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2020 in Review: Michael Chavis

It was a rough sophomore campaign for the infielder.

Baltimore Orioles v Boston Red Sox Photo by Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images

Welcome to our 2020 Red Sox in Review series. This is, as you can probably guess, where we will be reviewing all of the players who made at least a modest impact on the Red Sox in 2020. Every week day we’ll be deep diving into one player. For each edition we’ll describe the season in a sentence, look at the positives from the year as well as negatives, look back at our one big question from the season preview and look ahead to the 2021 season. We’ll be going in alphabetical order of the players on this list. You can look over that list and drop a name in the comments if you think I left anyone out who should be mentioned here. Got it? Good. Today we are exploring how 2020 was for Michael Chavis.

2020 in one sentence

Michael Chavis had a chance to show that his hot streak to start his career was no fluke and that he could bounce back after the rough ending to that rookie year, but ended up showing the opposite was true.

The Positives

Uh, well, hmmm. *shifts in seat uncomfortably*

There wasn’t really a whole lot for us to report in this section, unfortunately. If we do have to find something, though, we could point to his versatility. If you’re thinking to yourself, “Self, is it great that versatility is the first thing listed on a player’s list of positives from a season?” The answer would be no. But, this is where we are. Chavis didn’t grade out very well by any metric at the positions he played, which isn’t ideal, but by my untrained eye he didn’t look too disastrous either. I’m not going to read too much into defensive metrics for a part-time player who played multiple positions over a 60-game season.

Chavis did play at a few different spots, though. At the start of the year, he spent most of his time at first base, splitting time with Mitch Moreland and then later with Bobby Dalbec. In addition to the cold corner, Chavis also spent a signficant amount of time at second base, where he can handle himself, particularly in this era of shifting. He also filled in a bit at third base, his most natural position, and left field. The outfield was new to him, and while he certainly looked at times like a guy who was just learning the outfield, he also seems to at least have the physical tools to be able to handle left field on a part-time basis. For a guy with all of the offensive struggles he had this year, adding versatility is a good first step towards getting more chances in the majors.

Beyond the versatility, uh, his personality is still fun and he’s easy to root for? I don’t know. I like Michael Chavis a lot, but there just weren’t many positives to report.

The Negatives

This is where I just say, “Nearly everything” and move on, right? I’ll add a little more, but to start let’s just look at the overall line. Chavis finished the year with 158 plate appearances, hitting .212/.259/.377 for a wRC+ of 65, meaning he was 35 percent worse than the league-average hitter. Among players with at least 150 plate appearances, of which there were 203, only eight finished with worse offensive numbers by wRC+ than Chavis. He struck out in nearly a third of his plate appearances, didn’t hit for much power and walked only five percent of the time. It was all bad.

I think we have to start with the strikeouts and just general whiffing, though. This has been the biggest issue for Chavis since he was drafted in the first round back in 2014. Strides were made here as he made his way up the minor-league ladder, but he struggled with contact in his rookie year in 2019 and things didn’t improve this year. As I said, he had a strikeout rate over 30 percent this past season, and according to Baseball Savant’s numbers he whiffed on over 30 percent of his swings on every type of pitch. Overall, he swung and missed on 17.5 percent of the total pitches he saw, a number that once again was bested (worsted?) by only eight players among those same 203 with at least 150 plate appearances.

The biggest issue coming into the year was his ability to handle fastballs, something that was clearly the thing he had to improve over the offseason. Things didn’t get much better, though. He did drop his whiff rate very slightly on the pitch, but it was still far too high at 30 percent and his .270 wOBA (on the same scale as OBP) was 60 points worse than it was a year ago against fastballs. In particular, he has trouble making contact with velocity high in the zone, and that continued this year. Below you can see the rate at which he fails to make contact on swings against pitches all over the zone, with the numbers all too high above it.

via Baseball Savant

In today’s modern game, though, batters can get by while striking out a lot as long as they pair it with power. And Chavis has that ability with above-average raw power, something he put on display plenty in his rookie year. In the shortened 2020 season, though, he couldn’t get that part of his game going either. He finished the year with a .164 Isolated Power (SLG - AVG), nine points below the league-average. Chavis finished in the bottom half of the league in both hard-hit rate and average exit velocity while also hitting fewer fly balls than he did in 2019.

To finish off what was a poor season, he also failed to draw as many walks as he had in the past. The way to work past a high strikeout rate is to hit for power and draw walks, a la Joey Gallo. Chavis instead walked five percent of the time after getting that rate up to eight percent the year before. On the one hand, his plate discipline numbers in terms of chasing pitches out of the zone stayed steady with his 2019 numbers, suggesting there could be some sample size issues with this season’s rate. On the other hand, his chase rate was still fairly significantly worse than average (35 percent for Chavis compared to 30 percent for the league, per FanGraphs), which means something in the middle of the two rates is probably his true talent. Given his whiff tendencies, he needs to improve that.

The Big Question

Can Michael Chavis improve against the high heat?

He did not!

Looking ahead to 2021

Chavis could be the most interesting player on the roster heading into the offseason. There’s not a clear place for him to play, with Dalbec likely getting the bulk of the time at first base, Chavis’s best position. With them both being right-handed, they don’t really complement each other either. He could be sent down to Triple-A for more seasoning, too, but they are starting to get crowded on the infield there as well with guys like Jeter Downs. C.J. Chatham and Jonathan Araúz. All of that leads to him being a potential trade chip, though his value likely isn’t high enough for him to be shopped on his own. I think it’s about 50/50 as to whether or not he’ll be back next year, but I’m fascinated to see what happens.