The Atlanta Braves acquired Yonny Chirinos as part of their season-long search to fill the fifth spot in their rotation. Chirinos, who came over from the Rays, wasn’t particularly effective, despite some promising small-sample peripherals, and finished the season on the Injured List.
The Braves claimed Chirinos off of waivers from the Tampa Bay Rays on July 23. Chirinos had barely pitched from 2020-2022 due to elbow issues, and was a shell of his former self with the Rays, with an aggregate 98/133/126 line (ERA-/FIP-/xFIP-) before being waived.
What were the expectations?
Chirinos threw seven innings total between the 2021 and 2022 season due to injury. He underwent Tommy John surgery at the end of the 2020 season and suffered a fractured elbow while working his way back, which ended up costing him another year of recovery. The Braves took a flyer on him as a waiver claim that was out of options, but included an additional year of club control if he stuck. The hope was that he could help fill out the fifth spot in the rotation. Given how bad he was in the 62 2⁄3 innings prior to the waiver claim, there was little reason to think he could do anything but provide a bit of bulk replacement-level pitching for the Braves. It’s just hard to look at a guy with a strikeout rate south of 12 percent, and a walk rate north of seven percent, and figure that he’s going to solve any problems that require effective pitching, even if those rates were accrued in around 60 innings.
After being claimed, Chirinos made five starts for the Braves and allowed 23 runs in 22 1/3 innings. That’s an ugly 209 ERA-, and the FIP- was also ugly at 122.
He was placed on the 15-day Injured List with elbow inflammation on August 21 and was later transferred to the 60-day list, where he finished the season. In total, Chirinos finished with a 127/130/115 line, and -0.3 fWAR. Amazingly, despite that 122 FIP-, he actually earned +0.1 fWAR as a Brave, which tells you just how pathetic replacement level for a starter is these days.
What went right?
What went right for Chirinos, in terms of outcome, was that he was healthy enough to appear in 20 games and log 85 innings at the major league level after throwing a combined 18 1/3 innings from 2020 through 2022.
Looking beyond that, Chirinos, as a Brave, managed an 86 xFIP-. Somehow, despite the horrible 60-plus inning stint with the Rays, he managed to yank his strikeout rate to 21 percent in the 22 1⁄3 innings he pitched as a Brave. His walk rate fell to 6.7 percent, much closer to his career rate.
Also notable was that Chirinos’ peripherals before the third time through the order in those five games were more than fine: a 4.05 FIP, and a 3.56 xFIP. (The third time through pulled his line down to a 5.27 FIP and 3.77 xFIP, despite being just 14 percent of his total batters faced — two of his five homers came in the 15 batters he faced the third time through.)
You may be surprised to know that Chirinos actually finished with positive WPA in one of his five starts — what ended up being a 12-5 drubbing of the Angels. It was by far his best start as a Brave overall, with a 1.86 FIP and 3.18 xFIP, but he was still charged with three runs in five innings as Michael Tonkin let both of his inherited baserunners score. Here’s him getting out of a jam in that game:
Wryly, the Braves actually won four of Chirinos’ five starts for them. That’s not surprising given their level of offensive aptitude, but it does put Chirinos’ struggles into perspective.
What went wrong?
While Chirinos returned to the mound, he didn’t pitch very well. That was definitely true for him as a Ray, and it was a mixed bag for him as a Brave, where he had a fine xFIP — some bad luck plagued him during his five start stint with the Braves, but his 5.27 FIP still wasn’t any good. Again, the real problem here was his 15 batters faced the third time through, as we’re talking a 17.26 FIP and 5.91 xFIP that really tanked his overall line with the Braves.
In the four of five starts where he faced batter number 19 or beyond, he went:
- Two batters faced, neither retired
- Six batters faced, three retired
- Six batters faced, two retired
- One batter faced and retired
The injury at the end of the season probably didn’t help and didn’t give him a chance to put his FIP in line with his xFIP, but given his struggles, he may have been hard pressed to hang onto his roster spot over the final months, especially because the Braves probably weren’t going to start limiting him to 18 batters just because he completely imploded in that situation in most of his starts.
His start against the Pirates was probably the most ridiculous one in terms of damaging his line and the team’s win expectancy. He gave up a three-run homer in the first. After the Braves knotted the game, he gave up a go-ahead solo shot. He was then asked to start the fifth despite having allowed the two homers to date and the top of the order up, and then gave up back-to-back homers to start that inning. Amazingly, he finished that inning with no further damage, and the Braves then came back to win. Here’s that three-run homer, on a hanging splitter.
Chirinos entered the offseason eligible for arbitration, but the Braves designated him for assignment on November 14 in order to make room for injured reliever Penn Murfee on the roster. He will turn 30 in December and is currently pitching in winter ball. He will likely latch on with someone ahead of the spring.
Steamer currently projects him as a part-time fourth starter, which seems a mite aggressive given his 2023 struggles and continued elbow problems. Still, his pitches themselves weren’t horrible in 2023, so there’s stuff to work with for sure.