Eric Chavez, fill-in superstar


(Mike Stobe/Getty Images)

It was just a footnote in last night’s win over the Rangers, but Eric Chavez hit another homer as he fills in for the injured Alex Rodriguez. The no-doubt blast — it cleared the home bullpen and landed in the right field bleachers — was his 13th homer of the season, raising his season line to .293/.350/.540 in 220 plate appearances. That looks an awful lot like the .275/.350/.496 batting line he put up during his glory days with the Athletics from 1998-2005.

“It’s hard to argue with what he’s done,” said Joe Girardi about his temporary third baseman after last night’s game. “He has been great for us. He’s in the middle of one rally, adds an add-on run later on to make it 6-2, and those runs are important because you can give (David Robertson), (Rafael Soriano) and some of your guys a day off. You might say ‘You won by six runs,’ but any time you can do that, it’s important when you’re in a stretch of 20 days in a row.”

The Yankees plucked Chavez off the scrap heap last season and he did a decent job for them off the bench, hitting .263/.320/.356 in 175 plate appearances while missing a bunch of time with a foot injury. It was his most playing time in five years due to all those back and shoulder and neck problems, and his value stemmed primarily from his knack for the big hit — Chavez put up a .416/.468/.537 line with runners in scoring position and had a number of big, late-inning knocks. He was a solid role player, that’s pretty much it, but this year he’d become so much more.

The difference between Chavez this year and last year is the power production, which I’m sure is even surprising Chavez and the Yankees at this point. His .247 ISO is the second highest of his career, and his 20.3 HR/FB% is a career-best since the data started being recorded in 2002. Although the friendly confines of Yankee Stadium are surely helping him out, Hit Tracker classified eight of his 13 dingers as either “Plenty” or “No-Doubters.” Those are balls that landed at least 50 feet beyond the wall. Three of the 13 were opposite field jobs out to left, and all three came on the road (one at CitiField, two at Comerica Park). So yeah, not all of these homers are squeaking over the short porch.

I wish I could find the link now, but I remember seeing an interview with then-pro scouting director and current assistant GM Billy Eppler last summer where he mentioned that when the Yankees look for part-time players, they target players who used to be stars because they know what it takes to perform at a high-level on a daily basis. For some reason that quote stuck with me. Chavez doesn’t have the resume of Andruw Jones or Ichiro Suzuki, but he was very much a star-caliber player back in the day. He hit for average, hit for power, got on-base, and played a world class third base for a half-decade on a contending team. This guy knows what he’s doing, and he’s paying huge dividends for the Bombers this summer.

Girardi has done a pretty good job of keeping Chavez rested, but it can’t be easy to sit him on the bench for a day or two when he’s hitting like this. He’s the oldest 34-year-old in the league given his injury history, so maintaining that delicate balance between keeping him productive and keeping him healthy will be one of the skipper’s biggest challenges going forward. Chavez has turned himself into one of the more indispensable players on the team with his performance, stepping up in a huge way when A-Rod went down. I also think he’s one of the easiest-to-root-for players the Yankees have had in quite some time, and not just because he’s mashing at the plate.

Categories : Bench
  • Knoxvillain

    It’s too bad that Chavez can’t play everyday. It makes me wonder if he would actually be a better play than A-Rod if he could play everyday.

    • Tim

      If he could play everyday and hit 30 HR’s there is a very good chance he wouldn’t be on the Yankees. Enjoy what he’s giving the team and hope he wants to stay for a similar playing time structure next year regardless of paycheck.

      • Robinson Tilapia


    • Steve (different one)

      It’s tough to say because Girardi has kept him away from LHP, and he has a huge platoon split over his career (picking up McGehee seems like another shrewd under the radar move).

      If he is playing everyday, besides the wear and tear, his numbers would come down from facing lefties.

    • chuck

      Ya know people talk a lot about Chavez’s fragility but Arod can’t play everyday either. He falls apart too. I hope we see Chavez at 3b a few playoff games and let Arod dh.

  • JohnC

    Agree. Chavez has done more than they possibly could have hoped for. Wonder if his body will allow him to keep playing past this year. Andruw Jones on the other hand………… well, lets not go there

    • Knoxvillain

      Hopefully he will be back next year. I like him a lot.

    • Sayid

      Not so sure what’s wrong with Andruw Jones. He’s a 4th OFer/DH with a .760 OPS. Sure, his BA isn’t that great, but he hits for power, doesn’t hurt the Yankees in the field. Remember, these are bench/role players. Chavez is an anomaly for a bench pickup, not the norm.

