There was a time when Eric Chavez was on a hall-of-fame-level career path. Through 2006 — his age-28 season and his eighth full major league campaign — Chavez had a .271/.350/.489 batting line, 212 home runs and six well-deserved (at least most of them) Gold Gloves. Basically, if you think Scott Rolen should be a hall-of-famer, you can see Chavez traveling the same path — especially considering the pitcher-friendly confines of the Oakland Coliseum:
This year, Chavez is putting up a .303/.362/.547 (139 wRC+) season in 224 plate appearances with the Yankees. He’s been a more-than-able replacement for Alex Rodriguez, and he’s been a surprisingly big reason why the Yankees have been able to pull away from the pack in the AL East.
Chavez’s 139 wRC+ is the best season of his career; he ranged from 123 to 133 in his four-year peak from 2001 to 2004. Chavez is hitting for as much power as ever (.244 ISO, second to a .252 mark in 2001) and he’s striking out just 15.6% of the time.
Part of the reason behind his success is way the Yankees have been able to leverage his skills. Chavez has taken 199 of his 224 plate appearances against right-handers, which helps him take advantage of his large career splits: .364 wOBA in 2590 appearances against righties, as opposed to just a .308 wOBA in 1,099 plate appearances against southpaws. Chavez’s line becomes even more impressive without the 22 plate appearance against lefties — they’ve held him to just a .143/.167/.143 mark, leaving a .324/.387/.598 mark against righties.
Although one would expect the new Yankee Stadium to be boost his comeback efforts, that hasn’t been the driving force. Six of Chavez’s 13 home runs have come on the road, and seven of the 13 have gone to either center or left. Indeed, he has a spray chart that leans pull — though it’s certainly not dead pull. As you can see, he’ll attack left field, too:
The laundry list of injuries — strained forearms, herniated disks, something called “spinal fusion surgery” and the list goes on — combined with his revived production at age 34, makes me wonder what could have been. Could he have been another Rolen? Perhaps an Adrian Beltre? He had that combination of glove and power that is so rare at third base.
For one last comparison, consider the following:
Of course, we’re comparing very different eras, but in many ways Longoria and Chavez share the same skillset. Perhaps, if Longoria can stay healthy, we can see an answer to the Chavez’s “what if?” scenario even as the 34-year-old revives his career in the Bronx.