Right-hander Tyler Chatwood signed with the Cubs today for three years and around $40 million, according to Jon Morosi. The contract is about what one might expect. Dave Cameron, for example, called for Chatwood to receive $10 million a year for three years. The Cubs have given him more annually than Cameron expected. But for one of the youngest pitchers on the market, it’s not absurd.
But there’s also another reason for optimism regarding Chatwood’s near future besides just his relative youth. Given the tools at our disposal, there appears to be evidence that Chatwood’s stuff hasn’t fully translated into results.
Using what we know about the relationship of movement and velocity to outcomes, we can rank each of Chatwood’s pitches against league average. Below are his percentiles. Higher is better in each case, and his strengths are highlighted.
|Pitch||Spin Rate||Horizontal Move||Vertical Move||Velo|
You’ve heard of “spin-rate guys,” right? Well, Chatwood is absolutely a spin-rate guy. What’s interesting, though, is that he hasn’t converted that high spin into plus movement. Why? Well, it might have something to do with useful spin. Over time, Chatwood has dropped his arm slot to get more movement on his sinker and more ground balls, probably because he pitched in Coors. That robs his fastball of ride, though, and his curveball of downward movement.
An easy fix might be to just throw the curveball more. He only threw it 11% of the time in 2017. It got over 70% ground balls and above-average whiffs. Batters had a .164 slugging percentage against it last year. And that fits with the spin and movement on the pitch.
A tougher fix may be for him to raise his arm slot, thus converting more of that spin into movement on the fastball and curve, a little like what Rich Hill did. Is it simple? Depends on the pitcher and his willingness to experiment. When I last spoke with Chatwood, he was willing to talk spin and was using his four-seam more to “mirror” his curveball spin. That sounds a lot like what Hill said after he broke out. In fact, I’ve included only his second-half percentiles above because he altered his pitching mix after our conversation and improved his changeup.
There’s a real potential for Chatwood to be more of an over-the-top, four-seamer/curveball/slider guy going forward. You see it in his strengths — velocity and spin — and also in his home/away splits. No, not the results-based ones. Coors affects movement, too. Consider how much better Chatwood’s pitches look when you use his second-half away movement and avoid that Coors effect.
|Pitch||Horizontal Move||Vertical Move|
Everything looks better. He gains a half-inch to an inch on all of his pitches, all in the right directions, and a whopping three extra inches of drop on his curveball. Coors hates curves in particular.
Using these tables as a guide, we can summarize the present version of Chatwood as follows. He’s a high-velocity, high-spin four-seam guy with a plus curveball by spin, movement, and velocity. He’s gotten good grounders from a high-velocity, meh-movement sinker in the past. His high-velocity slider has gotten him whiffs. In the second half last year, his changeup looked average based on average movement away from home and above-average velocity gap.
Here’s the shorter version: above-average four-seamer with upside to go plus with arm slot change, average two-seamer, plus curveball, above-average slider, changeup that flashes average or better.
And the even shorter one: average major-league starter with some upside beyond, even at 27, with nearly 650 innings under his belt.
You don’t need to know his away ERA to think that this is a pitcher who’s worth his current contract and has upside beyond.
With a phone full of pictures of pitchers' fingers, strange beers, and his two toddler sons, Eno Sarris can be found at the ballpark or a brewery most days. Read him here, writing about the A's or Giants at The Athletic, or about beer at October. Follow him on Twitter @enosarris if you can handle the sandwiches and inanity.