Opening Up

Jhoulys Chacin was pretty bad yesterday, at least in the early going. His 97-pitch effort got him through just five innings where he gave up 4 runs on 3 hits and a discouraging 5 walks. Two of those walks ended up scoring. It was a poor outing, joining other subpar outings Chacin has posted so far this year.

The lack of control has been the most frustrating part of his 2014 starts. Yesterday marked the second game this year where Chacin walked 5 batters. He hasn’t had a season with multiple games giving up 5+ walks since 2011, when he gave up the most free passes in the National League.

What’s causing this? Chacin told Patrick Saunders that he was opening up too early after his leg kick, which disrupted his command. That’s why Chacin started working from the stretch, even with no one on base. And the game video shows him opening up. On this screen capture of Chacin’s ball four to Asdrubal Cabrera, you can see how his hips are wide open, facing the plate, while his arm is far behind and whipping to catch up.

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Opening up too early is not so much affecting Chacin’s release point as it is changing the pitch’s path as it travels to the plate. Here’s a comparison of his release points yesterday with those from his outstanding start against the Giants last August (both from Brooks Baseball):

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Other than being a little more horizontal in the Giants game, the release points are roughly the same.

The problem isn’t Chacin’s release point; it’s being too open with his hips when he hits that release point. By opening up too early, Chacin’s pitches aren’t traveling downward, but at an angle. And not a good, slider-type angle, but rather an uncontrollable angle. As a result, Chacin ends up with strike zone maps that look like collaborations with Jackson Pollock.

He also ends up with a more hittable pitch as the ball travels through the zone, again, because his fastball and sinker lack crisp downward movement. It’s small wonder, then, that Chacin has given up 33 hits in 32.2 innings this year, to go along with his 16 walks.

Here’s some good news:

First, Chacin started slow last year. In fact, his numbers above after six starts aren’t much different from 2013, where he coughed up 32 hits and 12 walks in 36.2 innings of pitching. Granted, his numbers are slightly worse this year, but there’s still time for him to put together a good 2014, just like he put together a good 2013.

Second, the problem is correctable. Chacin’s hips are out of sync with his arm and, consequently, he’s opening up too early. By adopting a slower, more deliberate leg kick (ala Jorge De La Rosa’s), even if only temporarily, Chacin is likely to get better results out of his wind-up. And when he does, his fastball command and effective sinker will return. Until then, he (and the Rockies) will be in for a wild ride.

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