Through the first 35 games of the 2019 season, two players who have impressed despite some preseason doubts are Michael Chavis and Ryan Brasier. I know, Brasier blew a brutal save against the White Sox in his last outing, but he still sits at a 2.57 ERA and is missing bats at a rate that is top-15 in the league. Should we expect this kind of continued production from the both of them? Probably not, but let’s discuss.
Michael Chavis has played 15 games since his call-up, is batting .333 with an OPS of 1.186, and he has proven solid at second base on top of all that. He’s been lighting it up, and has provided a much-needed spark for this Red Sox team. However, a few underlying factors are contributing to his hot start. First, his BABIP (batting average for balls in play) is currently an unsustainable .379. Throughout the minor leagues playing against worse defenses, Chavis’ BABIP hovered around .300, and I would expect his batted balls to fall at a similar rate in the majors. Additionally, his swing-and-miss percentage sits at 16.2%, the same percentage as all-or-nothing power guys Joey Gallo and Franmil Reyes. While a swing-and-miss percentage that high is not fatal (see Khris Davis, Javier Baez), there is not a ton of wiggle room, and it makes it much more difficult to produce at a high level. Chavis’ rest of season expectations should be more of a lower average, high power kind of guy. For reference, Statcast has the rookie at an expected batting average of .281 and an expected slugging percentage of .637 for Chavis based on his first 63 PA. Still outstanding, just not quite as inflated as his current numbers. If Chavis continues to produce at Statcast’s expected rates, the Red Sox should and would be thrilled with their rookie infielder.
Now onto Ryan Brasier. Brasier’s situation is a weird one. As mentioned above, he has a solid ERA in the mid-2’s, but like Michael Chavis, this may not be a completely sustainable start. The two main things I look for when evaluating whether a pitcher is truly breaking out in a small sample size is BABIP and LOB% (left on base percentage). In Brasier’s case, he’s thrown just 47.2 innings for the Red Sox dating back to 2018, and his BABIP stands at .214 with an LOB% of 89.5%. This throws up a number of red flags. The league-wide BABIP and LOB% tends to stick around .300 and 72%, respectively**. This means way less balls in play are falling for him, and although he has gotten key outs with runners on base, it’s not sustainable to pitch out of jams at a percentage that high. This is why his FIP of 4.91 is so much higher than his 2.57 ERA. Brasier has been significantly outperforming the league norms, and I believe he’ll come back down to Earth and possibly even be given a lesser role at some point during the year. Even if he has some true-talent better than the league-average, there’s a lot of room between that level and his current level.
**Just want to include an extra talking point on BABIP for those curious. BABIP for pitchers can be influenced by a really good defense or a really bad defense. If a team has a really good defense, they will prevent more balls in play from falling, which will in turn lower a pitcher’s BABIP. For reference on Brasier, Red Sox relievers had a BABIP of .295 in 2018 and a BABIP of .288 this year. This shows that the Red Sox do not have an outstanding defense that could cause an outlier such as Ryan Brasier.