Tyler Chatwood's Scoreless Outing, Team-Leading April, and New Old Pitch

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Tyler Chatwood’s Scoreless Outing, Team-Leading April, and New Old Pitch

Chicago Cubs

When Tyler Chatwood took the mound against the Cleveland Indians just under a week ago, he delivered the first of what would eventually become six consecutive quality starts from Cubs starters – including two of his own.

Of his two starts in this stretch, Chatwood was particularly effective against the Brewers yesterday afternoon, posting his highest game score of the season, and the third highest score of this quality start streak for the Cubs rotation:

Cubs Rotation Game Scores (Last Six Games)

Tyler Chatwood (Indians): 58
Jon Lester (Indians): 45
Kyle Hendricks (Brewers): 77
Yu Darvish (Brewers): 69
Jose Quintana (Brewers): 81
Tyler Chatwood (Brewers): 74

In all of 2017, Chatwood had just three games with a game score higher than 74. So, yes, yesterday, the results were great, and the peripherals look good. Perhaps most importantly, he needed to face just three more batters than the minimum, and use just 90 pitches, through 7.0 IP.

Final Slash Line: 7.0 IP, 2H, 0ER, 3BB, 4Ks. The visual goodness:

As it turns out, being more efficient might’ve not been a happy accident. After throwing just one strike among his first eight pitches of the game, Willson Contreras came out to Chatwood and told him to slow things down and trust his stuff. After that, according to Chatwood via Cubs.com, he was able to pound the zone to great results: “That’s kind of who I am, throwing a lot of two-seams, getting early contact and getting ground balls. With that defense we have behind us, [I was] utilizing that. I just feel I haven’t been doing that as well as I know I could. Today that was the big focus, throwing two seams and trying to get quick outs.”

As I’m sure you’re aware, Chatwood has been teasing us all season, flashing excellent movement, great velocity, and some of the best pure stuff on the staff … while also throwing the ball all over the place, to the tune of an 18% walk rate.

Indeed, a few starts back, Chatwood had to leave after just 4.2 innings, despite having allowed just 2 earned runs on 1 hit with 7 strikeouts … because he also walked 7 batters.

In other words, becoming much more efficient may have been less a strategy and more a necessity, but Chatwood made it work. So, what was different? And can he keep it going?

Well, as Chatwood pointed out, he changed the balance of his pitches quite a bit yesterday. According Brooks Baseball, Chatwood has thrown his four-seamer between 38-42% of the time in his first four starts, but yesterday it was down to 7.1%. Similarly, after previously using his sinker/two-seamer between 20-26% of the time in his first four starts, Chatwood dialed up the usage to a massive 67.1%!

That’s a huge change and one that seemed to really work for him, because, for one, Chatwood’s four-seam fastball generates more fly balls than his sinker. In fact, not a single one of his sinkers were hit in the air in any of Chatwood’s last three starts, and that’s a recipe for success – in the long run – at a windy Wrigley Field.

Back to yesterday, Chatwood’s sinker yielded just a .077 batting average against, with a matching slugging percentage, and, thus, a .000 ISO. It also only generated two whiffs, but it landed for a strike 60.3% of the time, the highest among all of his pitches. Aside from all of the other benefits of using his sinker, if he can simply command it better than his four-seamer, well, that’s a very important revelation for Chatwood. [Brett: Not that you’d want him to abandon his four-seamer altogether, as it is one of the best pure four-seamers (in terms of velocity and spin) in the game.]

Overall, Chatwood just did everything well. He wasn’t the best version of himself (to my eye, there’s still so much more swing and miss potential in that arm), but he did manage to get an excellent 52.9% ground ball rate and a 24.7% hard-hit rate. Like I said, at Wrigley Field – and with this defense – that’s just a beautiful combination that’ll lead to success more often than not.

(Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

With Chatwood’s little gem officially in the books, all five of the Cubs’ starters have made exactly five starts this season. And so far, Chatwood leads in WAR (0.4), ERA (2.83), FIP (4.06), ground ball rate (52.2%), line drive rate (15.9%), and hard-hit rate (24.7%), and he’s second in innings pitched (28.2 IP (Kyle Hendricks recorded one more out)) and strikeout rate (22.1%). The walks have really dragged him down, and aren’t a great sign for the future, but looking backwards, he’s basically been one of the most effective pitchers on the staff.

Perhaps, armed with a newly-emphasized two-seamer/sinker that can generate plenty of grounders and be successfully kept within the strike zone, Chatwood might just stay that way for the immediate future.

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Author: Michael Cerami

Michael Cerami covers the Chicago Cubs, Bears, and Bulls at Bleacher Nation. You can find him on Twitter @Michael_Cerami