About a month and a half ago, Fangraphs' Dave Cameron wrote about Rockies starter Jhoulys Chacin's assault on the all-time (well, for the period during which extensive batted ball information has been available) HR/FB ratio record held by Matt Cain. At that time, only 2.7 percent of the the balls hit into play against Chacin left the yard. Cain's record is 2.8 percent, set in 2011.
Of course, Chacin wound up allowing a home run in his next start, and has done the same thing in four of his last six outings (strangely, three of those have been on the road). Still, Chacin, who has logged 183⅓ innings this season, has still yet to allow more than one home run in a single game. However, his HR/FB ratio has gone up to 4.9 percent, meaning he likely won't break Cain's record.
Still, Chacin's ability to avoid giving up home runs is still second-best in all of baseball behind Mets phenom Matt Harvey, which quite a feat considering where Jhoulys pitches half of his games. And, it's the best of any pitcher who has ever started a game for the Rockies in their history. Is there some luck involved? Absolutely there is. Even just on Monday, several balls were hit into the thick Bay Area air that probably would have at least come close to leaving other parks. But, maintaining a home run rate that low requires some skill, too.
Chacin boasts a 3.09 ERA despite striking out less than six batters per nine innings. He's helped by a fairly, but not astronomically, low BABIP (.279), which in turn has allowed the 25-year-old Venezuelan to own a H/9 ratio of 8.15. That's actually only the third best such mark that Chacin has posted in his career, yet he's having what is by far best season.
There's not a big difference between Chacin's ERA and xFIP -- at least, no more than Clayton Kershaw, Jose Fernandez or Zack Greinke. So, despite the fact that he's not even in the top 30 in baseball at getting groundballs, Jhoulys remains one of the better pitchers in the game in terms of ERA.
Chacin is walking just 2.5 batters per nine innings. That might be the real root cause for his success. He has never posted a walk rate that low in his big league career, and you'd have to back to 2008 -- when Chacin was at High-A Modesto -- to find a lower figure.
And, as a testament to how good he's been even with the above-average home run luck, Chacin's numbers during the six-game stretch in which he's allowed four homers? A 2.40 ERA, 33 strikeouts and 13 walks and 32 hits in 41⅓ innings.
The breakout of Chacin is one of many reasons why Rockies fans should hold hope for the future. Of course, there are many more (well, at least two or three -- and they're not on the field) why they shouldn't, but that's a different conversation for a different day.