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Eight months after the surprise release, Jhoulys Chacin finds himself a free agent this winter

The Colorado Rockies released Jhoulys Chacin eight months ago; now, after a summer comeback, he's healthy and looking for a '16 gig.

Jhoulys Chacin is healthy and looking for a place to pitch in 2016.
Jhoulys Chacin is healthy and looking for a place to pitch in 2016.
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

As we continue our series profiling free agents that might interest the Rockies this winter, I decided to run today's post on a guy with whom we are all very familiar: Jhoulys Chacin. Chacin, of course, was at the center one of Jeff Bridich's most significant first-year-on-the-job moves when the new GM released the righty in March.

At the time, even despite Chacin's shoulder injury, the move was a surprise. Our own Eric Garcia-McKinley wrote about his reaction on the day it happened:

The Rockies have released Jhoulys Chacin. The move ends the tenure of one of the most talented pitchers the Rockies have ever employed. On the one hand, Chacin's release is surprising. The Rockies and Chacin, who is just 27, agreed to a $5.5 million contract in January, which was more than half a million more than MLB Trade Rumors' Matt Swartz predicted. It was Chacin's final contract before becoming a free agent after the season. Not only that, but the Rockies need major league pitchers to populate the starting rotation. Seen from another angle, many people were surprised that the Rockies even decided to tender Chacin a contract in the offseason.

On the other hand, it's an unsurprising move. Chacin began 2014 on the disabled list with shoulder troubles. He returned to make eleven starts, but he was not himself. His velocity was gone and his breaking balls had no bite. So far this spring, Chacin's performances have been similarly uninspiring. In his start yesterday, he showed that some of his velocity returned. Yet, he had trouble getting batters out.

Now, after spending time at Triple-A with both the Indians' and Diamondbacks' organizations, and eventually climbing back into the big leagues with Arizona by the end of the year, Chacin finds himself a free agent. He wouldn't actually return to Colorado, right?

Scouting Jhoulys Chacin

You are all pretty familiar with Chacin, his repertoire, and his results since he spent his entire career with the Rockies, so there's probably not a need to go too far into who his scouting report. But if you missed his work this summer, we should note his 2015 stats in the Cleveland and Arizona systems, compared to his career in Colorado:

Jhoulys Chacin Stats G-GS IP H R ER BB K HR W-L ERA WHIP H/9 HR/9 BB/9 K/9 K:BB
COL (Career, 6 yrs) 124-109 672.0 619 312 282 280 514 60 38-48 3.78 1.338 8.3 0.8 3.8 6.9 1.84
Columbus (2015, AAA CLE) 7-7 42.0 39 17 15 15 25 3 1-3 3.21 1.286 8.4 0.6 3.2 5.4 1.67
Reno (2015, AAA-ARI) 13-13 86.2 79 37 31 30 63 3 6-3 3.22 1.258 8.2 0.3 3.1 6.5 2.10
Arizona (2015, MLB) 5-4 26.2 24 11 10 10 21 4 2-1 3.28 1.275 8.1 1.4 3.4 7.1 2.10

Less than 27 innings in Arizona is too small a sample size to draw conclusions, but at least some of his rates per nine innings there (walks and strikeouts) compare favorably to his career in Denver, and might suggest he's back on track after a tough 2014.

One other hand ... Chacin's velocity was down in 2015, at least when compared to his last healthy season in Denver. Here are his career velocity totals with the percentage of time he threw each pitch in parentheses:

Velocity (MPH) Fastball (all) 2-seam FB Cutter Slider Curve Change up
2009, COL 90.7 (42.7%) 89.9 (1.9%) 91.2 (16.6%) 83.4 (17.5%) 81.1 (12.3%) 84.5 (9.0%)
2010, COL 91.5 (40.4%) 89.8 (17.6%) 81.9 (20.1%) 78.1 (8.7%) 83.2 (12.4%)
2011, COL 91.2 (33.9%) 90.1 (28.8%) 82.7 (19.7%) 78.8 (9.8%) 83.5 (7.8%)
2012, COL 90.4 (40.2%) 90.0 (11.9%) 90.3 (5.5%) 82.2 (18.8%) 78.0 (7.3%) 84.6 (16.2%)
2013, COL 89.9 (34.4%) 89.4 (25.7%) 90.9 (1.9%) 80.9 (18.4%) 77.5 (9.6%) 82.4 (9.9%)
2014, COL 88.5 (23.2%) 87.8 (27.6%) 89.5 (2.5%) 79.2 (18.7%) 74.8 (12.7%) 81.8 (14.9%)
2015, ARI 88.6 (20.9%) 88.4 (28.2%) 85.8 (13.6%) 80.5 (24.7%) 76.1 (4.2%) 82.9 (8.5%)

