For most of his career, Jhoulys Chacín toiled in obscurity. His name was dismissed along with other characteristically poor Rockies starting rotations. After being released from Colorado, it looked like he’d be something of a journeyman if he was going to stay in the majors at all. Through 2015 and 2017, he played with five different organizations, but he didn’t stick anywhere until he put together a solid season with a forgettable Padres team last year.
Though he has struggled at times, he probably didn’t deserve such a humbling career path. Chacin’s numbers have those of a true number one starter even adjusting for Coors Field, while he has been a solid pitcher throughout his career, he is not viewed as an impact player. Over ten seasons, he’s put together a 3.86 ERA, a 4.03 FIP, good for a 112 ERA+. Devan Fink was rightfully optimistic about the Brewers signing him over the offseason as he’s been the second most valuable free-agent pitcher in 2018. Over 192 2/3 innings this year, Chacín pitched to a 3.50 ERA, 4.03 FIP, and a 116 ERA+.
His team is on the verge of going to the National League Championship Series, and he’s been a major reason why. The Brewers turned to him in Monday’s tiebreaker against the Cubs, and he honored their faith by going 5 2/3 innings and only allowing the home run to Anthony Rizzo. Even if the tiebreaker wasn’t a loser-go-home game, Chacín’s efforts helped the Brewers avoid a Wild Card game where seasons can be ended by the likes of Tony Wolters or Conor Gillaspie.
In the second game of the divisional series, the Brewers turned to him again on just three days of rest. In his first postseason game, (which incidentally came against the team that initially released him) Chacín threw five shutout innings to counter Tyler Anderson’s strong outing. Chacín only struck out three (and he walked as many as he struck out) but he still showed why it wasn’t crazy for a playoff team to start Jhoulys Freakin’ Chacin on short rest.
Chacín’s strikeouts in Friday’s game couldn’t have come at a better time. The first came in the opening frame. After Chacín got two quick outs, Nolan Arenado singled and Carlos González walked. This brought up Trevor Story, arguably Colorado’s most dangerous hitter and who was hitting fifth for some reason. In a similar moment during Game One, Jeremy Jeffress got Story to strikeout on three straight sliders down and away, and Chacín employed the same strategy Friday. On a 3-2 pitch, Chacín threw him a slider in the dirt to escape the jam.
In the third, Chacín ran into trouble again as Arenado came to the plate with two on and one out. If Story isn’t the Rockies most dangerous hitter, Arenado is. But even Arenado was no match for Chacín’s slider. Again in the fifth, Arenado came up with a runner on, but Chacín got him swinging with another slider to end the threat and end his outing. Admittedly, the final pitch was a hanger so either Chacín kept him so off-balance that that a hanging slider became a good pitch or Arenado was simply out of whack.
Chacín’s slider has been key to his success this year. It’s the pitch that made Devan optimistic about him. It should come as no surprise that he went to it when the leverage was at its highest. Per Fangraphs, Chacín threw his slider 44.0 percent of the time in 2018. His previous high was 34.8 percent last year in San Diego when it became a weapon he could rely on. By pitch values, Chacín’s slider was worth 24.9 runs in 2018, eclipsing last year’s total of 22.6. It had never been higher than 12.6.
Chacín was as unlikely as anyone to be a postseason ace, especially since bullpenning is getting mainstream attention, but Milwaukee will likely depend on Chacín to get them through the NLCS or a potential Game Five against the Rockies. The Brewers appear to be in good hands.