Tyler Chatwood put up some atrocious numbers last season, walking more men (95) than he struck out (85), and was eventually exiled to the bullpen. He was to remain in a relief role this season, but the early results from mechanical changes he made this spring had many liking his odds to return to the rotation in at least a temporary fashion.
Chatwood has certainly looked better here in 2019, putting up a nice 3.69 ERA over 39 innings, mainly out of the bullpen, and getting a chance at his third spot-start Thursday against the Braves. He even has a save under his belt in addition to three wins. Guess it’s safe to say all his problems are fixed and we don’t have to worry about him ever again, right?
Since you have presumably already read the headline of this piece — and have watched Chatwood pitch — you know that isn’t the case. While the traditional top-line numbers look better, his peripherals aren’t actually all that different from last year.
Chatwood has reduced his walk rate from that ghastly 19.6% last season, though his current 13.2% isn’t something to be excited about. For a little additional context there, that’s about 53% higher than league average (8.6%). And Yu Darvish currently has a 12.5% rate during a season in which fans have bitterly complained about his lack of control. All those baserunners give Chatwood a 1.49 WHIP, which is better than the 1.80 from last year, but still not what you want.
Another red flag is that his K/9 has dropped from from 7.38 to 6.92, which is significant if not huge. His velocity jumped as a result of his move to the ‘pen, from a pedestrian 93.1 to a much more robust 95.7 mph, which you’d expect to yield higher strikeout rates. And while his 1.36 K/BB ratio is much better than last year’s 0.89, it’s nowhere near the 2.43 average for MLB relievers.
So if the peripheral numbers are still so mediocre, how is Chatwood’s ERA almost a full two runs lower in 2019? The simple answer is strand rate. Chatwood is preventing 83% of the baserunners he allows from scoring this season. In 2018, that number was just 72.8%, right in line with his 72.9% career mark prior to joining the Cubs.
At times last season, he demonstrated an almost superhuman ability to wriggle out of all those self-inflicted james, walking six or seven hitters and somehow allowing only one or two runs. But his batted-ball luck didn’t hold and the runs started piling up. Through April last season, he had a 2.83 ERA with a 1.47 WHIP and 81.3% LOB in 28.2 innings pitched. Then his strand rate fell to 71.1% and his ERA shot through the roof to 5.95 in May.
It’s a little easier to mitigate walks when you’re a starter and have a little more margin for error, but that also means having greater potential for hitters to figure you out. I’m not saying Chatwood is going to fall apart like last season, just that I’m not overly optimistic after reading the story some of the supporting numbers have written.