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Michael Chavis weathering inevitable first slump in the majors

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MLB: Houston Astros at Boston Red Sox Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports

It has been a year of firsts for Michael Chavis. The Red Sox rookie tried a new position for the first time, made his major-league debut in April and hit his first career home run a few days later. But the “first” I am most interested in is how he is dealing with his first extended slump in the majors. He is in the midst of a nine-game hit streak now, but he has certainly benefited from a lack of infield depth during his recent struggles as he may not have survived a roster crunch on another team that had a plethora of healthy options at first and second base.

Chavis has been able to take advantage of these circumstances and is hopefully on the other side of what was a rough couple of weeks. In his first 30 games, he clubbed 10 home runs (which was the third-most in the American League over that span), collected 26 RBI and posted a slash line of .270/.364/.548 with 36 strikeouts in 132 plate appearances. The ensuing weeks were not nearly as fun. In the 19 games he played in between May 25 and June 13, Chavis slashed .212 / .288 / .606 with one home run, two doubles, five RBI and a strikeout percentage of 43.8%. That was the absolute worst in the majors in that timeframe among qualified players and it wasn’t even close. (Shin-Soo Cho of the Rangers was second at 35.4%). Chavis had just as many three-strikeout efforts in those 19 games as he had runs batted in — not exactly numbers he wants to hear much about I’m sure, but accepting that you have a problem is the first step in resolving it. And his problem has definitely been striking out.

What has been most frustrating about this slump is that it’s eerily reminiscent of what he struggled with throughout his minor league career, something I was hoping he was on the other side of. In 2014, his first year in the organization, he posted a K% of 25.3% over 39 games in the Gulf League. In 2015, his K% shot up to 30.5 over 109 games in Greenville but he saw moderate improvements from there, posting a 23.9 K% in 2016 in A-ball and 21.6% between High-A Salem and Portland in 2017. After returning from his PED suspension in 2018, he struggled to find his footing, which could have been the reason for seeing another bump in his K%, as he finished the season at 26.8.

It’s not like Chavis’ plate discipline is disastrously bad right now. It’s actually pretty comparable to league averages in most spots. His swing percentage on pitches outside the zone is 34.5%, while the league average is 31.0%. For additional comparison, Rafael Devers’ O-Swing% is 38.8 and Mookie Betts is at 19.1% — according to Fangraphs. So he seems to be choosing the right pitches to swing at, but Chavis’ contact is really where you see the biggest differences from the league average. Chavis has a 63.8 percent chance of making contact when he swings at all pitches, per Fangraphs, which is measurably behind Betts (88.5%), Devers (78.1%) and the league average (76.2%). Chavis’ whiff/swing rates against curveballs (56.4%), four-seamers (42.9%) and sliders (42.9%) — per Brooks Baseball — also display the contact issues that have plagued him.

We’ve all seen it but Devers and Betts both seem to do a good job extending at-bats to get a better pitch to hit, while Chavis seems to struggle with that, which will hopefully get better with time. It’s also not totally fair of me to compare him to two of Boston’s best hitters over the last two seasons, so I apologize for that Michael. I just believe that he has the ability to really excel at the plate if he can put it all together consistently. Maybe not always at the same level as Betts or Devers, but I also don’t view that as a completely impossible standard.

I wrote over the offseason about how it felt like this was going to be Chavis’ year to break into the league and that’s exactly what he did through the first month of his career. We’d be silly to think that a 23-year-old would be able to sustain that same level of success for the rest of his career. We all should have expected a frustrating slump that included a highlight reel full of strikeouts, but I think we can also expect him to get past this.