      • JohnC

        Jones strikes out way too much. A guy like Melky Mesa can fill that role for a whole lot less

        • Jim Is Bored

          Oh my gosh, I really hope this is sarcasm, because if you think Jones strikes out too much, just wait for the Melky Mesa show.

          Because Mesa would have the strikeouts without the .760 OPS.

        • LK

          If you think Jones strikes out too much, I don’t see how the answer can be Melky Mesa. There’s a chance that he would be a far inferior hitter, and he would almost certainly strike out more than Jones does. Andruw is cheap enough where I don’t understand why people are expecting much more than what he’s doing.

        • Esteban

          Gotta be a joke. How could you possibly know this?

        • jsbrendog

          adruw jones has 175 abs and 12 hr. wtf more do you want in a 4th OF/rh bat of a platoon? he is a part time player signed to be a righty power bat. and is doing that.

          for reference, the dude who leads ML in HR, adam dunn, has 33 hr in 404 abs….he strikes out a bit too. and id take him this yr without hesitation.

          • Kosmo

            I believe NY was hoping more for the 2011 version of Andruw when he batted .286 vs. LHP. This season he´s hitting a meager .218 vs. LHP. That´s shit poor.

            • Andruw’s Smile

              His BA can be corrected in a short hot stretch. Not too worried about it.

        • Robinson Tilapia

          The grass is always……something.

        • MannyGeee

          not sure if serious or prospect colored glasses got you down… either way, not likely.

          Jones is what he is at this point, and that is a fringe HoF player in the twilight of his career just looking to get a ring and help out in a reduced role.

          See also: Ibanez, Chavez, Ichiro, Lowe

  • Carl
  • Rich in NJ

    I doubted he would stay healthy enough to contribute much, so I like having been wrong. When/if A-arod comes back, he should be the primary LH DH.

    • Gonadapus

      He looks to be a smoother third baseman than Alex, although he cannot play that position more than two or three games per week. I expect that this guy spends a lot of time in the whirlpool and on the trainer’s table.

  • VCR1111

    :( This made me sad.

  • Gonadapus

    “. . . when the Yankees look for part-time players, they target players who used to be stars because they know what it takes to perform at a high-level on a daily basis.” And now you know why Derek Lowe is in the Yankee bullpen.

    • jjyank

      Seems like the philosophy is working for the most part.

  • Will (the other one)

    I was just thinking after the game last night about how much Chavez has meant to the team this season–he’s really been nothing short of a godsend. Considering what he goes through on a daily basis just to be able to take the field every night, it’s amazing to me that he’s able to contribute anything valuable at all, never mind emerge as one of the club’s most important players down the stretch.

    One of Mike’s favorite adages this year has been that championship teams always get unexpected contributions from unexpected places; I know most of those comments were made in reference to Dewayne Wise, but to me, Chavez is very much “that guy” for the 2012 Yankees.

    • jsbrendog

      ibanez too

      • Rich in NJ

        Except only in Yankee Stadium.

        • Steve (different one)

          Luckily the team plays 50% of their games there and those games count 100% as much as road games.

          What did you want for $1M?

        • Steve (different one)

          And Anaheim (.970 OPS), Texas (1.000), Atlanta (.952), Citifield (1.431), KC (.844), and ok at the Trop (.771).

          Considering how far some of Ibanez’s HR’s have gone in YS, not sure it’s really the ballpark. His park splits are probably more a function of when he was at certain parks and how he was hitting, or the specific pitching matchups he saw at this parks.

  • Eddard

    Eric Chavez is the best FA signing Cashman has ever made. When Alex returns Chavez should be the DH vs righties not Ibanez, period. You can’t have his bat sitting on the bench in October.

    • jjyank

      Just like Ichiro was his best trade ever?

    • Knoxvillain

      I’d say Sabathia was probably his best. And if you count international free agents, then Cano. Chavez is a great pick up, but calling him Cashman’s best signing ever just isn’t true.

      • LK

        I still think Mussina is Cashman’s best signing. I suppose if you consider the Sabathia contract over now because of the whole opt-out issue it might be him, but since technically he signed an extension I think Sabathia is still being evaluated. Particularly with the 2 DL stints this year, putting CC over Moose is jumping the gun in my opinion.

        • jjyank

          Yeah, I think I’d go with Moose for now too.

        • Knoxvillain

          Maybe, but Sabathia is a better pitcher than Moose. I love Moose though. Forgot about that signing. Damon’s was pretty good, too.

