Yesterday, Tyler Chatwood made the third start of his Chicago Cubs career, and unfortunately, it wasn’t very good. It also wasn’t very terrible. In fact, in a lot of ways, it was pretty awesome. Except that it was pretty bad. Or, to put it even another way, it was historic, but for both a bad and good reasons. We’re crystal clear right now, right?
By the Numbers: 4.1 IP, 1H, 2ER, 7BB, 7Ks
The bad stuff is easy enough to see on the surface, as Chatwood lasted just 4.1 innings – his shortest outing of the year – and somehow managed to walk a ridiculous 7 of the 22 batters he faced. At the same time, he allowed just 2 earned runs on one solitary hit, and combined that by striking out a whopping 7 of the 22 batters he faced. That’s weird. This is all weird.
Just logically, that shouldn’t happen too often. And, sure enough: “According to ESPN Stats & Information data, only two pitchers compiled at least seven and seven in less than five innings pitched last year. Before that, it hadn’t happened since 2008.” (ESPN)
Yep, just two pitchers in the last decade managed to strike out seven and walk seven in fewer than 5.0 innings last year, but Chatwood “accomplished” the feat last night. And according to Cubs.com, “Chatwood is the first Cubs pitcher with seven strikeouts, seven walks and two or fewer hits in a start since Kerry Wood did so July 13, 2001, against the White Sox.” It’s not hard to see why it’s really tough to pull off, because it requires a really weird combination of effectiveness, wildness, not giving up hits or runs, and a huge pitch count.
For the season, Chatwood’s 4.60 ERA and 4.26 FIP aren’t nightmarish for a fifth starter, but his peripherals sure are strange. For example, if you start to get excited about his 24.3% strikeout rate (which is otherwise excellent and representative of a HUGE jump for him (career 15.8% strikeout rate guy)), you come right back down when you see his walk rate is up at a basically unusable 18.9%. If he can’t cut that down, it won’t matter how many guys he strikes out, because that’ll be plenty of free base runners for the opposing team to knock in. Consistent success will be impossible, as will deep outings.
Of course, there’s more to his game than strikeouts and walks. While all the balls and strikes led to fewer balls in play, it’s still worth pointing out that Chatwood allowed just a 25% hard hit rate and got a 25% soft-hit rate yesterday, which means he was pretty difficult to square up. And that wasn’t an outlier, even if the sample was small. His season numbers so far feature an above-average 21.4% soft-hit rate, and a WELL below-average 19.1% hard-hit rate. That’s good to know, and looks even better when paired with his elite 12.5% line drive rate and perfectly solid 50.0% ground ball rate.
That sort of batted ball profile (plenty of weak contact, no hard contact, lots of balls on the ground) are probably at least one of the reasons ERA is 4.60 and not 14.60. (The other reasons: luck and a good bullpen to clean up messes.)
But keeping that ERA within striking distances of league average won’t last forever if the walks continue, and Chatwood would be the first to tell you. “I just have to be better with my command,” Chatwood told ESPN after the loss. “That’s the thing that’s hurt me so far.” Chatwood went on to explain that his stuff was good/had a lot of life (no arguments here) and that he had both breaking balls working early on, but he lost it a bit as the game continued.
The weather and the inconsistent starting schedule (remember, he was originally slated for Sunday and twice bounced back) is a fair excuse for now, but at some point he’ll have to strike a balance between the walks and the incredible value of the movement he can create. In that limited sense, he’s a lot like Jake Arrieta back when Arrieta was struggling with his command. In other words, with above-average velocity and a variety of pitches that move so dramatically, there’s a razor thin margin between lights-out dominant and a wild afternoon.
Fortunately, the benefits of that difficult-to-command movement (the high K-rate, the excellent batted ball profile) are sufficiently high that Chatwood *can afford* to tighten up (whether that’s laying off the gas or narrowing his pitch mix in certain circumstances) and still succeed. But until he gets that walk rate closer to, say, 10% I fear he’ll have many more short outings in his future, and maybe even some bomb-outs.
The crazy thing about Chatwood? This is his two-seam fastball. It's probably not his best fastball (four-seamer). And neither might be better than his curveball. The stuff is not in question. pic.twitter.com/GqIr0vWidk
— Bleacher Nation (@BleacherNation) April 18, 2018