Blue Jays Reacquire Pitcher Jesse Chavez
By Jay Blue
Blue Jays from Away
The Blue Jays made a move to address their starting rotation needs by adding starter Jesse Chavez from the Oakland Athletics in exchange for reliever Liam Hendriks.
Chavez previously had a brief stop in Toronto in 2012 after he was selected off waivers from the Kansas City Royals and he pitched for most of that season before being sold to the A’s in August. Chavez’s best pre-2013 season was his second year of 2009 with the Pittsburgh Pirates in which he had a 4.01 ERA and 1.35 WHIP. He bounced around, spending time with Atlanta, K.C. and Toronto until he found his niche in Oakland, making 35 appearances in 2013 with a 3.92 ERA. Chavez moved into the rotation, making 21 starts in 2014 and logged a 3.45 ERA over 146 innings and last year, he pitched a career-high 157 innings with a 4.18 ERA, a 1.35 WHIP and 3.85 FIP (and 3.89 xFIP), accumulating 2.3 fWAR.
In the trade, the Blue Jays are giving up a power arm in the bullpen who was one of the club’s most reliable relievers in 2015. Liam Hendriks had been a journeyman starter, mostly with the Twins, Blue Jays and Royals until last season when, being out of minor league options, the Jays kept Hendriks in the major league bullpen out of spring training. As Kyle Matte of Captial Jays has written, Hendriks’ 2015 season was unprecedented. Hendriks had averaged right around 90 mph with his fastball in 2011 through 2013 with the Twins. In 2014 (with Toronto and K.C.), he averaged a little bit harder at 91.3 mph for his four-seamer. In 2015, that velocity jumped another three-to-four miles per hour as PITCHf/x registered his four-seam fastball at 94.5 mph and his two-seamer at 94.8 mph.
In 2015, Hendriks had a 2.92 ERA, 2.14 FIP, 2.80 xFIP and was worth 1.5 fWAR, striking out 27.2% of batters and only walking 4.2%. In addition, his ground ball rate also spiked (up to a career-high 46.3%) and his home run rate dropped to an unsustainably low 5.5%.
In the end, whether you like this trade or not depends on three things. The first is whether you value a mediocre starter over a good reliever. One projection for Chavez has him throwing 140 innings with a 3.99 ERA. Steamer projections has him throwing 159 innings with a 3.90 ERA and 2.0 fWAR. Steamer has Hendriks throwing 65 innings with a 2.95 ERA and a 0.9 fWAR.
Clearly getting Chavez would give the Jays more value as a starter over what Hendriks could give you as a reliever but one could make a case for the Blue Jays chasing a championship with the Royals’ model of having a whole series of lights-out relievers. If the Jays keep everyone in the ‘pen from last year, Hendriks would give the Blue Jays four very strong relievers in Osuna, Sanchez, Cecil and the Aussie.
The second factor in deciding whether you like the trade or not is how you project the players to pitch in 2016. Was Hendriks a flash in the pan? Is his revitalization and increased velocity a fleeting moment and will he be back to whatever he was doing previously? Matte noted that Hendriks’ fastball velocity actually rose throughout the season, peaking in September which could indicate that it’s no fluke and that he has found a way to not only increase his velocity at age 26, but he’s found a way to sustain it.
In Chavez’s case, you have to ask yourself how he’s going to pitch in Toronto. Oakland is one of the most pitcher-friendly parks in baseball and he’s going to be going to one of the least pitcher-friendly parks. On the same note, similar things were said about Marco Estrada, especially about how he gave up a lot of home runs and how that would not play in a stadium like the Rogers Centre. Estrada is much more of a fly-ball pitcher than Chavez (with 32.2% of balls in play on the ground when Chavez induces 42-43% annually) and his ability to keep hitters off balance and induce soft contact allowed Estrada’s home run tendency to be a non-factor in 2015. Chavez looks like he’ll be able to survive that.
The final factor to deciding how to evaluate the trade is looking at how long each player is under team control. Chavez earned $2.15 million last year and is arbitration eligible for the last time this year. He’s expected to earn about $4.7 million (thanks to the MLB Trade Rumors estimate) and will be a free agent after 2016 whereas Hendriks isn’t eligible for arbitration until 2017 and not to be a free agent until 2020. Obviously this is a “going for it” move, looking to add a starting pitcher for the back end of the rotation at a reasonable rate in exchange for power arm in the bullpen who the club may be trading at the peak of his value.
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