deceptive cutter, a punishing changeup (against righties) and an above average curveball. Not only is he a solid four-pitch hurler who’s had success in stretches but his ability to throw strikes (K/9 of 7.9 for his career) and change speeds is the driving force behind why the Jays felt it necessary to bring him back for a second tour of duty – and at the expense of a fan favourite, no less.
“Not only is Chavez a solid four-pitch hurler who’s had success in stretches but his ability to throw strikes and change speeds is the driving force behind why the Jays brought him back.”
Naturally, this didn’t sit well with ardent supporters of Liam Hendriks – a player who overachieved at just the right time and demonstrated remarkable poise during our 41-18 second half title run.
At 32 years of age and having been traded six (6) times, it’s safe to say that Chavez is looking towards this season as a genuine chance to prove himself to the fans. Having recently parted ways with Chad Jenkins (before he slid back through waivers to triple-A Buffalo), a solid bullpen depth option whom many thought would remain with the club, it’s interesting to note that Chavez was demoted to make room for Jenkins back in 2012, and so there’s a certain poetic element in having him return to prove that he can provide quality innings for the franchise when called upon as both a starter and a reliever.
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Fangraphs is projecting a 9-7 record, 3.86 era (4.09 FIP) and a 1.6 WAR for Jesse in 2016 – and that’s without any guarantees that he’ll find himself in the starting five given that Drew Hutchison returns with an enormous chip on his shoulder while a thoroughly buffed Aaron Sanchez will be given every opportunity to show us that he’s capable of being more than just a “once through the lineup” hurler.
Such flexibility and “utility” is definitely worth the risk when evaluating his history even if last year’s numbers underwhelmed naysayers. Specifically, his dubious 4.18 era and .312 BABIP in the cavernous and pitching friendly confines of Oakland Coliseum, where foul balls go to die and home runs are always at a premium.
Chavez will need to buckle down and improve his splits against hitters – .240/.299/.316 versus righties as opposed to .291/.338/.487 against southpaws – numbers which Russell Martin should help improve greatly, along with his personal confidence – hitters caught up to him in the second half of last year (.291) and his ERA against the American League East was simply ghastly if you weren’t from the Bronx:
- vs. BAL – 14.73
- vs. BOS – 7.20
- vs. TOR – 6.00
- vs. NYY – 2.77
- vs. TB – 4.50
But Chavez is a survivor who understands that given his age and the chance to join a contending ball club, this is his time to step up and prove to the city that he’s more than just a marginal contributor. Look for him to make significant strides in the quest to become the team’s fifth starter – and don’t act too surprised when he fills you with a delightful sense of déjà vu similar to what a Blue Jay in a similar position achieved last year.
Let’s call it: The Estrada Effect.