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Is Jhoulys Chacin Back?

At the start of 2011, Jhoulys Chacin was actually a pretty hot commodity. While he didn’t pile up many wins in 2010, Chacin was striking out nearly 24% of batters, he had a tidy little 3.28 ERA, and even though he had an elevated walk rate, his WHIP was a respectable 1.27. In fantasy circles, he was largely seen as a bit of a risk-reward starting pitcher due to his penchant for the free pass, his high strikeout rates, and the Coors factor.

His 2011 season turned out to feature both reward and risk as his strikeouts regressed to an 18% rate, his walks remained high at 10.5%, although he maintained a decent 3.62 ERA and 1.31 WHIP. He came out of the gates smoking, with an elevated strikeout rate, only to see his K/9 fall off the table in July, all the way down to 4.13 K/9 in September.

Many a value shopper had an eye on Chacin coming into 2012 with the hope that he could regain the promise of 2010 at bargain prices. And it was evident very early on that something was very wrong with Chacin. From April 9 to May 1 of 2012, Chacin posted a 7.30 ERA and opposing hitters were hitting .304/.403/.578 off of him. He had 15 walks and 22 strikeouts over 24.2 IP. His velocity was down there was far less separation between it and his secondary pitches, and he was simply ineffective. Shortly thereafter, he was placed on the disabled list with issues with his shoulder, his biceps, his pectoral muscle, you name it. He spent time at various levels of the minor leagues in working his way back ever since.

Chacin was recalled for a start on August 21st, and since that time, he’s had three starts for Colorado. The results? 18 innings pitched, three earned runs, nine strikeouts. Opposing batters hit just .212/.254/.273. Now, the opponents were San Diego, the New York Mets, and and Chicago Cubs — so perhaps not the stiffest of competition, but it’s a start (although San Diego is proving pretty tough these days. Yeah, I said that).

If Chacin can remain effective through September, he becomes an intriguing option once again for 2013 for late round fliers. There are a couple of encouraging signs. One is his velocity, which is up notably over the beginning of the season — much more in a range of what we saw back in 2010 and the beginning of 2011. But the other thing is his repertoire.

Over the course of his career, his slider has been far and away his most effective pitch, using it about 22% of the time, with the remainder of his arsenal being pretty league average-ish. At the beginning of 2012, he was using his slider very little, however, and was relying much more heavily on his change and curve. Since his return, that has changed pretty dramatically (due warning: small sample size ahead):

Upon his return to the rotation, he’s almost entirely given up on his curve, he’s going to his slider about a quarter of the time, and he’s mixing his two-seamer in much more frequently. What’s followed is his bat-missing ability has returned, with his whiff rate going from 15% on the slider to over 25%. This distribution actually much more closely mirrors his pitch selection in 2010, and in fantasy circles, it’s the 2010 version of Jhoulys Chacin that you want.

He looks likely to get Atlanta on the road and San Francisco at home, so he might not serve as a sneaky pickup for your September sprint as these matchups will be a little tougher than he’s seen since his return. But by all means keep an eye on the results, because there was a time not so long ago that Chacin was considered to have front-of-the-rotation stuff and we all know that many a league is won by unearthing these proverbial diamonds in the rough.