Taking a deep dive on the newest Blue Jay Zach Thompson, along with a farewell to Chavez Young
23 days ago
As you may know, the Blue Jays have acquired a pitcher who may fill in the fifth starting spot in the rotation.
On Tuesday afternoon, the Blue Jays acquired right-handed pitcher Zach Thompson, who had been designated for assignment by the Pittsburgh Pirates. Toronto could have claimed him off waivers, but they instead traded outfielder Chavez Young for the 29-year-old pitcher so no other team could claim him.
Let’s dive into what the Blue Jays are gaining in Thompson and what they’ve lost in Young.
Zach Thompson, a deep dive:
The first thing that jumps out to me about Thompson is his size. Per Fangraphs, he’s listed at 6’7, 250 pounds. Despite the huge frame, the righty only sits at 92.4 mph with his fastball, with a maximum velocity of 94 mph, which came on his debut.
It’s also worth mentioning that Thompson has options, meaning that he can be sent down up to five times without the Jays worrying about losing him to the waiver wire.
His tenure with the Pirates wasn’t great, as he had a 5.18 ERA and a 4.87 FIP in 121.1 innings pitched. His K% sat at a pretty low 16.6%, while he had an 8.6 BB%, which is about average. Thompson was used mainly in a starter role, as he started 22 of 29 games that he appeared in.
In 2021, Thompson had an HR/9 of 0.72, or a home run to fly ball ratio of 7.1%, which is slightly below average, and understandable as Miami’s ballpark is a pitcher’s park.
His 2021 season with the Miami Marlins was far better, as he recorded a 3.24 ERA and a 3.69 FIP in 75 innings pitched, starting in 14 games of the 26 games he pitched in. Moreover, he had a significantly better 21 K%, while his 8.9 BB% was relatively the same.
So, that begs the question, what happened changed from the 2021 season to the 2022 season? Simply put, the Miami Marlins are very good at developing pitchers, while the Pittsburgh Pirates are the opposite.
What went wrong?
Thompson’s pitch mix according to Baseball Savant is as follows: Four-seam fastball, sinker, changeup, curveball, and cutter.
Let’s compare the usage of his pitches from season to season
|Pitch||2021 usage||2022 usage|
The first thing that immediately stands out is the significant jump in sinker usage. If there’s one thing about the Pittsburgh Pirates, it’s that they love their pitchers to throw a sinker. However, it’s not the cause for his increase in ERA, FIP, and rise in homers, as only one homer of his 19 came off his cutter. Below is a table that shows the amount of home runs batters hit off certain pitches.
|Pitch||2021 home runs||2022 home runs|
Something happened with his cutter, as you can see. However, there are no obvious reasons as to what went wrong. The spin rate was relatively the same (2545 RPM in 2021, 2580 RPM in 2022), while the shape of the cutter remained the same. In 2021, the cutter had a -12 run value, a fantastic number for a pitcher, but that jumped up a whole 18 points in 2022, as it rose to plus six.
The other interesting pitch difference is with his changeup. In 2021, it had a run value of -2, which is above average. A season later, his changeup had an insanely poor run value of plus 12. The batting average on the changeup during the 2021 season was .176, the lowest on any pitch in his career. It jumped to .360 the next season, which was the highest in his career.
There’s no clear answer as to what changed, but his cutter and changeup, which were both plus pitches in 2021, drastically got worse in the 2022 season. Sportsnet’s Chris Black has a great thread on this.
The Blue Jays have had a better track record of helping pitchers get on track and despite the poor 2022 season, there’s a lot to like about Thompson. So look for the Jays to hopefully make the right adjustments coming into 2023.
There’s certainly a chance that Thompson could play an important role in 2023 as the swing man if he can revert back to his 2021 self.
A goodbye to Chavez Young:
The hardest part of the game is the business side. It’s a fact of life that prospects get traded, but sometimes it’s sad to see, especially when you’ve communicated with that individual.
Chavez Young is arguably one of the most fun players in all of baseball. He’s a menace on the base paths, he’s always having a good time, and the fans love him no matter where he goes. On top of that, he makes highlight reel plays after highlight reel plays, and makes it look damn easy as well.
Up until the Jays got Kevin Kiermaier and Daulton Varsho, Chavez Young was the best defensive outfielder in the organization. The range, the arm, the jump, and the intelligence of the position just made him a plus-plus defender, and it was loads of fun to watch.
Moreover, there is some upside to the bat as well. The switch-hitting Bahamian slashed .234/.331/.350 with five homers in 248 plate appearances, with a 12.1 BB% and 23.4 K% for an 86 wRC+. The statistic doesn’t tell the whole story though, as once he got on first base, he quickly stole second, as he stole 20 of 21 bases in 2022.
The 25-year-old also spent quite a large portion of the 2022 season injured, which could have impacted his numbers. Back in 2021 with the Double-A New Hampshire Fisher Cats, he slashed .265/.350/.409 with seven homers in 324 plate appearances, with a 10.8 BB% and a 25 K% for a 109 wRC+.
He wasn’t the same prospect he was back in 2018 (he finished with a 129 wRC+ and a career-high 8 homers), but Chavez Young will be a big leaguer one day, and could potentially win a gold glove.
The outfielder will get his opportunity with the Pirates at some point, especially if they trade Bryan Reynolds.
From everyone at Blue Jays Nation, we wish you the best of luck, Chavez!
As always, you can follow me on Twitter and Instagram @Brennan_L_D.
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