Pitchers onto Michael Chavis after his whiff of success
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Years from now, when his baseball career is over and he’s sitting around talking about the old times, Michael Chavis will have a good story to tell about winning the American League Rookie of the Month when he was fighting to get out of a slump.
Chavis, a 23-year-old infielder, has hit .222 over his last 16 games with 24 strikeouts in 63 at-bats and only four walks. Many of the strikeouts have been swinging through fastballs up around his neck.
Not even a 2-for-4 game against the Yankees on Sunday night brought much solace. Chavis had a bloop single in the second inning then a gift triple in the eighth inning when he dropped a ball down the right field that was misplayed by Clint Frazier.
“I’ll take them,” Chavis said. “Right now, I’ll take anything.”
Chavis is the latest young hitter victimized by technology. Within a few days of his being called up from Triple A Pawtucket, opposing teams had compiled enough data to find the holes in his swing and develop a game plan for their pitchers to use.
“It’s a mental grind for him at this point,” Red Sox hitting coach Tim Hyers said. “He’s swinging at pitches he can’t get to, getting in bad counts and that opens it up for the pitchers. It’s like a sore that spreads and gets infected.”
It used to take several weeks, if not a month, for pitchers to adjust to rookie hitters. Teams relied on reports filed by their scouts and feedback from their minor league coaches to attack hitters.
Now most teams have pitch-tracking systems at their Triple A ballparks and have info on hitters before they make their debut. Once a few major league games are played, even more sophisticated data is compiled and the analysts start to break it down.
“I don’t know how scouting reports work in the minors. But you could have a bad series and it didn’t affect the next series,” Chavis said. “Here, what you do the previous day affects the next day. You’re always making adjustments and that’s the current situation I’m in right now.
“It’s on me. I wish I could say, ‘Oh, he made a good pitch.’ But it’s not that. I’m getting myself out. I’m taking good pitches for strikes and swinging at the ones that aren’t.”
Houston’s Justin Verlander struck out Chavis three times on May 26. He threw him 14 straight four-seam fastballs, 10 in the upper third of the strike zone or above.
“Certain teams have special fastballs,” manager Alex Cora said. “You can see where they’re going . . . But not everybody throws 97 with hop.”
Cleveland exploited the same spot in the series that followed. Kansas City will try in the series that starts Tuesday night.
“The capabilities teams have to find weaknesses is greater than ever before,” Hyers said.
Hitters get just as much information. But players such as Chavis, who have long trusted their eyes to pick up the spin on pitches and then their hands to get to the ball, have to decide how much of that information to use.
Chavis is still trying to determine how much is too much.
“Most of these guys, I haven’t seen before in real life,” he said. “I can get a bunch of opinions and scouting reports and try to correlate that to me. It’s information overload sometimes. I’m still trying to learn what works for me.”
Chavis took over at second base when he was called up April 19. But with Mitch Moreland and Steve Pearce on the injured list, and with Brock Holt available for second base, Chavis will be more of a first baseman now.
That the Sox need him in the lineup only adds to the frustration of his slump.
“[It’s terrible] because I have this opportunity and I need to make the most of it,” Chavis said. “These are all important games.”
Assistant hitting coach Andy Barkett recently showed Chavis a map of how pitchers are approaching him. The Sox want to him to be better disciplined and take those high fastballs.
Cora calls it controlling the strike zone.
“The same way that they learn about him, he can learn about the opposition and make adjustments,” Cora said. “This kid is going to hit.”
Chavis had seven home runs and 19 RBIs in 26 games last month, which led to his getting the award. That will take some of the sting out of his slump.
“The pitchers up here are better, that’s a fact,” he said. “I’m not saying they’re better than me or better than anybody else. They’re here for a reason. But so am I. I’m confident I’ll figure it out.”