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.