The wild turnaround Yu Darvish has made and the sudden infusion of Big Nick Energy are grabbing most of the headlines, but Tyler Chatwood’s emergence as a high-leverage swingman is a fascinating story as well. This is a guy more than a few fans would have just as soon traded or demoted, the preferred fates for a player who isn’t performing up to expectations.
Setting aside the propriety and availability of such measures, the Cubs felt the stocky righty still had potential to make good on the stuff that led them to offer him $38 million over three years. Exactly how that ends up playing out is anyone’s guess, but Chatwood told Patrick Mooney he still believes he can rejoin the rotation ($) next season. What would have been a laughable concept a year ago has become plausible due to a few mechanical tweaks and a little confidence.
For more on the what, when, and how of Chatwood’s changes, you’ll want to check out Mooney’s article in full. There’s a wealth of information in there and it provides a lot of context for the pitcher’s comfort level, along with how the Cubs’ pitching pitching infrastructure has morphed over the last several months. Some of that may have been a matter of good fortune, but the organization has long aimed to correct some of its noted flaws in onboarding new pitchers.
Enter pitching coach Tommy Hottovy, who has been with the team for a few years in a more behind-the-scenes role involving scouting and video work. It was in that previous role that Hottovy and Chatwood were able to bond, working on ways to improve the hurler’s abysmal command. Without trying to openly cast doubt on Jim Hickey’s departure being due to personal reasons, it’s not inconceivable that his methods weren’t meshing with some members of the staff.
But the bigger issue with Chatwood in particular was a vicious cycle of lost confidence that saw him struggle with command after making a mechanical adjustment. Then he’d press to fix things, which ultimately led to them getting worse. Before he knew it, he was all kinds of wonky and had no idea how to regain his identity.
“Last year, I was trying to right the ship so hard it just made it worse,” Chatwood told Mooney. “It didn’t help that I tried to change my mechanics. I’ve never done that before in my career, so once I got off-kilter, it’s kind of hard to get back on when you don’t know what you’re doing and you try to switch up who you are.”
Hottovy was integral in helping Chatwood find his way back, first by clearing the air and establishing some common ground. Then they worked on tightening up some of the physical flaws that had settled in over the course of the last season. Finally, it was a matter of getting Chatwood to cut it loose and use his body with confidence.
“And then, three, it was just the way he landed and the way he used his body to push off the ground,” Hottovy explained. “Use that as force now and feel your pitches vs. caving into it. We talked about landing on that nice solid base.
“The No. 1 thing guys do when they search is they kind of try to feel for the baseball out there instead of being aggressive, sticking that front leg and let it eat.”
That sounds pretty easy in theory, but there’s a natural tendency in just about everything we do as humans to sort of pull back a bit when things aren’t going well. Think about being in an unfamiliar city or trying to make your way around a dark room. Rather than proceed with confidence, you’re going to drive around tentatively or feel your way with your hands extended.
I personally loved the stuff Hottovy said there about sticking the front leg and letting it eat, since I’ve been working on that with my own son for a while now. When he’s really getting aggressive with that stride and bringing it to the plate, he can pump strikes all day with a number of different pitches. When his confidence flags and he dials back his effort level, things start to fall apart.
As unfair as it may seem to compare Chatwood to a Little Leaguer, the concept is no different in the end. He’s throwing with more velocity and command, he’s cutting loose more curveballs, and he’s able to start or close or anything in between. If Chatwood goes out there and unleashes his stuff with confidence, just lets it eat, he’ll be just fine in whatever role he occupies.