The percentage of 42nd round picks that make it to the Major Leagues are beyond miniscule, and the amount of those players to actually perform at a high level once there, shrink even more. However, 30 year-old, right-handed pitcher Jesse Chavez has found a way to defy the odds this year for the Oakland Athletics. As of June 3, 2014, Chavez ranks in the Top 15 in the AL in the following categories: ERA (2.78), WHIP (1.18), and AVG (.238). Through 11 starts, Chavez has also had 7 quality starts (6 innings with 3 ER or less allowed), which has contributed heavily to the A’s having the best record in the AL at 35-22. By posting these numbers, the question many fans (and his opponents) have asked is, where did this guy come from? His frame is string-beanish (6’2” 160 lbs.) and he features a low-to-mid 90’s fastball, accompanied by a 12-6 curveball, and a wicked changeup. Yet, his bread and butter pitch is the cutter. It is this pitch that has transformed him from an average (at best) reliever, who had been on four teams in four years, into one of the best surprises for A’s fans this year.
Mariano Rivera is the reason for the cutters fame, but few others have been able to replicate the effectiveness of the pitch that he had. So far this season, Chavez has done just that as he has held opposing hitters to a .178 average against his cutter (according to MLB.com). During this season, his new pitch has helped him stay down in the strike zone, a place that very seldom hitters can do damage. Chavez explained via the Mercury News earlier in the season that he, “…used to throw a fastball most of the time, but a lot of the time, too much of the time, it would get up in the zone.” And he got hit most the time. So instead of trying to overpower hitters with his velocity, this offseason he focused on developing a cutter that had more movement, despite being slower.
With this new weapon in his repertoire, along with his ability to locate it has made it easier for Chavez to keep hitters off balance. The cutter also allows him set up his other pitches, making them more effective. A new and improved Chavez has resulted in many moments like this: “And the 2-2 pitch is swung on and missed, a cutter on the outside corner and (Mike) Trout stares at Chavez like man that was some pretty good stuff right there.” said Ken Korach via 95.7FM The Game.In that game, Trout went 0-2 with 2 K’s against Chavez. If that kind of success against one of the best pure hitters in the game is not enough proof that Jesse Chavez is not just an early-season fluke, then I don’t know what is.