Each day in March, NBC Sports Chicago is previewing one player from the Cubs’ expected 2020 Opening Day roster. Next up is pitcher Tyler Chatwood.
After a woeful debut with the Cubs in 2018, one where he lost his rotation spot, Chatwood bounced back last season as a reliever. The 30-year-old made 38 appearances (five starts), sporting a 3.76 ERA in 76 2/3 innings (second half: 2.84 in 31 2/3 innings). Most importantly, he dramatically improved his control:
2018 Chatwood: 8.25 BB/9, 19.6 BB%, 95 walks (most in MLB) in 103 2/3 innings
2019 Chatwood: 4.34 BB/9, 11.4 BB%, 37 walks
Chatwood’s stuff has always been plus, but there was no telling where his pitches would end up at times in 2018. He kept hitters more off balance last season by reining in his control issues, which generated more swings, swinging strikes and swings at pitches out of the strike zone.
Chatwood posted career highs in strikeout rate (22.8 percent) and K/9 (8.69). Being in the bullpen helped; relievers can dial up their fastball velocity because their outings are short. He threw his sinker (95.7 mph) and four-seam fastball (96.1 mph), on average, harder than any season in his career.
Expectations for this season’s role
Chatwood is under contract through 2020 for $13 million. With his salary and last season’s improvements, he’s the favorite to replace Cole Hamels (signed with Braves in free agency) in the Cubs’ rotation. Alec Mills, Adbert Alzolay, Colin Rea and Jharel Cotton are also candidates, though pitching coach Tommy Hottovy hinted last month the job is Chatwood’s to lose.
Chatwood looks in tune through two spring starts. He worked around a hit and an error on Feb. 23 by inducing an inning-ending double play. He walked two batters in two innings last Friday but attributed that to his arm path being off rather than anything mechanical.
Considering what happened in 2018, many are wondering how Chatwood’s (presumed) second crack in the Cubs’ rotation will go. Every player this time of year believes they’re set to have a big season, but spring training results mean nothing once the regular season begins.
The reality is the Cubs made no substantial roster additions this winter. They’re counting on internal improvements making big impacts, and Chatwood is at the forefront of that discussion. Imagine how him succeeding in the rotation would boost this Cubs team.
Yu Darvish and Kyle Hendricks are the Cubs’ Nos. 1 and 2 starters. No one is writing off Jon Lester — the Cubs are counting on him being his reliable veteran self —but he’s another year older. José Quintana, always good for 30-plus starts, is looking to bounce back from a rough end to 2019.
Chatwood emerging would take some of the onus of the latter two guys. If Lester and Quintana have good seasons, his success would mean that much more for the rotation. For the Cubs to get back to the postseason, they need a big year from the group, collectively.
The Cubs signed Chatwood two years ago to be an impactful arm. His first stint as a full-time starter went poorly. 2020 is a chance for him to rewrite the script and be a key cog in the rotation.