The education of Michael Chavis is ongoing, and he’s taking notes.
A week ago, a Red Sox-Astros series offered a window into the world of adjustments at the major league level, how a rookie gets confronted with the cat-and-mouse game.
Before the series at Fenway Park, Houston manager A.J. Hinch was direct about his team’s view of the Red Sox rookie. Hinch offered praise for the spark provided by the 23-year-old — along with scouting curiosity.
“He’s killing secondary pitches,” said Hinch, “so we’ll have to see how he handles the fastball.”
That night, Astros pitchers threw Chavis 17 pitches. Of those, all but two were four-seam fastballs, most of them explosive high-90s offerings at the top of the zone from righthander Gerrit Cole.
Chavis swung at 13 of those heaters, whiffing on eight of them while striking out three times. Put simply, he was overmatched by Houston’s blunt, powerful attack in his 0-for-4 night.
Yet Chavis adapted quickly. Over the next two days, he became aggressive and synched up his swing with fastballs. He saw a total of 13 pitches in eight plate appearances Saturday and Sunday, with eight of those being four-seamers. He didn’t swing and miss at a single four-seamer in those contests while going 3 for 8 with a pair of singles and a first-pitch homer. His hits came on a cutter (the homer), a fastball, and a changeup.
The weekend offered a window into why Chavis has been so impressive in his big league debut. He has been able to process how teams are attacking him, take stock of what he’s seen, and change his plan of attack. Moreover, he has remained in a frame of mind that permits productive adaptations rather than pushing him toward crises of self-doubt.
That isn’t to be taken for granted. Indeed, Chavis once lacked that ability. In his first full pro season, in Single A Greenville in 2015, one poor game often bled into another. Chavis would respond to one bad at-bat with another, often swinging harder after each strikeout. Downward spirals resulted.
It was in the spring of 2017 that Chavis started to use his notebooks as a means of processing information — on pitchers’ plans of attack as well as elements of his routine — and for the purposes of what he describes as “self-talk.”
The goal of keeping the notebook is twofold: It allows Chavis to think through the batter-vs.-pitcher game in organized fashion while also creating a mental routine that allows him to treat each at-bat individually rather than carrying the triumph or failure forward.
“I’ve got to be done with the at-bat when I’m done writing,” said Chavis,who suffered through an 0-for-4 night with two strikeouts Friday night. “If I hit a home run, when I’m done writing, I have to be ready for the next at-bat. I’m done thinking about it. It’s over. Time to move on.
“If I strike out, set a time [to process it], then move on and stay consistent. It’s whatever I have to do to flush it and get to the next at-bat.”
Teammate J.D. Martinez can appreciate the benefit that Chavis gets out of such an approach. Until he joined the Red Sox last year, Martinez kept handwritten notebooks about what he was seeing in games.
His teammates were . . . not always supportive of the practice.
One of his former hitting coaches, Mike Barnett, noted that Astros players used to make fun of Martinez for taking notes, to the point where he stopped the practice for a time. Even in Detroit, where Martinez emerged as one of the game’s premier sluggers, there was teasing.
“I’ve got books at home where [Miguel Cabrera] used to draw in them,” said Martinez. “There were all kinds of pictures. Everyone would grab it and draw, mess with me.”
The same is not happening for Chavis. Indeed, Martinez recognizes the benefit for a young player of cultivating such a habit.
“It’s definitely a tool for him,” said Martinez. “It was a tool for me when I used to do it. It helps you remember things and it helps you reinforce things.”
(Martinez now uses a different, undisclosed method to chronicle his batter’s box experiences. “I took it to another level where I have a better way of doing it now,” he said. “It is not handwritten.”)
It also seems to help a rookie finding his way in the big leagues to adjust — a mandatory exercise given how rapidly and radically opponents’ plans of attack can change.
Last weekend, the Astros threw Chavis 77 percent fastballs. The Blue Jays, by contrast, threw him 43 percent fastballs in the series that immediately followed, with Chavis going 4 for 18 but with two homers against the less fastball-dominant attack.
It remains to be seen how Houston will go after Chavis this time — but it is a safe bet that the rookie will be be studying as he continues his big league test.