It’s always harder to tell how a starting pitcher was doing from the stands than when you’re watching on TV. So, even after looking back at some of the video, I won’t claim to say I have a perfect view of how Tyler Chatwood actually looked yesterday, relative to his results.
I will offer one with-my-eyes thing, though: it certainly looked like he was not giving up especially hard contact on all of those hits that were falling in. Sure, of course there were a couple rockets, but he gave up a whopping 9 hits over just 5.0 innings, and it didn’t feel like he was getting rocked.
So, subsequently, I checked the data – because our eyes lie to us sometimes – and this time, it squired precisely with my sense. Chatwood gave up very little hard contact yesterday (just 17.7% hard contact, and just three batted balls over 95 mph in exit velocity). A ton of hits, yes, but they were not all scalding shots and deep drives.
However, it is important to point out, Chatwood also netted very little soft contact (just 11.8% soft contact, and just two batted balls under 85 mph in exit velocity).
Would you expect all that medium contact to result in a .500 BABIP, which he saw yesterday? No. But some are going to fall in, especially if you’re living in the wrong part of the strike zone (Brooks):
Almost all of those hits came right in the meaty middle part of the zone. On a cold day like yesterday, yes, you want to throw strikes. But it kinda looks like Chatwood was trying to climb the ladder a bit with his fastball and didn’t quite get up there enough. And despite throwing 26 two-seamers and 10 curveballs, you can see that he had almost no pitches in the lower third of the strike zone, which probably contributed to a healthy 23.5% line drive rate in the game.
That’s not to say there weren’t some good things in the start, including his seven strikeouts against just one walk, and his 10 swinging strikes. Clearly, he had some good stuff working.
“I felt I had really good stuff today and they were able to foul it off rather than get weak contact outs or something, so they did a good job of that,” Chatwood told Cubs.com. “They’re hot right now. It seemed like whenever they put the ball in play, good things happened for them. You’ve got to be able to get out of that.”
All in all, though, it just seems like Chatwood was catching too much of the wrong part of the strike zone. Did he give up a disproportionate number of not-so-hard-hit base hits because of it? Probably. Would it play out that same way every time? Probably not. And that’s the tricky gray area we land in when analyzing starts like this – I’m not saying Chatwood pitched much better than his results, but I am saying that, if he made 100 starts exactly like this one, I’m guessing more than 50% result in fewer runs given up than the five he allowed yesterday.
(Also, it would be unfair to Chatwood not to say this: if Ian Happ catches that extremely catchable two-run “double” in the third inning, his whole start might have been different. Obviously that’s baseball. But if I didn’t mention that play, I’d get lit up. So there you go.)