The Cubs have agreed to a three year, $38 million contract with right-handed starter Tyler Chatwood. This is far from a big splash and it’s at a significantly higher AAV ($12.67m) than what had been projected, but the former Rockies pitcher is a serious bounceback candidate now that he’s away from Coors Field.
On the surface, the soon-to-be 28-year-old’s (12/16) numbers don’t inspire a lot of confidence. His 7.31 K/9 was meh and his 4.69 BB/9 tally was anything but nice. Then you’ve got the equally not-nice 4.69 ERA that might have actually been the product of good luck, as evidenced by a 4.94 FIP. So what’s with this whole bounceback business?
Well, MLB.com’s Mike Petriello pointed out “5 reasons Chatwood could be this winter’s breakout FA” back in November. The newest Cub is a ground ball guy, generates serious spin rates, saw an increase in velocity last season, and should get a bump from getting out of Denver. The fifth reason is less about quantifiable data and more about proper optics.
The solution there is simply to set expectations properly. If a team signs Chatwood and he offers 16-18 strong outs before leaving, that should be considered “a solid start,” not “disappointing short one,” but not all teams will see it that way.
Another factor in Chatwood’s growth comes from being further removed from his second Tommy John surgery in July of 2014. His first actually came back in 1995, when he was a 16-year-old high school pitcher. But the more recent elbow reconstruction limited him to only 34.1 innings between 2014 and ’15 combined. So he’s got significantly less mileage than a pitcher of comparable age.
Chatwood’s average fastball velocity of 94.7 mph last season was easily the highest of his career, and there’s no reason to believe it’ll drop off appreciably over the course of his new contract. Interestingly enough, though, the four-seamer was actually his worst pitch in 2017. But it still helped to set up a sinker, slider, curve, and change that all generated positive value.
While the Cubs are likely banking on big dividends from the change in scenery, their unexpectedly large investment is also predicated upon Chatwood benefiting from a confidence boost and consistent usage. He was bounced around from the rotation to the ‘pen, but the Cubs are paying him to be a full-time starter moving forward. Between that show of faith and working with Jim Hickey, perhaps Chatwood can make good on Petriello’s prediction.
What we’re looking at here is a very capable No. 5, certainly a pitcher who can fill the role John Lackey vacated, and at a lower cost. Well, lower than what Lackey had been making. And as we saw above, there are several reasons to believe Chatwood can improve upon his performance over the last two seasons.
This leaves at least one spot to fill, with both Alex Cobb and Shohei Ohtani out there as the most notable candidates. Why not both? We’ll save talk of a six-man rotation for later, but maybe take that away and chew on it for a while.