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Reflecting on the Yonny Chirinos saga

Yonny Chirino’s being in the rotation sparked a lot of debate amongst Braves fans. Let’s explore the saga.

MLB: San Francisco Giants at Atlanta Braves
Yonny Chirinos and his Braves tenure
John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

The Atlanta Braves just placed Yonny Chirinos on the IL and brought up Allan Winans, to some fan’s joy and other fans hopefulness of Chirinos getting back to his former self dashed, at least for now.

Whether it is a phantom IL stint or not, it appears that the Braves want to keep him on the roster. There is some confusion on if he has one MiLB option remaining. Fangraphs says he does, but Mark Bowman says he does not. Based on the way they have used him though, it appears that they have faith he can get back to the way he used to perform pre-Tommy John surgery, and they don’t want to expose him to waivers (out of options). He is under team control through next season.

There were many fans across social media upset that Chirinos was being utilized as a 5th starter over Winans, Smith-Shawver, or Soroka. The reality is that there are multiple variables in play. There is no way to know for certain exactly why Chirinos was used, but we can make some assumptions.

First, with the Atlanta Braves having such a huge lead in the division and having the best record in baseball this late in the season, it is virtually guaranteed that they will make the playoffs, and most likely win their division. Teams typically do not use a five-man rotation, so there is no need to worry about a fifth starter for the playoffs. This also leads to being completely fine having an innings eater while other guys can focus on developing or rehabbing.

Second, Soroka has still been on a soft pitch count. He is still slowly stretching out. Over his fifteen starts in the minors this season he has averaged 5.18 innings per game while averaging eighty-one pitches per game. As much as we all would love to see Soroka in the majors, it makes sense that they want to ensure his health is good.

As for Smith-Shawver, he is rightfully a highly ranked prospect, and showed some flashy stuff when brought up to the majors. However, he is still only twenty years old and only has 133.1 innings pitched in the minors for his career. There is no need to rush his development to be a fifth starter for a team with a massive lead.

One area that has not been discussed much is that the new rules state that a player can only be optioned five times per season, or they will be exposed to waivers. This has not been a huge factor, but it surely has played at least part of a role in not seeing players like Jared Shuster bouncing back and forth as often as he would have in the past.

Winans appeared to be the current option now, until he got shelled and sent back to AAA and replaced by Jared Shuster. No way to be for certain if this is a real injury to Chirinos, or a phantom IL stint to keep him on the roster. Either way, Winans got rocked by the Mets in his latest start. Again though, there is no reason to worry at this point in the season. For many of the same reasons to send Chirinos out there every fifth game can be said for Winans.

Let’s explore Chrininos

Chirinos has had a rough go of it in the injury department. He underwent Tommy John surgery three years ago and then fractured his elbow during his rehab assignment.

Prior to his surgery, Chirinos was well above average. In 234.1 innings pitched, he has a 3.65 ERA (17.0 percent better than average), 1.139 WHIP, and 3.49 strikeout to walk ratio. Statcast did not favor his ERA, with his xERA being 4.60 in 2018, and 4.47 in 2019. However, for a fifth starter at a low cost, he was more than serviceable.

That being said, his tenure with the Braves was not good. Of course, you have to take small sample sizes with a grain of salt, but even though the Braves went 4-1 in his starts, it was not because he had stellar performances.

In his five starts with the Braves he averaged 4.46 innings per game with an ERA of 9.27, 5.28 FIP, 3.14 strikeout to walk ratio (8.86 strikeouts per nine innings), and 1.790 WHIP. Hitters hit .344/.390/.552 against him. That is a .943 OPS. For reference, Matt Olson and Ronald Acuña Jr. are the only Braves that have a higher OPS than .943 on the season, and every single starter for the Braves have an OPS that is league average or better.

Chirinos did have some bad luck. He had a .400 BABIP against him as a Brave, and his strand rate was well below league average. According to Fangraphs, the league average strand rate typically sits around 70.0-72.0 percent. Chirinos’ strand rates by game for the Braves were 82.6 percent, 65.4, 65.9, 55.1, and 52.9 respectively.

While he did have some terrible luck, that is not enough to say that if he had not had bad luck that he would have been much better. Even if we look at just August in which his 82.6 percent strand rate is not applicable, his sinker, in which he pitched 45.2 percent of the time, had an xBA of .373 and an xSLG of .575. His second most used pitch (split finger), in which he pitched 37.1 percent of the time, also got hit well. Hitters had a xBA of .273 and an xSLG of .466.

He had success with his slider with hitters hitting to an xBA of .265 and an xSLG of .296, but that is his third pitch in which he only pitched 14.1 percent of the time, so it is hard to tell if he used it more if he would have had better results. His usage of his slider is down quite a bit from 24.0 percent in 2022 on which hitters had an xwOBA of .370 on the pitch in comparison to an xwOBA of .470 this year. Same story on his sinker as well. His xwOBA is much higher this year as well. He is, put simply, pitching much worse this year than last (although many could have guessed that).

In summary

We do not know if the Chirinos Saga has fully come to a close yet, but reflecting on it, we can see somewhat why the Braves kept throwing him out there start by start. We can also see why if they put him on the IL with a phantom injury, it also makes sense.

Either way, it has been a fun talking point over the past month or so as the Braves continue to dominate the regular season, even with a subpar 5th rotation arm late in the season.

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