The Chicago Cubs figure to be fairly active in free agency this offseason, so it’s worth taking a look at some of the players who could be of interest to the team.
These players present possible fits for the Cubs, at a range of potential costs and talent levels.
Performance in 2017
Although Tyler Chatwood didn’t escape the regular season without injury, he did manage to make 25 starts and eight other relief appearances for the Rockies in 2017, en route to the second highest inning total of his career:
And although some of the up-front numbers look bad (4.69 ERA, sub-20% K-rate, over 10% walk rate), there’s actually a lot to like here.
For one, he’s an ELITE ground ball pitcher. Indeed, his 58.1 GB% ranked 5th among all pitchers with at least 140 IP this year. On top of that, he earned an above-average soft-hit rate and a below average hard-hit rate (both good things), which makes him a nice bet for the current offensive environment – especially because his HR/FB ratio seems ridiculously out of whack given what we know about his batted ball profile (indeed, it was 10.7 percentage points higher at Coors Field than it was on the road!).
You can’t just ignore the low strikeout rate and high walk rate, but he’s not exactly a top of the rotation candidate, either. And, again, away from Coors his ERA dropped all the way down to 3.49 this season.
Performance Before 2017
And how about this: back in 2016, Chatwood had a 1.69 ERA in 80.0 IP away from Coors field, which was the best away ERA among all qualified pitchers than season.
Perhaps more importantly, none of the success he had this (or last) season was rooted in an unusual statistical blips. His BABIP, strand rate, and ground ball rate were all about where they’ve always been, and he’s continued to keep opposing hitters from doing too much damage … that is when he’s away from Coors:
Career at Home: .365 wOBA
Career Away: .305 wOBA
Instead, Chatwood’s biggest problem has always been staying healthy and on the field. Before the 25 starts he made this season, he made a career high 27 starts (158.0 IP) last year.
Projection for 2018 and Beyond
If Chatwood, 27, could find a way to limit the walks just a bit (without even adding to his strikeout total), he’d have the potential to be a really interesting starting pitcher – especially at his age.
His overall batted profile is just so strong and so attractive in an era when balls are leaving the yard more than ever.
Possible Contract/Existing Rumors
Even still, a multi-year commitment to a guy with so many red flags in his past (injury-wise) is at least a little scary. Then again, at just 27 years old, maybe you’re more confident he can keep healing.
Okay, this is the most important section for Chatwood.
Chatwood *first* underwent Tommy John surgery back when he was just 16 years old, pitching for his high school in Southern California. He then had to get the surgery again in mid-July, 2014, knocking most of that and all of the following season completely off the books.
Here’s his start and inning totals for each of his seven seasons in the Major Leagues:
2011: 25 starts, 142.0 IP
2012: 12 starts, 64.2 IP
2013: 20 starts, 111.1 IP
2014: 4 starts, 24.0 IP
2015: 0 starts, 0 IP
2016: 27 starts, 158.2 IP
2017: 25 starts, 147.2 IP
Basically, Chatwood has dealt with one injury or another in every single year he’s pitched in the Majors. And, yes, that includes a 10-day DL stint this season (right calf strain) that – in part – forced him into the bullpen for a bit as he made his return.
Even if you could ignore the smaller injuries and say they are flukes, being a two-time Tommy John patient is notable. Few pitchers have long and successful careers after that second TJS. To his credit, at least so far, Chatwood has managed to succeed.
Fit for Cubs
I think Chatwood could be a really interesting target for the Cubs, provided other teams don’t drive his market up too high. We know this front office loves taking flyers on talented, oft-injured arms, and just because it doesn’t always work out (Brett Anderson being the highest profile recent example) doesn’t mean it never will.
However, I can see one big problem right away: I feel strongly that the Cubs will target Alex Cobb this winter and it’s fair to wonder if there’s room for two versions of this pitcher in the same rotation – and I mean that both in terms of devoting innings and spending dollars wisely.
Both guys are recently coming off Tommy John surgery and could be unreliable in that respect, and yet both would require big-league, full-time, I’m definitely in the rotation commitments. Instead, I think the Cubs might be more likely to land one or the other (and I think they prefer Cobb), and then go into the second tier of this market (Miles Mikolas?) and/or trade for a guy they could start/stash in Triple-A to begin the year (a la Eddie Butler).
But, hey, for a back-end type, he’s certainly an interesting arm at an affordable price. Also, for what it’s worth: unlike Cobb, Chatwood is not tied to draft pick compensation.