Cubs pitchers and catchers do not formally do the whole “reporting” thing until tomorrow, but the vast majority of Cubs pitchers are already in Mesa, Arizona gearing up for the season.
Also in Arizona is Cubs pitching coach Tommy Hottovy, and today he suggested that Tyler Chatwood has the inside track on the fifth starter job heading into Spring Training.
“He wants to be that guy,” Hottovy said of Chatwood, per Cubs.com. “I think he’s proven and given himself a lot of opportunities to be in that role. I think going in, in my eyes, he’s kind of in that spot to be that guy. He’s going to be on a starter program in Spring Training.”
Chatwood, 30, bounced back in a big way for the Cubs in 2019 after a disastrous initial year of his contract. Deployed in a swing role – and in all phases of the bullpen – Chatwood posted a 3.76 ERA (14% better than league average by ERA-) over 38 appearances (5 starts) and 76.2 innings. Even by FIP, he was better than league average, and that factors in what I suspect was a flukey home run rate – Chatwood’s contact rates were excellent, but fly balls left the yard at a 20% clip. (Also, it was a total of just 8 homers, and anecdotally, I swear I can recall off-hand several that were totally bogus. Also, two of them came in a mop-up appearance where he was tasked with just throwing fastballs down the pipe.)
Under the hood, it remains extraordinarily easy to see why the Cubs have really liked Chatwood, and how his pitches get so much movement:
If the Cubs saw this guy out there, they'd be tripping over themselves to get him into the org and into the Pitch Lab.
The good news is that he's already here. It's Tyler Chatwood. Dang that stuff is still just so tantalizing. pic.twitter.com/pu5xLvTQUg
— Bleacher Nation (@BleacherNation) February 10, 2020
So, for today? Sure. Chatwood can be the favorite for the fifth starter job, with Alec Mills, Adbert Alzolay, Jharel Cotton, and Colin Rea among the other possibilities.
Ultimately, I think any of the group could wind up the guy in the rotation when the season opens. But, if everyone is healthy and looks fine, you’ve gotta have a guy who is the presumptive favorite. It makes sense that it’s Chatwood, who was signed to be in the rotation, had a good season in 2019, and who still has nasty stuff that plays for 5+ innings when he can throw it for strikes.
That said, it almost doesn’t matter who is nominally the fifth starter on February 10, not only because the guys might sort themselves out otherwise in the coming weeks, but also because injuries happen. Maybe one of the front four starters goes down. Maybe Chatwood, himself, gets dinged and is slowed to start the season. Or heck, maybe someone gets traded.
The point is, the Cubs need to operate through Spring Training with at least seven or eight starting pitchers in mind, and it’s entirely possible that Chatwood isn’t the only guy competing for the “5th” spot who winds up in the early-season rotation, which would kinda make Chatwood … the 4th starter at that point? That’s just the way pitching plays out, and it’s why you need a whole big group of guys you like for the 5th starter spot on February 10.
(Oh, also, if we were being cynical: in a world where the Cubs wind up selling at the Trade Deadline, they’d be better positioned to get some value for Chatwood (who is a free agent after the season) if he were having marginal success as a starting pitcher at that point, rather than pitching out of the bullpen or in a swing role.)