The Brewers added a starting pitcher on Wednesday, as righty Jhoulys Chacin inked a two-year, $15 million contract with the club.
#Brewers close to agreement with free-agent RHP Jhoulys Chacin, sources tell The Athletic.— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) December 20, 2017
On the surface, signing Chacin, with his career 3.93 ERA over nine big-league seasons, isn’t anything more than a “meh” type deal. It’s a signing that helps to fill a need for the Brewers, but it is not a splash by any means. Chacin isn’t Yu Darvish. Chacin isn’t Jake Arrieta. He isn’t even Lance Lynn.
However, in at least in one regard, Chacin is just as good, if not better than, Chris Sale.
That’s right, Jhoulys Chacin — with his career 13.2 fWAR — might just have a better slider than Chris Sale, the six-time All-Star (all consecutive, too) and one of the best pitchers in the game. Sale’s slider, one of his best pitches, generated 136 swings-and-misses last season, according to data from Baseball Savant’s Statcast. Chacin’s, though, generated 139, and ranked one spot above Sale at twelfth-most in the Majors.
Chacin’s slider has always been his best pitch. His career 77.0 weighted runs above average (wSL) with the slider is by far the highest mark for any of his pitches. It’s important to note that this metric is also based upon usage — the more he throws a higher quality pitch, the more runs above average he will accumulate with it. Understandably, given how deadly it is, Chacin has relied on his slider more and more as his career has progressed:
Jhoulys Chacin’s slider usage and effectiveness
Chacin’s 22.4 slider weighted runs above average (wSL) ranked second in the majors, behind only Max Scherzer. While this is one metric, and it does not mean that Chacin’s slider is actually the second-best in baseball, it can be indicative of the pitch’s general success and could be part of the reason why Chacin had a good year last year.
What remains interesting, though, is that Chacin’s swinging strike rate decreased from 2016 to 2017. Even with a good slider, Chacin saw hitters making contract at just about the same amount of pitches, and they certainly weren’t chasing any more than they had been in the past. It wasn’t the strikeouts that his uptick in sliders helped; it was the ability to generate soft contact that led to his success. His ground ball rate and his hard-hit allowed rate were at their bests since 2011.
An increase in his slider may have done this. Statcast data found that Chacin’s slider allowed an average exit velocity of 86.4 mph, about 1 mph slower than the league-average. To add, Chacin allowed an average exit velocity on all pitches of 85.4 mph, putting him in the top-20 percent of the league in average exit velocity allowed (min. 190 batted ball events). While not being a big strikeout pitcher, Chacin may have found a way to limit batter effectiveness through his best pitch.
Overall, in 180 1⁄3 innings in 2017, Chacin posted a 3.89 ERA and a 153-72 strikeout-to-walk ratio. His 20.0 percent strikeout rate was the second-highest mark of his career and the highest since his rookie season in 2010. Likewise, his 10.6 K-BB% was also his second-best. And, according to Baseball Prospectus, Chacin’s 4.13 deserved run average (DRA) was his third-lowest. All in all, his 2.3 fWAR put a cap on an overall solid year.
In today’s starting pitching market, $7.5 million per season is a pretty good deal for just about anyone with an arm. R.A. Dickey, at age 43, earned $8 million last year. Jhoulys Chacin does not have to be a stud for the Brewers to do well with this contract. But if he even comes close to his numbers last year, they’ll make out well.
Of course, no player signs a $15 million contract without any concerns. Chacin has plenty, but they might be alleviated with Milwaukee. That is just a gamble that they are taking.
First of all, Chacin pitched for the Padres last year, and playing in Petco Park can certainly make a pitcher’s numbers look better. This happened with Chacin, and it happened to the extreme. No pitcher in MLB had a better home ERA than Chacin last season, as he pitched to an absurd 1.79 ERA at Petco. Correspondingly, Chacin had the fourth-highest away ERA in the majors, at 6.53. That could be a huge issue for Chacin as he moves to Miller Park in Milwaukee, one of the most hitter-friendly ballparks in MLB.
However, Chacin was rocked in three starts at Coors Field and Chase Field, likely leading to his huge ERA on the road. With the Brewers, Chacin would probably start in Chase or Coors a total of one time, if that. So if we were to take two of those starts out, Chacin’s away ERA goes down to 6.20. That’s still not what you want, but it’s a start.
It is still important to note that Chacin’s HR/FB rate on the road was up at 15.7 percent, two points above the league average. So while Chacin was getting lucky at home, he was perhaps getting unlucky on the road.
And that luck may have just about canceled out. If we were to expand Chacin’s away innings so that they matched his home inning total of 100 1⁄3 , Chacin’s overall season ERA would have been 4.17.
That makes sense, and if Chacin were to post a 4.17 ERA in 2018, I’m sure the Brewers front office and their fans would certainly be happy about that. It would easily beat his projected ERA of 4.72 (FG’s Depth Charts) and could make him a 2.0-fWAR pitcher once again.
At just $16 million, the Brewers may have added some very nice starting pitching depth for their team going forward.
Devan Fink is a Featured Writer for Beyond The Box Score. You can follow him on Twitter @DevanFink.