Jesse Chavez has been perfect since the Cubs acquired him last week, but because we are fans, we suffer from all kinds of blind spots when it comes to “new” players and how they perform.
To be sure, Chavez looks good, and there were indicators in his peripherals this year that suggested he could be very solid with the Cubs. But it’s always hard to know for sure whether a player’s performance will continue on through the year, or if there’s all kinds of unsustainable flukiness baked into past results that simply won’t be there anymore in August and September.
To that end, I was very intrigued to read Chavez’s comments to NBC Sports Chicago that he decided to make a change to his delivery – specifically, his arm slot – while hanging out in the Rangers bullpen on Mother’s Day. He threw three scoreless innings that day, and since then, has posted a 2.08 ERA, a 47.7% groundball rate, a 22.7% K rate, and a 4.7% BB rate. That guy would have cost a heckuva a lot more than a fringe A-ball prospect at the trade deadline …
But that’s where I got curious. Is this one of those narratives that a player shares, some numbers seem to confirm, and we just roll on, even though there’s nothing actually under the hood?
In the interest of solidifying an opinion about what is or isn’t sustainable for Chavez, I took a look at a few things at Brooks. Although Chavez mentioned his velocity to NBCSC, I don’t really see obvious, marked changes on that front (though it has ticked up a bit from the start of the season generally). But man alive, when you look at his release points, you can see EXACTLY when he made the change, and he’s been fantastic from that moment on.
Horizontal release point:
Vertical release point:
Since he was throwing from such a radically different slot, I also got curious about whether he’s altered his pitch mix (some pitches presumably play better or worse together from a different slot). Again, you see some pretty dramatic pitch mix changes as the season has gone on:
We don’t have enough of a sample on any of this stuff – especially in a mere four innings with the Cubs – to truly know if Chavez is suddenly a relief stud as opposed to just a very solid swing guy, but I’d be shocked if the Cubs weren’t acutely aware of this change and the results thereafter when they targeted Chavez early, far before the deadline.
Given what it cost to acquire him, the deal for Chavez has already been a good move for the Cubs. If these changes really do support significantly improved results for Chavez, the deal could prove to have been one of the best of trade season.
Keep that in mind when reviewing what the Cubs do in the next few days.