The Oakland Athletics’ have a rotation problem.
Maybe it’s time for the A’s to admit the truth: Jesse Chavez just isn’t cut out to be a starter.
Chavez has given the team plenty of effort, and he’s achieved some remarkable results in the first half of each of the last two seasons. And yet, overall, his numbers are mediocre, due largely in part to a weak finish to the year.
In 2014, Chavez entered the All-Star break with a 3.14 ERA in 114.2 innings of work, after opposing hitters batted .253 off of him. His walk rate was just 7.4 percent, while he had struck out 22 percent of batters. Then the second half of the season began. His ERA was 4.60, and his walk rate jumped to 9.7 percent. These numbers would have been much worse if not for a move from the rotation to the bullpen at the end of a rough July.
After being reduced to a relief role, his August ERA was just 2.75 – a significant improvement over what he had done as a starter in the second half.
This season appears to follow the same trend. Chavez was spectacular in the early part of the year, striking out over 20 percent of opponents and walking just 6.3 percent on his way to a 3.40 ERA in over 100 innings. Since the Oakland Athletics’ return from the All-Star break, he’s found himself struggling again. His ERA is 6.62 in 17.2 innings since the team’s return, his walk rate has shot up to 8.2 percent, and his strikeouts are hovering at 18.8 percent.
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To put it concisely, Chavez just isn’t fooling hitters anymore. After achieving a 41.9 percent ground ball rate in the first half, he’s dropped to just 32.2 percent since his return. Add that to the fact that 14.3 percent of his fly balls have been home runs, compared to just 7.4 percent before the break, and there’s no wonder he’s struggling. According to Fangraphs.com, all of Chavez’s second half numbers suffer when he is a starter. While most pitchers get tired, he takes it to an extreme.
It likely has nothing to do with Chavez’s ability as a pitcher. He has spent the majority of his career working out of the pen, which leads to fewer innings and less stress on his arm. While he hasn’t complained of any injury so far, pitchers don’t necessarily have to be hurt to become ineffective. Seasons are long, especially when one thinks about all of the additional pitches starters toss outside of the regular increase in innings: bullpen sessions in between games, warmup pitches every time they take the mound, and even pre-game throwing programs. Relievers have to do those things, too, but they use a much smaller quantity of pitches.
The Oakland Athletics may have waited too long into Chavez’s career to try to turn him into a starter. While he is a great first-half pitcher, is it worth having a tired arm heading into the stretch? Certainly, it doesn’t matter this season – the A’s aren’t about to make the playoffs, and Chavez won’t make or break the rotation with his performance. But if they had remained competitive, the losses he’s cost them since the break could have been a major turning point in the season.
Chavez should be moved back to the bullpen immediately, where he can salvage the remainder of his season. Next year, the Oakland Athletics’ shouldn’t be fooled by his early-season numbers. He just doesn’t have the capability to pitch well consistently throughout an entire season, and two attempts should be more than enough to show that pattern.
Perhaps this is the right time to call up Barry Zito, who had been extremely good for the Nashville Sounds as he bides his time in the minors. Whoever Chavez’s replacement might be, the time is now for him to leave the rotation.