Nov
13

What Went Right: Eric Chavez

By

(Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

Part of the reason why the Yankees won World Series after World Series in the late-1990s was the quality of their reserves. They had guys like Tim Raines and Darryl Strawberry and Chili Davis on the bench, established star-caliber players who accepted lesser roles later in their careers for the sake of winning. The club has gotten back to that model in recent years, which led them to Eric Chavez in 2011.

Last season, Chavez’s first year in New York, went well but it wasn’t great. He missed nearly three months with a foot injury and hit .263/.320/.356 (80 wRC+) in 175 plate appearances overall, including .255/.322/.365 (83 wRC+) against righties. His offense was propped up by a number of big hits (.415/.468/.537, 165 wRC+ with runners in scoring position) and his defense at the hot corner was pretty strong. He wasn’t Raines or Strawberry or even Davis, but he was a solid bench piece.

The Yankees brought the 34-year-old Chavez back on another one-year deal in 2012, likely expecting more of the same. Instead, they got a whole lot more. He singled in his first plate appearance of the season and was used pretty sparingly for the first 15 games or so, but he made his second start of the year on April 20th and responded with two solo homers in Fenway Park. He homered again on April 30th, matching his long ball output from 2011 in his first month and 30 plate appearances of 2012. Chavez had a torrid 12-for-37 (.324) stretch with four doubles and two homers in mid-June and carried a .282/.336/.504 batting line into the All-Star break. He then went 3-for-3 with a homer in the third game after the break.

(Leon Halip/Getty)

When Felix Hernandez broke Alex Rodriguez‘s hand with a pitch on July 24th, Chavez took over as the regular third baseman against right-handers. He hit .333/.392/.543 in 89 plate appearances during A-Rod‘s absence, including an insane 16-for-34 (.471) stretch with five homers from late-July to mid-August. During a four-game series against the Tigers in early-August, he went 9-for-16 (.563) with two homers, including the game-winning dinger in the eighth inning of the series finale.

A-Rod returned in early-September and Chavez went back to his usual role off the bench, but he didn’t stop hitting. He went 8-for-30 (.267) with four homers and more walks (seven) than strikeouts (six) in the club’s final 22 games of the season. Chavez didn’t hit all in the playoffs, literally zero hits in 17 plate appearances, but that’s not enough to take the shine away from his .281/.348/.496 (126 wRC+) effort in 313 regular season plate appearances. He hit 16 (!) homers, his most since 2006 and more than three times as many as he hit from 2008-2011 combined (five), and he also tagged right-handed pitchers for a .299/.366/.545 (144 wRC+) batting line in 244 plate appearances. The guy was a monster off the bench.

At the same time, the Yankees also got lucky that Chavez didn’t get hurt and miss a significant chunk of time. He did spend seven days on the concussion DL in early-May and was unavailable for a handful of games through the season for general maintenance, but otherwise Chavez stayed on the field all season despite needing a rigorous daily routine to get ready to play. He was arguably the team’s best bench player since those veteran laden late-1990s team, providing solid defense and excellent offense while subbing in during A-Rod’s injury and allowing the team to never miss a beat.

Categories : Players
  • Cris Pengiucci

    If Chavez decides to play again in 2013, I wouldn’t be opposed to him returning on a similar contract to this past season’s. He can backup ARod & Tex (hopefully Tex doesn’t need too much time off), potentially filling 2 holes. While I don’t think the Yankees can expect similar production to 2012, I would hope at least similar offensive numbers to 2011 (without the injuries, of course).

    If they decide to cut ties with him, my guess is they feel they’ve gotten all they can from him. Certainly hope they have a viable replacement for him in that case. It’s also possible he’ll decide to retire on his own, but I’d certainly be OK with him returning.

  • mt

    Chavez is perfect example where we have to stop pushing it with an older roster. He did very well in 2012 but he should not be main back-up to ARod (or Tex for that matter) – we should bite the bullet and try to get younger there since Arod will DH a lot or may get injured again for long stretches (yes, I know any player of any age can get injured but this team should more proactively plan for possibility of an Arod being out for a significant time period).

    I am very concerned with his routine to even get on the field each day.

    I only may be interested if he were strictly a lefty DH/pinch-hitter as opposed to main 3rd base back-up.

    • Cris Pengiucci

      I disagree (obviously) and feel that if Chavez feels he’s healthy enough to return, backups are a place where the team doesn’t need to worry about age. Unless there’s someone in the minors that can develop into a respectable full time player while getting limited playing time, why not stay with a proven commodity? Only Adams or Joseph come to mind as future potential full timers, as Nunez clearly hasn’t fit that mold yet. Chavez seems to fill the need better than anyone in house. WShould the Yankees find someone younger that could possibly replace what Chavez brings, then fine, go for it. But I don’t see this as a place (bench in general) where the Yankees need to get younger.

    • gc

      You’re concerned with A-Rod’s preparation routine to be able to play every day??

    • RetroRob

      “Chavez is perfect example where we have to stop pushing it with an older roster.”

      .281/.348/.496 (126 wRC+)

  • Andy Pettitte’s Fibula (formerly Manny’s BanWagon)

    This was the first year since 2007 that Chavez was healthy and able to surpass 175 plate appearances and the first time since 2007 that he hit more than 2 home runs in a season.

    I’d say the chances of anything close to a repeat performance in 2013 are slim and none and slim left town.

  • http://www.thewallbreakers.com Scully

    I know no one feels that Chavez will be able to have a healthy 2013 (and the last handful of years of his career dictate everyone could well be correct), but what if we have a Grant Hill situation on our hands – An older player who finally finds a way to stay healthy in which we then find he has a TON left in the tank because he’d been hurt for so many straight seasons that much of the general wear and tear and physical breakdowns associated with an aging athlete don’t plague him? If the Yankees feel that way, and Chavez wants to come back at a reasonable price, I’d love to have him back

    • Robinson Tilapia

      This.

      Even if you’re left holding the bag with him and going one season too long, I think it really is worth the risk. This type of player in a part time role is not easy to find. He’ll also always be inexpensive enough that, if it’s time to part ways in the middle of the season, it’s not going to hurt the team.

      I actually do understand the alternate point of view but, with Chavez, I’m still wililng to go year by year until it’s obvious to both parties he can’t anymore.

    • Andy Pettitte’s Fibula (formerly Manny’s BanWagon)

      and maybe he could score some undetectable steroid from Victor Conte and hit 50 homers next year.

      anything’s possible but the likelihood of him staying healthy is pretty small based on his track record.

  • awesomeo

    I get the vibe that some people expect us to have Allstars riding the bench for us. The ONLY reasons Chavez is/was with us is that he has a chance to win in New York, and he can’t stay healthy. If he could put up the simmilar numbers throughout the year he would be a starter for another team. He knows he can’t stay healthy, and we just happen to be very fortunate that he is willing to sign, and play for team friendly contracts.

  • http://stoogazzo@comcast.net Tom Morea

    ALL YOU POSTERS MUST BE KIDDING. CHAVEZ CAN HARDLY MAKE THE THROW TO FIRST BASE!

  • Reuben Sierra’s Chains

    Chavez torrid 4 game series against the Tigers was in August not April.