Jhoulys Chacín—the new wave of postseason reliever?
The Rockies found themselves an experienced reliever out of thin air this year, and he might have pioneered a new frontier of postseason-ready bullpens. Experienced options are not just essential in October: they are invaluable.
Colorado wasn’t exactly shaping a postseason bullpen this year, but Chacín could have been perfect if they were.
Postseason pitching in the modern era is just different. The pitching leash is shortened for virtually everybody, and managers can’t afford to leave a pitcher in for longer than an unnecessary second with rocket arms waiting in the ‘pen. Bullpen options have become essential for a team to fight through the postseason, just as the 2017 NL Wild Card Game proves to this day.
October baseball is a yearly reminder that baseball is not confined to 162-game constraints. Chacín was our reminder that a playoff-ready bullpen can be constructed beyond some of our wildest thoughts.
A New Postseason Strategy (?)
A potential roadmap for big league teams to acquire postseason-ready relievers (without shelling out $108 million):
- Find multiple ex-starters with playoff experience (like Chacín) that are either non-tendered in the offseason or released during spring training
- Outright them to Triple-A (or roster spot number 26 of 26) the following year as strictly short-inning relievers
- See what sticks
It wouldn’t be a good strategy for rebuilding teams, but for others it could be the difference between a win in a wild card game or an early October departure. One single reliever could make this strategy worth it, and it could easily come from squeezing the last juice out of an ex-starter.
Chacín was paid $1 million by the Rockies this year. The team got themselves a reliever with an ERA in the fours; while he’s not exactly Josh Hader out there, he’s still a viable option in a dangerous run-scoring environment. He’s also shown to be a professional when the going gets tough, proven through 13 years of MLB experience.
A 26-man roster has little room for experiments, and a 162-game schedule is tough enough on standard pitching labor. Not all organizations are able to mold young players through consistent playoff action (i.e. Julio Urías and the Dodgers), and the next best thing could be finding a resource that gained that experience elsewhere. Exploring a collection of Chacín-types in Triple-A would take away from key developmental time in the final step to the big leagues, but it would also develop a postseason strategy that isn’t exactly developed elsewhere.
Let’s face the reality: postseason action was far from projected for the Rockies this year. Rather than formulating an October plan, the Rockies brought on Chacín as a bridge for younger players to have some more time to develop.
The right-hander was still an essential part in the development of those around him.
March Starter, April Reliever.
Chacín was a spring training starter for the New York Yankees this year, racking up some innings in the Grapefruit League before an outright release. A workout at Coors Field — one day before Opening Day — was enough for the Rockies to offer Chacín a contract.
His outings were undefined for the early parts of his Rockies tenure. Chacín threw as little as 2⁄3 of an inning or as much as three frames in his first seven outings of the year, and with only three appearances in May, the Rockies didn’t exactly have a defined spot for him.
They couldn’t release Chacín, as Kyle Freeland started the season on the injured list and the club needed a safety net. There wasn’t much of a net after Chi Chi González, the makeshift fifth starter.
The Rockies saw a struggling Dereck Rodriguez and Ryan Castellani lose out on starting spots in March. With Peter Lambert down from Tommy John surgery, the next closest option to fill the void was an emerging Ryan Rolison that hadn’t thrown a professional inning since 2019.
Colorado was forced to either tap into the inexperienced Fountain of Youth or pursue an emergency option: either Chacín or Félix Hernández. The club went with the former, an arm that was all too familiar with Denver air and Coors Field strategy.
(Hernández did not sign anywhere for the rest of the year.)
Wild Card Action Is Upon Us
We explored a list of starters-turned-relievers here on Purple Row in early August (Liam Hendriks, Joe Kelly, Drew Pomeranz, Dennis Eckersley, Wade Davis, etc.). The concept itself is not foreign, but a full-steam-ahead strategy for it would take a pioneer organization to test things out.
Ask yourself this: if the Rockies were suiting up this week in a wild card contest, which reliever do you think would have the most professional heart rate on the mound?
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There have been 16 wild card games in MLB history since the extra postseason berth was introduced in 2012. The Rockies have been part of utter madness in their two appearances, with fate decimated in Phoenix and uplifted in Chicago the following year.
Matthew Leach of MLB.com puts a list together of the seven most memorable games in the history of the wild-card game, showing a lot of love for the Rockies:
- No. 5: Archie Bradley’s Triple (NL, 2017). D-backs 11, Rockies 8.
- No. 6: The Rockies endure (NL, 2018). Rockies 2, Cubs 1 (13 innings)
We finally get a taste of the Los Angeles Dodgers in one of these games, making for more NL West drama as we look to see who will match up with the division-rival Giants in the NLDS. The Yankees and Red Sox will give us a first taste of wild card magic this evening, with the Dodgers and Cardinals following it up on Wednesday.
Jack Etkin of Baseball America gives high praise for Low-A Fresno’s Zac Veen, the Rockies’ first-round draft selection in 2020 and a prospect with arguably the highest ceiling in the organization.
Veen got off to a relatively slow start this season, posting a .238/.354/.350 slash in his first month of pro ball, but his comforts seemed to arrive quickly after. He finished the season with a .301/.399/.501 slash and a head-turning 135 wRC+ and .900 OPS—all at the age of 19.
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