A few thoughts there:

  • Very generally, Chacin's velocity has declined throughout his entire career; even at just 27 years old, he is now three miles an hour below his (already average) fastball velocity from the start of his time in Colorado.
  • As Chacin's fastball velocity continues to decrease, the split between that and his changeup becomes smaller. The smaller the split, the more difficult it is to fool hitters on the difference between the two.
  • Even if you take 2014 with a grain of salt considering Chacin's injuries, it's a little disconcerting that he couldn't build back more velocity in 2015 when he was theoretically healthy again in Arizona.

The case for the Rockies to pursue Jhoulys Chacin

Well, shoulder issues aside—Chacin may be beyond them, at least for now—the right-hander is one of the more successful pitchers in the history of the franchise. Of course, he wasn't in Denver as long as Aaron Cook, or Jorge De La Rosa, or even Jeff Francis, and he didn't have quite as much top-of-the-rotation success as Ubaldo Jimenez, but Chacin put together several very nice seasons before the end of his tenure.

The Rockies need starting pitching, whether it's a bona fide legitimate starter they can sign to a multi-year deal, or just a warm body who can occupy space for a season while prospects develop. Because of that, Chacin—hell, pretty much everybody who isn't currently recovering from arm surgery—fits the bill this winter. (Have you noticed how the vast majority of our free agency series has revolved around starting pitchers?)

Chacin's familiarity with Denver would theoretically give him an edge to return; on the other hand, though, Bridich's move to quickly cut Chacin less than a year ago may work against the righty for any hypothetical return to the organization.

Nevertheless, if he's healthy now, the 27-year-old doesn't have much recent wear on his arm; he threw just 150 innings in 2015, only starting 25 games (and this comes after throwing just 80 innings in his injury-shortened 2014 season). If Chacin has truly been able to reset over the last 12 months, he's coming in relatively fresh with a lot to prove in 2016, and he still has several seasons south of 30 years old.

Because he spent most of last year in Triple-A after dealing with an arm injury, Chacin is going to come cheap, and at 28 years old with the track record he has when healthy, that's a pretty good deal. He's a nice buy-low candidate for a couple million dollars (and probably even less). If he works out for a year, his career can get back on track and he'll sign a better deal next winter. If he falters in 2016, it's a cheap contract. No harm, no foul!

The case against Jhoulys Chacin

Well, he's a re-tread. A good re-tread of course, but he's been here, we've done that, and there is value in getting new blood next season, no matter how good or bad. After all, there's a reason Bridich pulled the trigger on releasing Chacin in the first place; even if it were predominantly (or entirely) centered around injury concerns, the new front office has their plan and Jhoulys didn't fit the mold in the first season. He likely won't fit again this year.

Aside from that, consistently declining velocity and a smaller split between fastballs and off-speed pitches may tell the story of a pitcher beginning a down swing who's about to get hit hard. Whether it's injuries or something else, Chacin in some ways isn't the same pitcher he was just a couple years ago.

Jhoulys Chacin's fit with the Rockies

Truth be told, I believe there's very little chance Chacin signs in Colorado this winter. In a certain light, he might be a good buy-low candidate, but considering Bridich has already released him once when the organization decided to take a different path—at a time when the club was hurting for pitching depth even with Chacin—the likelihood Jhoulys comes back to Denver is pretty slim.

As a buy-low candidate with low expectations and what would be a very small investment on the payroll, Chacin would seem to fit if only for the fact that he's a low risk, and anything positive would be a reward.

But I wouldn't be surprised if the Diamondbacks re-signed him closer to Spring Training; Tony La Russa raved about him during a TV broadcast in 2015. Beyond Arizona, too, there is no shortage of teams looking for starting pitching. Hell, literally the entire division has, for different reasons, a need for rotation depth. Knowing Chacin's familiarity with the NL West, I wouldn't be surprised if he lands somewhere in this division (again).

Whatever the case may be I wish the best for Chacin, who took his release in stride, and worked hard to earn his way back to the big leagues in 2015. Now, he'll get a shot in Spring Training to prove himself to somebody, and whether he's employed on a Major League contract or as a non-roster invitee somewhere next season, there's a chance he impresses in 2016 and gets his career back on track.