Atlanta Braves: What Magic Voodoo is Jesse Chavez Using

In one of the more incredible stories for the Atlanta Braves this season, Jesse Chavez has once again turned himself into a dominant reliever. 

It seemed like a harmless enough trade when the Atlanta Braves decided to finally move on from Sean Newcomb and sent him to the Chicago Cubs in return for Jesse Chavez.

At that time, Chavez had given up 4 earned runs on 7 hits and 2 walks in 5.2 innings with 3 strikeouts for the Cubs.

Since the trade, Sean Newcomb has been designated for assignments by the Cubs, went unclaimed on waivers, and was outrighted to the Cub’s Triple-A team in Iowa.

Jesse Chavez, on the other hand, has suddenly become one of the best relief pitchers in baseball with a 2.10 ERA and 11.6 K/0 since coming back to Atlanta.

This is Chavez third go-around with the club. He first traded to Atlanta by Tampa Bay in 2009 for Rafael Soriano.

That first go-around I thought he was the worst pitcher I’d ever seen and couldn’t wait for him to leave town.

He’d then resurrect his career in 2013 with Oakland and has somehow managed to stick around in the big leagues for 15 seasons!

The Braves signed him in April last year as a free agent after the Angels released him. All he did in 2021 was pitch to a 2.14 ERA in 33.2 innings with 36 strikeouts.

His career journey is truly remarkable, but how do you explain the success he’s had in Atlanta over the past two years?

 

Braves: Jesse Chavez and Voodoo Magic

Clearly, there is something more going on with Jesse Chavez in Atlanta as the baseline numbers are truly remarkable.

When you combine his 2021 numbers in Atlanta with his 2022 numbers, they look like this: 59.1 IP, 51 H, 17 BB, 14 ER, 69 Ks, 2.13 ERA, and 1.15 WHIP.

But when you take a look at his Baseball Savant page, something doesn’t add up — there is a lot of blue on that page.

One thing that is noticeable, is that he’s throwing his cutter even more and he’s going to the change-up as his putaway pitch.

In 2022 he’s throwing his cutter nearly 60 percent of the time compared to 41 percent last year and 30 percent in the years prior.

And he’s throwing his change-up 13 percent of the time compared to 10 percent last year.

That may not seem like a huge difference, but with how much he’s throwing his cutter — and how effective that pitch is as batters are hitting just .207 against that pitch — it’s made his change-up that is just a few miles per hour slower that much more effective.

Taking Wednesday’s game as an example, he struck out Kyle Schwarber on four pitches. The sequence went: cutter, sinker, cutter, change-up.

After throwing four straight cutters to Rhys Hoskins he tried to put him away with a change-up but Hoskins fouled it off.

Similar thing with Nick Castellanos, he threw him a sinker, cutter, cutter, cutter, and then with two strikes tried to put him away with the change-up, but Castellanos fouled it off. Chavez was then able to go back to the cutter for the strikeout.

With how much horizontal movement his cutter has, being able to throw that change-up with some downward motion is something hitters have to be conscious of, and that seems to have a big impact on the increase in strikeouts we’ve seen with him the past two seasons.

We’ll see if Chavez can keep it up, but it was very telling on Wednesday when Brian Snitker brought him on in the eighth inning in a 3-run game against the top of the Phillies order that he trusts this 38-year-old veteran who has found some magic back in Atlanta.