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Tyler Chatwood Notes: Contract Escalators, Pitching Differently at Coors, Spin-Rate, Epstein, More

Analysis and Commentary, Chicago Cubs News

Yesterday, a friend of mine texted me after the Tyler Chatwood signing, asking what/who the Cubs just got for nearly $40 million, and I was hard-pressed to return a brief enough response for the setting.


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After all, between yesterday’s good-side/bad-side post and his free agent profile earlier in the year, Brett and I have already written over 2,500 words on his past, present, and future outlook with the Cubs – boiling it down to a text was going to be difficult for someone as deliciously enigmatic as Chatwood.

So if you’re looking for more on the Cubs’ newest starter, those are two really good places to start. And for today, we’ll take another trip around the Chatwood tree [Brett: *groans*], rounding up some final details and quotes from him and Theo Epstein/the organization.

  • First, how about those contract details? As I’m sure you’ve seen by now, Chatwood signed a three year/$38 million deal with the Cubs, and here’s how his salary breaks down over the coming years: 2018: $12.5M, 2019: $12.5M, 2020: $13M.

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  • But while the price of his first two seasons are locked in, Chatwood’s 2020 salary can increase if he hits certain levers, including a couple unique ones. If he makes the All-Star team in 2018 and 2019, he gets an extra $2 million in 2020. OK. That’s a normal escalator. But here’s a weird one: the alternative way he can add that $2 million is if he gets a single Cy Young vote in either year. Additionally, if he gets a single Cy Young vote in both years, instead of $2 million more, he’ll get $4 million more in 2020. So the maximum he can make in 2020 is $17M, which means his contact could be worth up to a maximum of $42 million (he also gets $500K if traded). Frankly, your rooting interest is that he’s good enough to pull those levers.
  • Then again, it is a bit weird that just one voter can single-handedly raise Chatwood’s contract by up to $4 million in 2020. Better watch out for St. Louis sports writers!
  • Okay, stepping away from the weeds for a minute, let’s hear from Chatwood himself on signing with the Cubs:


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  • If you can’t listen to the audio right now, Chatwood basically suggested that Chicago just “felt right” for him and his family right off the bat, and that he’s excited to have worked it out.
  • Chatwood also reveals (oh man, this is great) that part of the reason he was better away from home was not just because Coors Field is a hitters paradise. Instead, he suggested that his heavily-relied-upon two-seamer didn’t move nearly as much in Colorado as it did on the road – so when he was at Coors, he had to change up his pitch-mix and constantly adjust on the mound. In Chicago, however, he expects it to move at its best, which means he’ll be able to pitch as his most effective self.
  • [Brett: AND he will not have to constantly change his approach up depending on whether he’s at home or on the road, trying to get the most out of pitches that do different things in different places. Think about how that could also wreck your command throughout the season BOTH on the road and at home. I’m not saying this will “fix” Chatwood’s control problems, but it would also be naive to say we know for sure there isn’t a connection here.]

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  • I really don’t want to gloss over this too quickly, because that’s a relatively huge revelation. It’s an easy enough (and typically correct!) assumption that the Coors Field effect is driving a player’s significant home/road splits, not necessarily a change in strategy. (Again, to an extent that was always likely to be true, but the way he explains it makes it sound so much more significant than just more balls leave the park in Colorado). I keep trying to remind myself that Chatwood is not a top of the rotation pitcher – no matter what – but I’m constantly drawn into his potential. I think this was just such a great signing for the Cubs.
(Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images)
  • For what it’s worth, the Cubs appear to be all over this exact point: Theo Epstein suggested that Chatwood’s best days are ahead of him, because they’ll be moving him into an “environment where we think he can gain consistency with all of his pitches.” He also added that Chatwood should be better able to “pitch to his strengths,” in Chicago, which I took as the he has an elite ground ball tool and the Cubs have an elite infield defense argument.
  • Of the signing more broadly, Epstein said (ESPN) that “There are times to strike quickly and there are times to lay back and get value. Starting pitching was an area where we thought there was more demand than supply.” Hence, in part, a contract that surpassed projections by quite a bit.
  • At The Athletic, Sahadev Sharma warns us that Chatwood’s elevated walk rate won’t just disappear when he leaves Colorado (as evidenced by his home/road splits), but points out that almost everything else (ERA, OPS against, WHIP, HR/FB ratio, Soft-hit rate, Hard-hit rate) is so much better away from Coors Field that it might be okay. Again, it’s just so hard not to be really excited by what this guy brings to the table, especially that contact management.

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  • For reference …

  • At FanGraphs, Eno Sarris tries to determine what might’ve attracted the Cubs to Chatwood in the first place – outside of the obvious – and he does point out that Chatwood is “absolutely a spin-rate guy,” pointing out that his four-seamer and curveball are in the top 7 percentile in the league. On top of that, Sarris quantifies how much more his pitches moved away from Coors (like Chatwood indicated and the Cubs seconded), and believes because of these two reasons (and his relative youth) he could have some pretty solid upside remaining.

Can you tell I’m excited about this signing? Because I’m excited about this signing.


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Michael Cerami

Michael Cerami is a Writer at Bleacher Nation, and you can find him on Twitter at @Michael_Cerami.