According to Baseball Reference, in 2011, Jhoulys Chacin had the fifth best season ever by a Rockies’ pitcher. Also according to BR, Chacin’s career WAR already ranks 10th in franchise history, which is pretty amazing considering he’s just 24 and only has 53 career starts under his belt. For those that tend to favor more conventional stats, Jhoulys’ ERA in both 2010 and 2011 rank among the five best seasons in organization history. Now, Fangraphs paints a little different picture in terms of WAR, but we could spend all day discussing the difference between BR’s and Fangraphs’ versions of WAR. The point is that Chacin is well on his way to being one of the best pitchers to ever wear the purple pinstripes and should have his best years in front of him.
This offseason, the word on everyone’s lips has been culture. Dan O’Dowd’s belief that last year’s team was flawed in the clubhouse has been the impetus behind nearly every move that has been made dating back to the Ubaldo trade. They traded the best pitcher in franchise history, a catcher that gets on base nearly as well as any catcher in baseball, and an outfielder that scorches right-handed pitching. In addition, the pitching staff is now filled with guys who may or may not be terrible fits for Coors Field and the lineup is suddenly very old. All of this was done in an effort to improve the culture, or accountability, or whatever you want to call it. The message has been sent – fall in line, or get out of it.
However, at some point, it all becomes overkill. Without a doubt, losing often wreaks havoc on a team’s chemistry. This is especially true when your team is suppose to win their division, and finishes 16 games under .500 instead. To be honest, that type of disappointing result had more to do with an ill built team than what was going on behind the closed doors of the Rox clubhouse. Axing a bunch of players may be of some help, but at what point does it stop?
That’s why this recent controversy surrounding O’Dowd and his best pitcher is so alarming. It’s hard to believe that a guy like Chacin would be placed under the microscope, yet here we are a week from spring training and the GM has already called out the young pitcher in the Denver Post. If you are to believe Dan O’Dowd, Chacin was completely unreachable in Venezuela this offseason and has reported to Arizona over weight. Apparently, the organization is quite disappointed.
Through Venezuelan writer, Rafael Rojas Cremonesi**, Chacin denied pretty much all of this. He claims that the Rockies knew where to reach him this offseason and also says that he’s lighter and in better shape than he was last year coming into spring training. I have a hard time believing that Chacin went dark on the Rockies this winter. And I also have to wonder if we would be hearing all of this pointless noise if Chacin had spent his winter in the States. At this point in his career, Jhoulys has earned the benefit of the doubt. Unfortunately, the GM doesn’t see it that way. So, we are left wondering if another rare commodity is about to be shipped out just because the GM has perceived some kind of flaw in Chacin’s makeup.
In the end, this just reeks of O’Dowd throwing another player under the bus. He’s done it recently to Ubaldo, Iannetta, and Seth Smith, just to name a few. Now, it’s Jhoulys’ turn. If Chacin has a letdown this year, it will be because he was out of shape coming into spring training, not because he’s just 24 years-old and still learning. That’s highly unfortunate. He basically has no wiggle room at this point. Perform and all will be forgotten. Fail and he’ll likely be shipped out of town.
More than likely, DOD is trying to send a message. However, he’s already sent that same message about 20 times this winter and now he’s alienated his best pitcher. Even if he was rightfully upset with Chacin, this was completely unnecessary. Why air out your grievances in a public forum like this? Do it behind closed doors.
Accountability starts at the top. The Rockies expect the players to regulate themselves in that department, but with the finger being pointed at this many players, maybe management needs to take a step back for some self reflection. When you look around the room and have a problem with nearly everyone in it, it’s probably time to look in the mirror, especially when you extended all of the invitations.
**Rafael writes for the Venezuelan newspaper Meridiano and formerly wrote for Viva Colorado, a Spanish language extension of the Denver Post. He has been invaluable during this Chacin mess. And considering that seemingly half the Rockies’ roster is from Venezuela, he’s someone that should be on the radar of every Rockies’ fan. You can follow him on Twitter @RafaelRojasC. He does tweet in English.