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Brewers Bolster Rotation with Jhoulys Chacin

Various reports indicate that former Padre Jhoulys Chacin is nearing a two-year contract with the Milwaukee Brewers. For the Brewers, Chacin brings a veteran presence to the back end of a starting rotation that, due to an injury to its ace and performance sustainability questions for the rest of its mainstays, appears to be the most volatile part of the 2018 ballclub. Chacin, meanwhile, will lock in what is easily the biggest deal of his career. His fantasy stock for 2018, however, takes a resulting hit.

Chacin’s low strikeout numbers have long limited his fantasy upside, as 2017 was the first season in which he eclipsed a 20% strikeout rate, which is right around the league average for MLB starting pitchers. He has never demonstrated the superb control often associated with low-strikeout arms, either, with walk rates consistently above 8%. Where he has excelled, however, is in limiting home runs, thanks to a combination of ground balls and weak contact allowed. His 85.4 MPH average exit velocity allowed ranked sixth lowest among MLB pitchers with at least 500 hitters faced last season, while his ground-ball rate was pushing up near 50%. Even so, he benefited from quite a bit of batted-ball luck last season, as Statcast estimates that he should have allowed a .284 BABIP, somewhat higher than the .272 mark that he actually allowed. Expecting him to continue to generate such stellar results on balls-in-play is unwise, even for a pitcher who seems to be legitimately skilled at limiting quality contact. And this is before even considering the change in venue that he is embracing.

Milwaukee’s Miller Park has long had a reputation as a hitter’s haven, while San Diego’s Petco Park has just the opposite. These reputations, especially in Milwaukee’s case, appear to be well-earned. For any pitcher, swapping Petco for Miller would be a hit to their fantasy value, but Chacin may suffer even more than normal. In 100.1 home innings last season, Chacin allowed only eight home runs with a shiny 1.79 ERA. In his 80 road innings pitched, he allowed 11 long balls with an ugly 6.53 ERA. Not all of this can be explained by simple park factors; Chacin was legitimately two different pitchers, running a higher strikeout rate with a much lower hard contact rate in home starts. Still, Chacin benefited from an unsustainably low 8.2% HR/FB rate in home games, which could potentially double next season thanks to a combination of natural regression and the change in parks. For a player who does not dominate the strike zone, a significant uptick in home runs allowed would be crippling.

All things considered, Chacin at best profiles as an unexciting back-end starter in very deep leagues. He should eat some innings, at the very least, but he should not be expected to run a sub-4.00 ERA as he managed last year. Without strikeout stuff or elite command as a calling card, he is lacking in both floor and upside for 2018 and beyond.

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