Blue Jays: Jesse Chavez and the Carlos Villanueva role


Blue Jays pitcher Jesse Chavez may be headed for a swingman role in 2016 that many have compared to Carlos Villanueva. What exactly does that mean?

Jesse Chavez is existing in the shadows of the Blue Jays pitching staff, and that might be a good thing.

Without the high ceiling of Aaron Sanchez or bounce-back stories of Drew Hutchison and Gavin Floyd, Chavez hasn’t been a headline grabber. This fits his profile, too, as a career journeyman that has swung between the rotation and bullpen without much by way of flare or eye-popping velocity.

This role isn’t dissimilar to Marco Estrada entering 2015, viewed as a ~4.00 ERA swingman who could chew low-leverage innings while making the odd spot start after coming over in the Adam Lind trade. Another Blue Jays comparable that’s come up many times, including Jeff Blair’s article from Tuesday at Sportsnet, is Carlos Villanueva.

In his two seasons with the Blue Jays (2011, 2012), Villanueva made 29 starts and 42 appearances out of the bullpen.

This gave Villanueva 232.1 innings with a 4.11 ERA. These were not elite innings, of course, but with a 1.8 WAR over those two seasons, his performance level was good enough to allow for that role to have a real value.

That value, essentially, is saving the Blue Jays from dipping to their 7th and 8th starters as frequently. Keep in mind that, even in an extremely healthy 2015 season, the Jays rolled out Felix Doubront for four starts and used 12 total starters.

While the Blue Jays do have the depth required to go seven or eight deep without much of a drop-off, having Chavez available in that swingman role allows for a gentler roster shift when injury or performance necessitates his presence in the rotation.

Instead of drawing directly from triple-A Buffalo to fill that starting spot, Toronto will be able to slide Chavez into the rotation and recall a more specialized bullpen arm to fill the roster. A nine-inning workhorse Chavez is not, but if he stays relatively stretched out through the year, he should be able to give 5.0 IP even if called upon on short notice.

Chavez has demonstrated an ability to split these duties, as well. His 2014 season in Oakland would be the closest example of this, where Chavez made 21 starts will 11 bullpen appearances and posted an excellent 3.45 ERA with similar splits in each role.