2019 stats: 3.76 ERA, 77 games, 52.2 IP, 3.25 FIP, 119 ERA+, 0.7 WAR
2019 salary: $1,945,000
2020 status: Arbitration 3 ($3,200,000)
Andrew Chafin was the third player (43rd overall) the Diamondbacks selected in the first round of the 2011 draft. The first two players were Trevor Bauer and Archie Bradley. Overall, that’s a solid top three selections, later personality conflicts notwithstanding. As hoped for from an early pick in the draft, Chafin rapidly climbed through the minors and made his debut (as a starter) in August of 2014. After a thoroughly successful debut, Chafin joined the bullpen out of spring training in 2015 and never looked back. In his first full season, Chafin established himself as a dominant left-handed force out of the bullpen. Over the next three seasons, he never quite rose to that level again, but the “lesser” version was still a quality, above average, left-handed relief pitcher that laughed at the convention of relief pitchers being unreliably volatile from year to year. After surviving a winter of attachment to trade rumors, The Sheriff was one of the few true locks for the bullpen to open the 2019 season.
While Chafin’s career has been marked by year-to-year strong performances, that is not to say that Chafin is the model of consistency. The 2019 season was, by most measures, Chafin’s worst healthy season, this despite the strikeouts being up and the walks being down. A good deal of this had to do with first batter efficiency. A running joke at the Snakepit throughout the season was that Chafin wasn’t really ready to pitch until after he walked the first batter. While this was clearly hyperbole, it is a fact that Chafin struggled with the first batter, especially in lower leverage situations. Batters also tended to find most of their success off of Chafin very early in the plate appearance, often times on the first pitch. Chafin’s biggest struggles also came against the fourth hitter in the lineup, often as not one of the most dangerous hitters on the opposing team. Thus, timing and situations tended to work against Chafin when it came to fans being able to easily forget a less than stellar performance.
It’s no secret that poor performances from relievers tend to stick in the mind more prominently than good performances. After all, good performances are often simply a matter of the reliever coming in and doing the job asked of them for one, two, or three batters and then being done. This results in bad performances getting attention and good outings getting overlooked. For all of the frustrations that Chafin might have caused in 2019, he was a key part of no fewer than six combined shutouts in 2019. The higher leverage the situation, the better Chafin performed. Though this never resulted in Chafin moving into one of the late-innings roles (despite the team’s struggles there), it did still make a difference. Though Chafin has never quite reached Ziegler-levels of performing the Houdini act, Chafin’s groundball tendencies and his strong ability to miss bats meant that he was often only one pitch or one batter away from escaping trouble. More often than not, this spelled trouble for the opposition. Both Chafin’s ability to get key strikeouts and induce a double play were on display on April 10th when Chafin entered the game in the sixth inning against Texas with the bases loaded and no one out.
While Chafin had some issues in 2019, his FIP (3.25), xFIP (3.24), and BABIP (.351) all tend to indicate that Chafin may well have also been a season-long recipient of some old-fashioned bad luck while still managing to get the job done for the most part. In short, Andrew Chafin had a down year in 2019 and still managed to be an above average reliever.
Chafin’s continued strong performance allowed him to climb to #2 all-time on Arizona’s leaderboard of appearances by a reliever. He also climbed to #5 on the list in terms of innings pitched by a relief pitcher. However, the top two on that list are Archie Bradley and Randall Delgado, both of whom have significant innings as a starter on their ledger. Removing them brings Chafin up to #3 on the list.
Chafin will be arbitration eligible for the third and final time in 2020. The combination of Chafin entering his final season of control and the expected salary Chafin is due to receive are going to nce again make him popular in winter trade rumors. However, reliable workhorse relievers, left-handed or right-handed, are difficult to come by - at any price. That Chafin pitches left-handed and will still be making a manageable salary in 2020 leads me to believe it is unlikely that Mike Hazen moves Chafin in the offseason. On the open market, Chafin would receive multi-year offers for an annual salary in excess of what he is slated to make in 2020. The team’s lack of other left-handed options, beyond possibly Alex Young, also play into the decision. Unless something significant changes, I expect that Andrew Chafin will be pitching for Arizona again in 2020, on his way to surpassing Brad Ziegler as the franchise’s all-time relief appearance leader.