If you asked anyone who the best starting pitcher on the A’s is, they should all correctly answer with the name of Sonny Gray. But what about the team’s second-best starter? It’s All-Star Scott Kazmir, of course …or is it? Spare a thought for Jesse Chavez. While Kazmir has an impressive ERA of 2.93 in his 10 starts this season, Chavez checks in with a 2.44 in seven starts and four relief appearances. A late addition to the starting rotation, Chavez has sparkled as a starter despite a record of 1-5. He has received only six runs of support in those starts, an unreal statistical scar. This, yet again, proves that wins and losses for pitchers is a team stat.
It has not been an easy road for Chavez. Other potential members of the Oakland rotation are almost entirely made up of highly touted prospects. Gray (A’s), Kazmir (Mets), Drew Pomeranz (Indians), and Jarrod Parker (Diamondbacks) were all first round picks. Jesse Hahn (Rays) and Sean Nolin (Blue Jays) were sixth round selections and Kendall Graveman (Blue Jays) was taken in the eighth round. AJ Griffin (A’s) was a steal in the 13th round while Chris Bassitt (White Sox) entered the ranks of professional baseball in the 16th round. As for Jesse Chavez (Rangers), he was almost an afterthought of the 2002 draft by having his called in the 42nd round. That round doesn’t even exist anymore. A few years ago, baseball deemed the 41st-50th rounds unnecessary and therefore simply capped the draft at 40 rounds.
Chavez proceeded to bounce around for the next several years. He made it to the AAA level of the Rangers in 2006, but after just one start was dealt to Pittsburgh for Kip Wells. He made his big league debut with the Pirates but was traded to the Rays for Akinori Iwamura in November of 2009. Six weeks later, he was traded to the Braves for Rafael Soriano. Seven months later he was part of a package sent to Kansas City, who DFA’d him two months after that. Toronto signed him off of waivers, and the next August he was traded to the A’s for cash considerations. Chavez arrived in Oakland in 2012 with these MLB ERA numbers:
Pittsburgh, 2008-2009: 5.89
Atlanta, 2010: 5.89
Kansas City, 2010-2011: 9.85
Toronto, 2012: 8.44
So it was with a tremendous yawn that A’s fans welcomed Chavez to the bullpen in 2012. And it was with boos that A’s fans greeted him each he went to the mound because he was beyond awful. Chavez perfected the art of pouring gasoline on the fire, finishing with an obscene 18.90 ERA from his four relief appearances. It was a forgone conclusion by the fanbase that he would not be back in 2013. But Billy Beane, half being cheap and half being stubborn, stuck with Chavez the following season. And on June 13, Chavez’s career changed forever. Called out of the bullpen as the long man, he pitched 5 2/3 shutout innings against the Yankees on a hot day at the Coliseum, one which ended with a Nate Freiman walk-off hit from Mariano Rivera in the 18th inning. Chavez finished the year with an ERA of 3.92, the first time ever he was under 5.00.
I interviewed Chavez on 95.7 The Game during FanFest before the 2014 season (pictured). I found him to be very grounded and confident. He admitted to me that he had changed from a thrower to a pitcher. Chavez then began the year in the A’s rotation after injuries to Parker and Griffin. He finished the season with a respectable line of 8-8, 3.45. He felt he was finally a member of a rotation, but Beane had other plans. Even though Parker and Griffin remained out this Cactus League, Chavez watched as Hahn, Graveman and Pomeranz grabbed the three open spots in the spring. Ego bruised, he grudgingly accepted his role as the long man in the bullpen again. But as Graveman was shelled and Pomeranz got hurt, Chavez has answered the call, and his numbers have been better than ever. He looks like he will hold onto his starting spot no matter who gets healthy and returns. His progress probably makes Kazmir more tradable for Beane. Now if only the A’s would score some runs for him.