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Tigers reach a one-year pact with left-handed reliever Andrew Chafin

The reunion is a one year deal with a club option for 2025.

Detroit Tigers v Seattle Mariners Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images

Good idea. The Detroit Tigers clearly needed to balance their pitching staff with some left-handed help this offseason, and they needed to improve the bullpen. This move accomplishes both at a very reasonable cost and commitment.

On Sunday, Evan Petzold of the Detroit Free Press was first to report that the Tigers had reached an agreement with old friend and southpaw reliever, Andrew Chafin. The deal is a one year pact for $4.25M with incentives that could take the deal as high as $5.5M. The Tigers also got a club option for 2025 for $6.5M that they can choose to exercise, which will also include $1.25M in incentives as well as a $500,000 buyout should the Tigers decide not to use the option for 2025.

The now 33-year-old Chafin was excellent for the Tigers in 2022, and one of the few bright spots in an awful year. He posted a 2.83 ERA and 3.06 FIP while striking out 27.6 percent of hitters he faced. Al Avila chose not to trade Chafin at the trade deadline, perhaps thinking that Chafin would exercise his one-year, $6.5M player option for 2023.

Instead, Chafin declined the option in the wake of Avila’s ouster and the hiring of Scott Harris as president of baseball operations in his place. No doubt the veteran left-hander saw his best chance at a multi-year free agent deal and wanted to take his shot. That was certainly understandable, but it didn’t work out and Chafin signed a one-year deal $6.5M deal with the Arizona Diamondbacks instead after the Tigers had already apparently moved on.

Chafin continued to pitch well in Arizona, carrying over his success with the Tigers. He had trouble with walks, really for the first time in years, with the Diamondbacks but still posted a 4.19 ERA and 3.11 FIP over 34 13 innings. His strikeout rate spiked to 32.7 percent with the Diamondbacks, while his 12 percent walk rate was his highest since his rookie year with the Diamondbacks way back in 2014.

The Diamondbacks then traded him to the Milwaukee Brewers at the trade deadline. From there Chafin’s performance completely cratered despite the fact that Milwaukee was also a playoff team. He only threw 17 innings for the Brewers, so it’s a very small sample, but Chafin’s strikeout rate collapsed and a couple of really rough appearances hurt his numbers. He didn’t make a single appearance in the Brewers playoff loss to those very same Diamondbacks.

Looking through his 2023 pitch mix, it doesn’t appear that his usage changed much under legendary Diamondbacks, and former Astros, pitching coach Brent Strom. He threw a few more sliders than fastballs in Arizona compared to his year in Detroit, but remains a pitcher who can thrive throwing 65-70 percent fastballs. His velocity was unchanged from his 2022 season with the Tigers. What really stands out is that after posting a 51.3 percent ground ball rate with the Tigers, he managed just 38.5 percent ground balls in 2023, and with far more fly balls, came more home runs.

Interestingly, Strom and the Diamondbacks actually had Chafin throwing more sinkers over fourseamers than the Tigers did, yet the ball was put in the air a lot more. Maybe that was game-planning, sequencing and location, or just a few bad outings where Chafin and the Diamondbacks couldn’t stop the bleeding when his command broke down.

Looking through Chafin’s 2023 game logs, you see long stretches of five to ten appearances without a run scored, followed by a blowout outing or two. A five-run debacle of an inning in which Chafin only managed to get two outs on July 24th against St. Louis may have sealed his fate in terms of getting dealt at the deadline despite the fact that the Diamondbacks were in the playoff picture too.

Chafin really struggled in August with the Brewers, but did close the regular season out with seven straight scoreless appearances. Overall this feels very much like the Chafin we saw in 2022. He’s usually very good, but sometimes when an outing starts to go bad, he can’t turn it around. AJ Hinch and Chris Fetter will likely keep a quicker hook in those instances based on that familiarity, and we’ll see if Chafin is called on to close out games much.

Generally, Chafin still seems bound for a setup role, but he brings a lot to a Tigers bullpen that needed reinforcement and greater left-right balance and seemed like a personality who was a good fit during his previous tour with the Tigers.