Blue Jays reliever Jesse Chavez keeping velocity up in the ‘pen
The Blue Jays right-hander is settling into his role as one of the bullpen’s more trusted arms
Jesse Chavez‘s role with the Toronto Blue Jays has changed a lot since he re-arrived in a deal for Liam Hendriks.
The 6-foot-2 right-hander has gone from presumed depth starter, to long-man, to a more typical sixth-or-seventh-inning relief option for manager John Gibbons, and an uptick in his velocity is part of the package that’s allowed him to succeed.
Perhaps it’s his size – Chavez is listed at only 160 pounds, something he credits to his inability to sit still – but the 32-year-old has often been framed as a lower-velocity arm through his career. More Marco Estrada than, say, Hendriks, the man he was traded for.
A quick look at his charts, however, show that after seeing his velocity dip as a starter (or swing man), Chavez is now moving back towards the numbers from earlier in his career where he pitched strictly as a reliever with the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Fastball Velocity: Cutter Velocity
2014: 91.3 MPH ^ 88.9 MPH
2015: 91.2 MPH ^ 90.0 MPH
2016: 93.3 MPH ^ 91.5 MPH
That’s encouraging, but it’s also too surface-level a look. Brooks Baseball data shows that Chavez’s velocity was just fine in early 2015, but after throwing his fastball close to 94 MPH in April, it steadily declined to an average of 91.7 MPH by the end of the season.
His performance matched his velocity stride for stride. Through April and May, when Chavez was throwing his hardest, he posted a 2.11 ERA over 59.2 innings while holding opponents to a .219 batting average. From that point on, after his fastball velocity dropped to the low-92s and 91s? A 5.46 ERA with opponents hitting .295.
Thankfully for Toronto, those declines came with Chavez working as a starter, and therein lies the value of his bullpen role. After Chavez”s April velocity dippedslightly for May, it’s actually gone back up in June. The same goes for his cutter, which is arguably Chavez’s most important offering.
Chavez recently told Sportsnet that he’s made a mechanical change – though he’s not saying what it was – to iron out some issues he was having with that cutter which he throws nearly 40-percent of the time.
This uptick hasn’t all been smooth, though. Chavez has allowed three runs over his past two outings (2.0 IP) and surrendered home runs in both, giving him six allowed already this season (2.0 HR/9).
The strikeout numbers are there, though, fanning 31 over 27 and two-thirds innings while still keeping his walks in line with career averages.
Next: Jays trade their top triple-A lefty to Seattle Mariners
Chavez isn’t expected to be a true back-end piece for the Blue Jays, and really, there’s not much room. Toronto already has Roberto Osuna, Jason Grilli, Brett Cecil (currently on rehab assignment), the resurgent Drew Storen, and perhaps even Aaron Sanchez later in the year. The ability of arms like Chavez, Joe Biagini, and Gavin Floyd, however, are solidifying factors which round out a bullpen group that is quietly turning a corner.