Coming off a season which was, by all counts, excellent for a pitcher of his age/level of experience, Jhoulys Chacin inadvertently created expectations that, while realistic, may have been too much to count on happening. As a 22-year-old rookie in 2010, Chacin posted an astronomically high 142 ERA+ in 137.1 innings. He allowed just 7.5 H/9 and 0.7 HR/9 - while pitching at Coors Field half of the time. In addition, he struck out a batter per inning.
The one thing holding Jhoulys back was fastball command, but it was a problem that most people figured would improve in 2011 since he exhibited little issues with it while in the minors. During the first half of the season, there was some improvement there, as through June 15th Chacin was 8-4 with a 2.81 ERA. Although he had already given up more homers by that point than he did in all of 2010, he still was only allowing 6.3 H/9 and was striking out just under a batter an inning. Most importantly, he had reduced his walk rate to around three per nine innings, and was looking every bit like the ace that Ubaldo Jimenez was supposed to be.
However, things started to go downhill for Chacin from that point forward, most notably his fastball command (although the team's dismal offense wasn't helping, either). By the time the season came to an end, Chacin had posted the exact same walk rate (4.0 BB/9) as he did the season before, but struck out far less batters (7.0 K/9) and allowed twice as many home runs (but was still under 1 per nine innings). To make matters worse, he started to suffer from some run-of-the-mill nagging injuries in late-August, forcing him to miss a start and and more-or-less limiting him to a pitch count for the remainder of the year.
With all of that being said, Chacin still had a solid season for the Rockies (pitcher wins be damned). Chacin was once again well above average in terms of ERA+ (124), while shouldering the unexpected load of being the team's ace in the absence of Ubaldo Jimenez (ineffective/traded) and Jorge De La Rosa (injured). Not to mention, I have a feeling that his decrease in strikeouts and increase in hits/homers allowed could be due to the Bob Apodaca and the Rockies' pitch-to-contact approach, which resulted in Chacin's groundball rate increasing from 46% to 56%. Hopefully, the coaching staff will focus less on that this time around, and more on a consistent delivery.
More after the jump...
B. Chacin's struggles in the second half prevented this grade from being higher, but there was a point in the season (namely, August and September) when Chacin was the only pitcher on the roster who could be counted on to go out there and toss 6 or 7 effective innings. He obviously had a lot of pressure put on him to perform due to the injuries and roster changes, but he made the most of it for the most part.
Chacin will enter this season as the Rockies' unquestionable ace. And really, he's earned it. If he's able to keep improving his fastball command (keep in mind, he just turned 24 a couple of weeks ago), he has a chance to be up there with the other NL West aces. High praise and expectations? Sure, but Chacin hasn't really given us any reason to think otherwise.