          • Kosmo

            I humbly disagree that CC is the better of the 2. Check out their 1st 12 seasons ( which is how long CC been pitching) if you go by WAR Mussina is slightly ahead. Mussina was also a solid postseason pitcher. Long live Moose!

      • gc

        It’s Eddard’s M.O. He says outlandish things, often contradicting himself from one post to the next, with wild mood swings from one day to the other depending on a Yankee win or loss the day before. Then he doesn’t post again to any responses. I’m starting to think it’s completely an act. Nobody could be this much of a dullard on a daily basis. If it is an act, I have to say, he’s brilliant at it. If it’s not, and he truly believes the nonsense he writes, YIKES!

        • RI$P FTW

          Who cares? He can do whatever he wants.
          LOL @ you for being ‘the guy that has it all figured out’.

          • gc

            I stand corrected. I thought nobody could be more of a dullard on a daily basis. Thanks for contributing your ‘thoughts’ and proving me wrong.

            • Jim Is Bored

              It’s RI$P’s M.O

            • DC

              I actually think Eddard is another of RI$P’s handles he uses on here.

          • Jim Is Bored

            He can do whatever he wants. And it makes him subject to responses from other people, who, similarly, can do whatever they want.

            You’re something, you are.

      • Robinson Tilapia

        I’d go with Sabathia as well. It was the guy he wanted for years, he wasn’t going to be swayed, he went and got him.

    • Steve (different one)

      Chavez wasnt even his best FA signing this season. That would be Kuroda.

    • MannyGeee

      The Return of the man they call Andy Petitte was the best Cashman signing ever.

      That said, Chavez was Cashman’s best scrap heap signing ever.

  • Steve (different one)

    Not bad for a “square peg”…

  • pat

    We made it this far without a mention of the best baseball .gif of the year? For shame RAB

    • Knoxvillain

      I’m pretty sure it was in one of the Open Threads several days ago.

      • pat

        I meant this far in this Ode to Chavy.

    • DERP

      That one is good, but I like the Mark Reynolds one better.

    • Reggie C.

      I haven’t seen that one till now, and i’m glad you put up the link.

      COuldnt hold back the laughter on that one.

    • MannyGeee

      for real, that is absolutely priceless. Chavy’s expression is awesome.

  • Tom Q

    Alot of folks here are too young to remember, but Chavez’s sudden, unlikley late-career revival — just when the Yankees needed something like it — reminds me of Catfish Hunter’s second half in 1978. Catfish had seemed hopelessly done, especially after an early season bombing at Fenway. But a doctor did an unusual arm manipulation, and Catfish came back almost like the 20-game winner of old. He was close to undefeated down the stretch — a stretch where, obviously, every game counted, since the Yanks and Sox finished the 162-game season tied — and even won the clinching game of the Series.

    It;s worth noting that Cat was never much after that — 2-9 in ’79, after which he retired. So maybe you don’t want to expect too much of Chavez from here on. But it’s great to watch him perform at this level one more time after it seemed he was done. And, from his point of view — thinking he could just as easily be sitting home retired — he must feel like he’s dreaming.

    • Kosmo

      I remember the 1978 season one of the most memorable seasons ever.
      Dig this:
      2nd half of the season
      Guidry 12-2 1.48 ERA
      Figueroa 13-3 2.46 ERA
      Catfish 10-3 2.88 ERA
      combined 35-8.
      Hunter´s father passed away in 1979 and then Munson´s tragic end took the wind out of Catfish´s sails and so he retired. He was only like 32-33 yrs old.

  • Roadgeek Adam

    ” I also think he’s one of the easiest-to-root-for players the Yankees have had in quite some time, and not just because he’s mashing at the plate.”

    Totally agreed.

  • LarryM.,Fl.

    My only concern is Chavez’s health but sure enjoy his play!

  • 28 this year

    The fact that he has an injury history is really the only thing that makes him a Yankee. If he didn’t have that injury history, he wouldn’t be a bench player right now to A-Rod. So yea, I take that injury history as a positive for the Yankees because thats why they have someone as good as Chavez as a backup. Plus, Chavez is great, I love how after one season with the Yankees, he was like Yankees or retirement. It says something about the team to get that kind of loyalty from a guy who spent just one year with them, same goes to Jones who signed with the Yankees with more lucrative chances in the market.

    • I Love Hirok & (Ichi)Ro (formerly & Futurely Cris Pengiucci)

      Had to break out a temporary new handle for today with Hiroki pithcing and that triple by Ichiro last night.

