Is Jhoulys Chacin a Lock as a Starter for the Padres in 2017?

Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

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(Max Faulkner/Fort Worth Star-Telegram/TNS)

The word on the street is that the San Diego Padres may be fielding Major League Baseball’s weakest starting rotation in 2017.

Some critics even claim that this rotation will be exceptionally bad. The worst seen in years. Could this be accurate? On paper, maybe. It’s true, if nothing exceptional happens with this rotation during the upcoming season, it might be bad. If there are no breakout performances or veteran rebounds then it could get ugly.

Surely nothing could be quite as disappointing as what the Padres tried to pass off as a rotation last season. The team put 14 different starters on the mound during the span of the season. Injuries plagued the starting core, resulting in a high level of inconsistency. The opening day starter, Tyson Ross, pitched one game, got shelled big-time and then didn’t end up pitching another inning for the rest of the season due to injury.  Somehow, people are saying things are going to be worse this year?

My gut tells me that it’s not going to play out that way. During this off-season, I’ve been advocating for a plan that fields a consistent, yet modest starting rotation, leaving a heavier burden on a stronger bullpen. This does seem to be the direction the team is taking. There are currently eight players on the Padres’ depth chart vying for five rotation spots. It is a mix of veterans looking to hang on to (or win back) starting jobs like Clayton Richard, Trevor Cahill, and Jhoulys Chacin and young guys looking to step into them like Luis Perdomo, Jarred Cosart, Christian Friedrich, Paul Clemens, and Cesar Vargas. The fact that the team hasn’t already traded bullpen pieces like Brad Hand or Ryan Buchter, in a very strong market for relief pitching, hints that they may choose to keep the pen intact; and it’s a very capable pen. Especially if Carter Capps returns to his 2015 form.

I realize that the expectation is for the team to experience a year of rebuild baseball. That means that nobody will be surprised or disappointed if the team ends the season below .500. In my estimation, with such low expectations, this pitching staff could actually end up surprising and even impressing in 2017. One player who may very likely be a part of the solution this season in Jhoulys Chacin. He’s a veteran right-hander who has been in the league for the past eight years. He’s now been a part of six different organizations and he’s signed on with the Padres for one year at $1.75 million.

Credit: Padres

Chacin started his MLB career with the Colorado Rockies. In 2010, his first full season with the Rockies, he had nine wins, a 3.28 ERA, and led NL rookies in strikeouts with 138. From 2011-14 he had some up and down seasons with the Rockies before finally being released in March 2015. He then bounced around the organizations of the Cleveland Indians, Arizona Diamondbacks, and Atlanta Braves before being traded to the Los Angeles Angels in 2016 where he most recently found some success.

With the Angels in 2016, Chacin had a record of 6-8 and a 4.81 ERA through 117 ⅓ innings pitched. He had 119 strikeouts and gave up 55 walks. His WHIP was 1.44. This is not anything amazing, to be sure. However, in his last six outings, including four starts, he had a 1.33 ERA  and a 1.00 WHIP through 27 innings.  He also struck out 25 batters in 27 innings. Looking at those numbers, Chacin appears to be coming to the Padres after ending the 2016 season on a hot streak. If he holds onto that momentum rolling into this season, he could be an impact player for sure.

Another note on Chacin is that, yes, it seems that a rotation spot is his to lose in 2017, but he also does well out of the bullpen. In fact, last season, his time on the mound was most productive as a reliever. He recorded a 3.77 ERA  and a 1.22 WHIP in 28.2 innings of relief last season.  He had K% of 29.4 and a  BB% of 9.2. On the other hand, as a starter he finished with a 5.07 ERA and a 1.50 WHIP. He had a K% of 16.4 and a BB%  of 8.6.  These numbers show that Chacin really did find his groove out of the pen (and that he doesn’t give up a whole lot of walks). Of course, it’s pretty obvious that he chose to sign with the Padres because he hoped to be given a shot as a starter and it’s fair to assume he will be afforded the opportunity. If, however, he simply doesn’t hack it in the rotation, he could end up being a strong piece out of the bullpen for the Padres, which would not necessarily be a negative. Again, the market is high on relievers.

Essentially, the Padres are hoping that Chacin performs well and becomes a valuable trade piece at the deadline. This is the hope for he, Cahill, and Richard, who are also signed on at one year deals at $1.75 million. This is the A.J. Preller plan and he’s been doing a good job of it. Last season, the trade of Fernando Rodney to the Miami Marlins yielded a bright young arm in Chris Paddack. The trade of Drew Pomeranz to the Boston Red Sox brought over one of MLB’s most prized pitching prospects in Anderson Espinoza. This plan continues to set the Padres up for a long run of success in the future by continuing to bring in young, outstanding, and controllable prospects by flipping players deemed “reclamation projects.” There really is only an upside to this scenario. Fans get to enjoy competitive play and exciting pitching for most of the season before robbing the bank on future stars. That’s what it felt like last season for this fan watching Pomeranz and Rodney.

Chacin has a chance to play well in San Diego. He will have every opportunity to earn a starting role, and if that fails, he could become an important piece out of the bullpen. If he can contribute to a pitching staff that holds its own and can keep games competitive, then he’ll be doing his job. Next season doesn’t have to be doom and gloom on the mound for the Padres. I’m excited to see what surprises this ragtag pitching staff has in store.

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