Chicago Cubs: Is Tyler Chatwood turning a corner toward consistency?

(Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
(Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images) /

After addressing a mechanical flaw in his delivery, Chicago Cubs right-hander Tyler Chatwood might be turning a big corner at the right time.

More than a few Chicago Cubs fans have complained, whined and bemoaned throughout the first two months of the season. Shocking, I know. One of their favorite things to gripe about? The inconsistency of Tyler Chatwood.

The first major offseason move for the Cubs, Chatwood enters this weekend with a 3-3 record and 3.14 ERA. Not too shabby for a number five starter on a team with World Series aspirations. But that first glance certainly lacks the finer details that have driven fans crazy.

In his first eight starts as a Cub, Chatwood doled out 34 walks and struck out 40. In five of those outings, the right-hander walked at least five batters – including a season-high seven in a mid-April start against the Cardinals.

Figuring things out on the fly

More from Cubbies Crib

His last time out, though, something seemed to click -despite Joe Maddon‘s early hook. Chatwood walked only two – and did not issue a free pass until the fourth inning. Anyone who’s watched his starts up to that point understands how shocking that was.

"“I think somewhere I created a bad habit,” Chatwood said. “I’m not sure where. But now I’m aware of it. So every time I play catch, I try to take advantage to work on it. And I did that."

Talking to the Chicago Tribune, the veteran believes he was leaning too far forward – thus altering his delivery on the mound. Against Atlanta, though, he found his slot and repeated it effectively all night long.

Now making a big deal about a guy throwing strikes probably seems a bit much to some of you. And that’s fine. But looking at the National League, only two teams – Atlanta and Miami – have walked more batters than the Cubs have so far in 2018. And it’s hardly a notable gap; Chicago is just five free passes off a league-worst pace.

Despite their lack of consistent execution, the Cubs rank fourth amongst National League staffs in earned run average (3.46) and third in opponent batting average (.225). As for the starters, the rotation comes in at seventh in ERA (3.93) and second in walks (102).

The Hickey solution not working as hoped?

When the Cubs brought in Jim Hickey this offseason, a large part of his focus was said to be on pounding the strike zone and limiting base-on-balls. So far, though, they’re way off pace to even match last year’s walk output.

In 2017, Chicago starting pitchers walked 290 batters in 162 starts. That works out to 1.79 walks per game from the starter. This year, through just 40 games, the staff is averaging 2.55 walks per game – putting them on pace to blow past last year’s output.

Getting Chatwood on the right track is a critical piece to putting together this puzzle.

There’s no questioning his stuff. When he’s on, he’s downright filthy. He’s using his sinker more and has the ability to rear back and blow a fastball in the mid-90s right past you in the same AB. His early strikeout surge has evened out a bit – but, to this point, he’s benefited from working out of jams – most of which were self-induced.

Next: Morrow doesn't dance - he dominates

If he can quit putting himself in these situations, the Cubs would benefit from this in more ways than one. Less high-stress innings and, just maybe, a secret weapon able to work deep into ball games at the back end of their starting rotation.