      “It says something about the team to get that kind of loyalty from a guy who spent just one year with them, same goes to Jones who signed with the Yankees with more lucrative chances in the market.”

      This was not the case for the Yankees during the “down years” of ’80s and ’90s. The Yankees had to over pay to get players to come in. Now, it seems they can almost underpay for players that can contribute, but are past their prime. They want to win and the Yankees provide them with that opportunity in what seems to be an enjoyable environment.

  • Andruw’s Smile

    This bench is awesome. Cashman gets far too much shit for nothing, he’s done a hell of a job.

  • Luisergi

    Totally man-crush.

    Funny how here in México the media roots for Adrian Gonzalez as a succesfull mexican player in MLB, and they have never done that with Chavez, not even when he was good with Oakland.

    • Kosmo

      I was living in Oakland during Chavez´ best years and I have to say he was much loved by the Latino community/fan base.

  • Robinson Tilapia

    I love it when he blows a kiss to Erica after every great play.

    • jjyank

      Chavez is really Plouffy?

      • Robinson Tilapia

        Probably not, but a little bit of weed = a bit less DL.

        • jjyank

          True dat.

    • Erica

      Precious. Chavez is mah boo, yo.

  • blake

    “I wish I could find the link now, but I remember seeing an interview with then-pro scouting director and current assistant GM Billy Eppler last summer where he mentioned that when the Yankees look for part-time players, they target players who used to be stars because they know what it takes to perform at a high-level on a daily basis. ”

    it’s a great idea if you can get these guys to buy in to that role and the Yankees have done a great job of that….Chavez, Jones, Ichiro, Ibanez….now Derek Lowe. It’s good because older ex-every day players can often still play well in spurts….they just can’t do it every day…..also gives you experience and professionalism in the clubhouse. No question that it’s helped the Yanks the last couple of seasons…..they have created this culture where these guys want to play for the Yankees….pretty cool

    • Deep Thoughts

      It’s like All-Star Weekend all year, only with better uniforms, no Tony LaRussa, and the games actually mean something.

  • Craig

    Come October, how do you get both Chavez/Ibanez in the lineup vs RHP? Only logical way is to bench Swisher and his .100 average in the postseason, unless ARod is still hurt.

    • Steve (different one)

      Start Ibanez in LF and Chavez at DH. In the later innings, put Ichiro in LF.

      I don’t know, just thinking out loud. In the playoffs, I’d probably rather have Ichiro’s glove. These things tend to work themselves out though.

      • Andruw’s Smile

        Depending on how Ichiro’s doing with the bat I wouldn’t mind either Ichi or Raul in LF.

    • pat

      Love when people bring up postseason stats. Love it.

    • Pasta Stumbling Sojo

      Swisher’s past postseason performance doesn’t really mean anything. It’s almost entirely due to unlucky BABIP, and it’s not over enough PA’s to be meaningful anyway.

    • MannyGeee

      A-Rod’s post-season stat line from 2004-2008 says hi.

  • Erica

    Thrilled with Eric Chavez on a daily basis. He’s been an indispensable part of this team. I hope he chooses to continue playing next year.

    • DM

      But it won’t be for 900k plus incentives next time.

      • I Love Hirok & (Ichi)Ro (formerly & Futurely Cris Pengiucci)

        And that’s just fine. There’s no $189M budget cap in place for next year. Hopefully he’ll be worth more than $900k + next season as he is this season. But as much as I love what he’s doing this season, I hope the Yankees don’t need him to do as much next season.

        • Andruw’s Smile

          I seem to remember Chavez only wanting to play for the Yankees last year. After reading that article about what he’s gotta do everyday just to play, I think Chavez is gonna go to a team he really wants to play for. I think he’ll be back, unless someone offers a large deal.

          • DM

            I’m sure he’ll want to come back. But if he asks for too much, will Cashman pay? Or will he just be glad they got this 2012 out of him for a bargain price?

  • RetroRob

    People here on RAB and within the analyst community have laughed when the Yankees have invited the likes of Chavez, Ibanez, Jones, Thames, Garcia and Colon to camp. They’ll laugh again next year when the Yankees invite another seeming has-been to camp. Some will never make the roster, but a few will help by providing league-average to above-league-average production.

    Chavez is off the charts. He’s clearly done something so he can once again rotate his hips to generate power, something he hasn’t done in at least five years. He was useful last year, he’s a tremendous value this year.