When we talk about a pitcher not having control or not commanding his pitches, we tend to think about a guy who isn’t hitting his spots. He’s missing in the zone and getting hammered. He’s missing off the plate and giving up walks. You can see the effective pitcher there, just out of focus, and he only needs to tighten things up a bit to get back on track.
When we talk about a pitcher being “wild,” however, well, that looks a bit more like this:
That was Tyler Chatwood’s outing last night, and it is breathtaking. And I mean that even for a Chatwood outing. Here’s his strikezone plot for the start before against the Braves (the one where he was in the zone more but got hit harder):
He threw more pitches in that one, but you can still see the constellations of what he was trying to do, and where he wasn’t missing by much. That chart from last night, though, man. It just looks like a shotgun blast.
Which, by the way, is an apt simile, since Joe Maddon said this about Chatwood’s complicated mechanics and loss of command after last night’s game (ESPN): “He has a busy delivery. It’s kind of busy what he does with his hands. It’s something he’s done for a while. It’s not like you can just change it easily because that’s how his arm works. That’s how his body works. You saw it the other day, when it’s on time how good it can be. When it’s out of sorts a bit, all of a sudden, it becomes shotgun.”
Last night’s shotgunning yielded a staggering six walks in just 2.2 innings, pushing his league-leading walk rate to a monstrous 19.7%. To put into perspective just how awful that is, there are only 27 starters in baseball with a walk rate over 10 percent! There are only seven starters with a walk rate over 12 percent! Just by good-old-fashioned counting, Chatwood’s 40 walks lead the league, and just two other pitchers are even in the 30s!*
I guess what I’m trying to say here is WALKS! OMG WALKS! SO MANY WALKS!
The Cubs and pitching coach Jim Hickey are working on it, specifically trying to slow things down a bit for Chatwood (Tribune). It once again sounds like Chatwood and the team know what mechanical issues are at play and how – theoretically – to address them, but taking into the game is not yet consistent.
Hopefully, they can at least get him to a place where he can pitch a little closer to the strike zone. That doesn’t seem like too grand an aspiration.
As we have seen with other pitchers, “fixing” mechanics can be a complicated and not-always-advisable beast. Not only do you sometimes not get the fix you were hoping for, but you also sometimes lose a lot of effectiveness when you simplify things. The goal is not to homogenize every pitcher; the goal is simply to get the best version of what that pitcher can realistically be.
With Chatwood, clearly something is necessary, because he’s wild well beyond his wildest years before this one. Getting him to the best version of himself is not going to entirely remove that wildness. Instead, I tend to think he’s a guy who works deep counts, doesn’t give up a lot of hard contact, gets a lot of ground balls, and also walks a lot of guys. The starts won’t all look like last night – that seems an extreme issue – but neither will they likely look like a guy who is hitting every spot with perfection. At age 28, he was not made a qualifying offer and signed a three-year deal despite everyone knowing his numbers away from Coors Field were fantastic. Clearly, there was a reason for that.
That doesn’t mean he can’t be a very useful and effective pitcher at the back of a good rotation. He can be, and heck, I’d still bet he will be. Obviously we’ve seen the outlier cases, but players tend not to completely lose it at age 28 (even after a couple surgeries, as Chatwood has had, but in the relatively distant past). Instead, they frequently go through ugly stretches for one reason or another, they work through it, they adjust, they get some natural regression, etc.
*I didn’t know how best to work it into the narrative flow up there, but I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that the Cubs also are quite poor at framing pitches right now, and that seems especially true when a guy is wild with nasty movement. That’s not the reason – or even a primary reason – for Chatwood’s walks, but it’s not the kind of thing you can fail to mention when talking about this subject. So this is me mentioning it.