Just two days ago, I wrote that the addition of Cole Hamels to the Cubs rotation should spell the end of Tyler Chatwood’s days as a starter, at least for this season. And while I still believe that should be the case, I’ve shifted in terms of what I think it will be. This is an imperfect team in an imperfect world and sometimes that means you get imperfect solutions.
Jed Hoyer joined 670 The Score Friday to talk about the Hamels trade and several other issues, among them the respective performances of Chatwood and Mike Montgomery. With practiced GM-speak that betrayed little, Hoyer essentially spoke into being one of those optical illusions in which some people see a beautiful young woman and others see an old hag.
“[Montgomery]’s pitched great this year. We see him as a starter, he sees himself as a starter, and we’re proud of the way he’s gone out and proved that,” Hoyer said. “We’re excited to have him on the mound tonight and he’s going to get a lot of starts for us.”
I wrote at the time that something about the way Hoyer said it made it sound as though he was couching a move back to the ‘pen. It’s that “he’s going to get a lot of starts” part, which is not the same as “he’s going to be a starter.” Admittedly, I could be trying to make things fit my own personal narrative.
We all have a desire to be “right,” if you can even call it that. And since I’ve never been big on Montgomery as a full-time starter, perhaps I’m looking for ways to fortify my position. Of course, Chatwood’s performance this season is firing a veritable fusillade of missiles at my battlements. Good for me, a good majority of them have missed their target.
Hoyer expressed faith in the man whose starts you often have to watch through your fingers, chalking Chatwood’s struggles up to the ubiquitous cocktail of mental and mechanical issues. And though most of his starts have fans shakin’, they usually leave everyone stirred, something we’ll revisit here in a bit.
“When you look at his track record, he’s had really excellent streaks of pitching in his career and I think he’s going to solve these walk issues and get back to normal,” Hoyer said.
“Plenty of guys have come into a new environment and struggled and then stabilized and ended up having a lot of success.”
In the interest of full disclosure, I’ve selected only part of the quoted text from Friday’s post, and even that only included a portion of what Hoyer had to say (that first link includes full audio). As such, you miss some of the nuance and I’ve basically presented Hoyer’s statements such that there’s more emphasis on Chatwood remaining as a starter.
More important that what the GM says, however, is how the players on his team perform and how the roster sets up to allow for them to continue doing so. And it’s in these factors that I can see a clear path to Chatwood remaining as a starter.
After going five innings Friday night in St. Louis, Montgomery is at 87 innings pitched on the season. That’s still 43 shy of his career high set last season, but the Cubs saw how he faltered a little down the stretch in that campaign. The same appears to be true this season, and I don’t just mean how he gave up 12 hits to the Cardinals.
Montgomery’s inability to miss bats is worrisome, particularly for a guy who possesses some really nasty stuff in his five-pitch mix. He’s only at 5.59 K/9 this year, down from 6.89 last season and 8.28 the year prior. His groundball rate of 53.2 percent is also down around five percentage points from either of the last two seasons.
There’s also been a drop in Monty’s fastball velocity, though only by a single tick, since he joined the rotation this season. A move to the bullpen might allow him to amp the stuff up a bit while better preserving his arm for the rest of the season. He talked about not being a fan of the back-and-forth from the ‘pen to the rotation, but a more controlled pattern of usage might be beneficial to everyone.
As for Chatwood, the argument to keep him in the bullpen is counter-intuitive and based more heavily in correlation than causation. There’s a little common sense to it too, though, so let’s start with that. Simply put, it’s easier to mask Chatwood’s issues when he’s out there for a longer period of time. The walks, while they frequently put the Cubs in a bad spot, can be more readily worked around in a start than in a relief appearance.
Then you look at the team’s results in the games Chatwood starts and you wonder whether his performance even matters. Despite a 6.14 ERA and 45 walks to 41 strikeouts in his last 10 games, the Cubs have won eight times. And that includes the last five in a row, over which Chatwood has posted a 7.71 ERA with 22 walks and 18 strikeouts in 25.2 innings.
They’re most definitely winning in spite of him, but maybe the Cubs view Chatwood as the irritant inside an oyster that eventually leads to a pearl. I mean, that’s a wildly irresponsible way to determine your starting rotation, but given the other options it might make sense.
And it’s not like this is permanent, since the Cubs are hoping for the returns of Drew Smyly and Yu Darvish at some point. The latter just threw a relatively successful bullpen session that saw him alleviate a brief bout of pain by reverting back to his Spring Training mechanics. Of course, that same knowledge could have the Cubs opting to continue rolling with Montgomery for the interim.
I can’t say which way the Cubs are going to go on this one, only that I won’t be surprised by either direction they choose to take. But if pressed for an answer right now, I think they actually stick with Chatwood. And if that doesn’t work, they’ve got a bevvy of experienced position players to shoulder the load.