NEW YORK, NY - MAY 02: Eric Chavez #12 of the New York Yankees grimaces after taking a strike in the fifth inning against the Baltimore Orioles at Yankee Stadium on May 2, 2012 in the Bronx borough of New York City. Chavez left the game during the at bat. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
Writing in the Baseball Prospectus Annual sometime in December, I said:
Eric Chavez left stardom behind many injuries ago; the question now is if he can even be a role player. Pop-free hitting and a 71-game DL stay suggest the answer is "no."
With Sunday's 3-for-3 performance, Chavez raised his rates to .290/.340/.522, numbers which are pretty much indistinguishable from classic-period Chavez. (I was going to write "All-Star-era Chavez, but despite being a six-time Gold Glove winner and repeat down-ballot MVP candidate, he never made an All-Star team.)
I don't think my assessment was unreasonable given that the aforementioned classic period was so long ago that it wrapped in the last year of George W. Bush's first term and that the years after 2006 were characterized mainly by declining production and struggles to stay on the field. That Chavez has become a useful platoon player at this stage of things has to be rated a surprise.
What is more interesting than Chavez's reemergence is the effect it is has had on Joe Girardi and by extension Alex Rodriguez. A-Rod has been the designated hitter in about a quarter of his appearances, doing his best hitting that role. It points to Girardi's current perception of his best defensive alignment and Rodriguez's future role; full-time DHing may come as soon as next year, presuming the Yankees have a better alternative at third base at that point--a Chavez encore would be heartwarming but as unlikely as his return. It also should make Raul Ibanez a permanent pinch-hitter as soon as Brett Gardner returns--if that ever happens. Between A-Rod, Chavez, and the other players who have rotated through (yes, including Ibanez, though he has DHed three times in the last 40something games), the position is hitting.312/.376/.527, production that is surpassed only by David Ortiz. There is no need for more than the odd Ibanez cameo now.