Is Jesse Chavez starting to fade?

In tough spots, Chavez tries to channel the spirit of Bartolo Colon by tossing the ball up in the air. - Thearon W. Henderson

Jesse Chavez's rise from mediocrity did not continue into May. What's up with that?

Jesse Chavez was one of the darlings of baseball in April. Like so many Oakland Athletics before him, he rose from obscurity and tore through American League lineups in a blur of tattoos and cut fastballs. There was always the question of how he would hold up later in the season since he's never been a starter before, but for now he's earned a reputation as a dominant force. There's one problem with that, though:

Month IP ERA K BB H HR
April (6 starts) 38 1.89 41 8 28 3
May/June (6 starts) 36 4.25 28 12 41 6

April Chavez was a Cy Young candidate. May Chavez was a No. 4 starter in a normal rotation and a No. 5 in Oakland. The hits and homers regressed up to reasonably average levels, his strikeout rate dipped from "elite" to merely "solid," and his walk rate did the same. He pitched like a totally average, mediocre starter. Before we look too much deeper, let's acknowledge a few facts.

1. We all knew Chavez wasn't going to maintain a 1.89 ERA
2. A starter with a 4.00 ERA on a six-figure salary is still pretty valuable
3. We're dissecting levels of success of a guy who was on waivers two years ago

Even if Chavez turns out to be just a back-end starter, that would still be an incredible result for a guy who was purchased for cash just two years ago and who arrived with absolutely no expectations. And we're not talking about Chavez falling completely to pieces and flaming out as a starter, just falling back from the top of the rotation to the bottom. This isn't an end-of-the-world discussion, but it is worth taking a look at what is going wrong less-than-right with Chavez.

He hasn't had any particularly bad games weighing down his stat line, but rather a string of decent starts without any great ones. He hasn't made a single appearance all year in which he allowed as many earned runs as innings pitched, which is important because it means that he's always kept the team in the game. However, he also didn't have any outings in May in which he allowed fewer than two runs, after doing so three times in April (and twice more in which the second run was unearned). Instead of twirling a seven-inning scoreless gem like he did in Texas, he's going five or six innings and allowing two to four runs.

Much of Chavez's success has been credited to his cutter. Therefore, it's no surprise that the pitch was also the key to his fall from greatness last month:

AVG/SLG vs. pitch type
Month Sinker Change Curve Cutter
April .268/.415 .111/.111 .235/.294 .175/.286
May .344/.406 .261/.348 .200/.360 .286/.543

Pitch type stats via Brooks Baseball

Those numbers don't include Chavez's June start in Yankee Stadium. In that game, the cutter continued to get pounded at exactly the same rate (.308/.539). All of his pitches have fallen back to some degree, but none as greatly as the cutter. That's a big deal, because he throws it more often than any of his other offerings -- 39 percent of the time, to be precise. On the other hand, the sample of poor results is every bit as small as the sample of good ones, so we'll just have to wait and see where the chips end up falling. One point in Chavez's favor is that 39 percent is a pretty low rate for a pitchers' primary offering; if the cutter isn't working on a particular day, his arsenal is good enough and deep enough to get by on the strength of other pitches.

There aren't any grand conclusions to draw just yet. All we know is that Chavez was awesome in April, striking out hitters left and right, and in May his cutter abandoned him and he was only decent. One of those extremes could be the real Chavez, or he could settle somewhere in the middle, but either way he still looks like a legitimate Major League starter. Keep an eye out to see which version shows up for the rest of the season.

Jesse Chavez's next start will be Monday against the Angels in Anaheim.

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