I was never a big fan of the pitch-to-contact approach, especially when it is adopted by a team whose ballpark is unforgiving to batted balls.
Notice the second word in that sentence. Was ... I was never a big fan of the pitch-to-contact approach. But, thanks to Colorado Rockies ace Jhoulys Chacin's execution of the idea in 2013, I can certainly live with it now.
Entering the season, Chacin's biggest problem over the course of his big-league career was the free pass. In parts of four seasons at the highest level, he was never able to post a walk rate of fewer than four per nine innings. Walks derailed what was a promising 2011 season and really bit Chacin during an awful start to the 2012 campaign.
Chacin began to fix the issue upon returning from the disabled list in the second half of 2012, limiting his free passes to 17 in 44⅓ innings after surrendering 15 walks in 24⅔ innings during the first month of the season. He took the improvement to the next level in 2013, walking only 2.8 batters per nine innings over the course of a career-high 197⅓ frames of work. His ability to keep runners off of the base paths helped offset a career-low strikeout rate of 5.7 per nine. That came particularly in handy at Coors Field, where Chacin posted a slightly better walk rate than he did in road games.
That's not to say that Chacin wasn't good on the road, because he was. In fact, he was masterful. Take a look at the splits:
Chacin had slightly worse BABIP and home run luck on the road and yet allowed hits at a lower rate, struck out batters at a much higher rate and posted an ERA nearly two runs better. Those last two things aren't a huge surprise, but they do speak to how underrated Chacin was in 2013. They also speak to how effective certain pitches were depending on where he pitched. At Coors Field, his below-average fastball (worth -0.2 runs) likely hurt him more than it did on the road. However, he was probably helped in all ballparks by his slider, which graded out at 12.1 runs above average. Chacin also boasted an above-average curveball (worth 2.8 runs) to go along with an inconsistent change-up, which might have been that way because of his underwhelming fastball, which has lost almost two mph of velocity since his rookie season.
All of that resulted in a 14-10 record and a 3.47 ERA for Chacin, who regained the tremendous value he showed in his first couple of full seasons. Chacin finished the season with a team-leading 6.1 WAR, including a positive offensive output which included his first career home run.
Grade with the Rockies: A
Not too many people expected this type of season from Chacin, although, to toot my own horn for a second, I said on various local and national media outlets that people should not sleep on him despite a poor spring training. Chacin will be only 26 years old when the 2014 season commences, suggesting he still hasn't even entered his prime despite logging a fairly significant amount of innings during his young career.
Just like I said not to sleep on Chacin entering last season, I'm going to put it out there that I don't expect him to repeat his performance next season unless he regains his previous ability to strike batters out. Chacin's home run rate was the stuff of legends in 2013, but as we all know, Coors Field can be a moody sucker, so that number could go up in a hurry next year. In addition, Chacin allowed line drives at a rate that was significantly higher than average and remains a fly ball pitcher, although not to the extent that he was in 2012.
It will be interesting to see how far Chacin regresses next year. Or if he even does at all (which is what we're all hoping for). If the Rockies add a quality arm to their rotation and more offensive firepower, that will help combat any sort of slipping Chacin might encounter. Also, if Chacin can regain his ground ball tendencies, that wouldn't hurt.
Regardless, the future is more bright than gloomy for Chacin, and if he can repeat -- or dare I say, improve upon -- his 2013 performance next year, that future could include a whole bunch of money.