Chicago Cubs: What the numbers tell us about Tyler Chatwood

(Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
(Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images) /

Lots of strikeouts and a staggering number of walks. That’s about the extent of Tyler Chatwood in a Chicago Cubs uniform here in mid-April.

If Tyler Chatwood ever learns to control his pitches and harness his stuff, the Chicago Cubs will put the rest of the league on notice. But, three starts in, that’s a very big ‘if’.

The right-hander pitched into the fifth in Tuesday’s opener against St. Louis, limiting the Cardinals to just two runs on one hit. To get through those 4 2/3 frames, though, he needed a staggering 97 pitches. The ‘why’ in all of it is pretty clear by this point.

Chatwood faced 22 batters – and walked seven of them. That’s a 32 percent walk rate for those of you doing the math at home. In his Cubs debut against Cincinnati earlier this month, he walked six of the 27 batters (22 percent). To think that’s even remotely serviceable is a joke.

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There’s no questioning his stuff. This guy could be absolutely dominant. Again, ‘could’ being the operative term here. So far this season, he’s struck out a career-best 10.34 batters per nine. But on the other side of things, he’s walked north of eight hitters over the same stretch. When you walk more than half-a-dozen batters when you take the mound, bad things happen.

Things could get much worse – very quickly

Really, Chatwood’s numbers could – and should – be a lot worse than they are. With three starts in the books, he carries a 4.60 earned run average and .233 opponent batting average. But the amount of walks are going to catch up to him – that’s not up for debate.

Over the course of his big league career, he owns a 1.45 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Unfortunately, that’s right in line with what he’s managed this season (1.29). So far this season, his left on-base rate is north of 75 percent – a full five percent better than his career average. At some point, these are going to level off and he could face harsh realities in a hurry.

A bold prediction

Before the season opened, I penned a piece saying Chatwood would end 2018 with better numbers than Alex Cobb. The latter opted to stay in the AL East and has some less-than-savory metrics working against him. I also happen to be a strong supporter of Jim Hickey and what he’s capable of doing.

The early returns, to be honest, have been a bit mixed for me as I wonder if this will be one of my coldest takes ever. His swing-and-miss stuff seems better than ever. His ground ball rate is way down and if he can even that off a bit and keep the ball out of the air, that could bode very well.

But if he insists on living at the letters, he has to hit his spots. If he doesn’t, you’ll hear more than a few people clamoring for John Lackey to come back from his unofficial retirement. And, to be frank, I don’t want to deal with those people.

Next: What do Cubs need to do to get things rolling?

It’s really just the walks – that’s it

That makes things seem a bit oversimplified, doesn’t it? Oh well. Opponents’ hard-hit rate is down a full 10 percent year over year from 2017 to 2018. His strikeout rate is up. The only thing that’s keeping this guy from being a dark horse All-Star candidate? A glaring inability to keep the ball over the plate.

It’s far too early to call this signing a failure, a success or anything in between. But we all know what to watch for moving forward. So far, he’s been able to limit the self-inflicted damage. Unless he learns a quick lesson, though, that won’t last and things could go south big time.