Sometimes golfers have to make tweaks or adjustments to their swing. In the rounds immediately after the adjustment, their coach/friend/wife/partner reminds them to temper their expectations. “You probably won’t score very well,” they’ll say, “but that doesn’t matter. Your distances and feel for shots will be totally off in the short term. Don’t worry about that. The most important thing is that you fix your slice/hook/fade/duck-shots today. If you hit it straight, then it will set you up for crazy good rounds later!” Playing poorly is acceptable because it is part of a longer process. It might even be a good thing, or at least that’s what they’ll keep telling you as you threaten to deposit your clubs in a lake or simply snap them in half. This is the type of thinking we have to buy into when it comes to one member of the Rockies rotation.
Jhoulys Chacin pitched poorly yesterday. He gave up 3 runs in 2 innings, including a home run to Gerardo Parra. At first glance that makes Rockies fan cringe, because Chacin is on the short list of players who are crucial to the team’s chances of contending. If they are going to have a chance to compete in the NL West, they need a couple pitchers to step up in a big way. For nobody is that bar higher than for Chacin. That means we are all keeping an extra close watch on his progress in spring training. In that context his first outing was a disappointment that bordered on a disaster.
Except Chacin doesn’t see it that way. He was quite pleased with the way he pitched, citing his ability to locate his fastball: “During the season I am going to mix things up, but here in spring training I’m trying to throw the fastball for strikes.” Out of 29 pitches (26 fastballs) he threw 21 strikes. This explanation might very well be acceptable. No matter how much zip or movement a guy puts on his fastball, major league hitters are going to figure it out and do damage if they know it’s all they are going to see that day.
If Chacin is indeed taking the time during spring training games to build a foundation to emerge as a legitimate ace during the season, it will render these ugly statistic lines meaningless. Knowing that, we need to defer our interpretation of his decidedly bad showing for now. It might simply be that he needed to have that game as part of a process to stabilize an important building block (his fastball command), or it might reflect the first glimpses of a disappointing season. For the sake of my own optimism I am going to take Chacin at his word and trust his investment in the long game.
There is no question that fastball command is the key to Chacin’s success. In an analysis that is numb in its familiarity at this point, he is nasty when he throws his fastball for strikes because it sets up his elite secondary pitches. Jim Tracy insists that it is the only focus for Chacin as he gets ready for the season because if he does that, “then you are talking about an elite pitcher.” Put simply, Chacin has shown a tendency to get in his own way by neutralizing his own offspeed stuff when he walks hitters. Consistent fastball command is the major change Chacin needs to implement; for him it is the (rough) equivalent of fixing that wicked slice.
Aspiring golfers, writers, musicians, and those in many other positions understand that in order to improve a crucial element of their craft they sometimes have to temporarily give up on success. They have to sacrifice short term results for the long term. Spring training affords pitchers the chance to put this method into practice. Let’s just hope that’s really what is happening with Jhoulys Chacin.