Could the Chicago Cubs use Tyler Chatwood to close games?

(Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images)
(Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images) /

It may have seemed outrageous and downright ridiculous one year ago, but is Tyler Chatwood a viable option for the Chicago Cubs’ closer gig?

Chicago Cubs’ Tyler Chatwood has come a long way from his 2018 struggles. A year after leading MLB in walks with 95, the 29-year-old is one of many Cubs putting together a comeback season in 2019.

Chatwood’s status with the Cubs was up in the air entering 2019. The Cubs starting rotation was set entering spring training, meaning Chatwood’s best bet at making the team’s opening day roster was as a reliever.

Getting results

The right-hander did just that, though he has become more than just a long reliever and spot starter for Joe Maddon this season. In 13 games (one start), Chatwood holds a 2.86 ERA; he’s struck out 24 batters in 28 1/3 innings.

What jumps out more than anything about Chatwood this season is his improved command of the strike zone. He’s walked 18 batters this season and holds a 5.72 BB/9, though this is a significant improvement from his outrageous 8.25 BB/9 from 2018.

All in all, Chatwood is throwing strikes far more than he did last season; his strike percentage is up from 55.6 last season to 58.8 percent in 2019. These numbers may mean less to some than others, but one can’t argue that Chatwood looks far better than he did in 2018.

That takes us to the big question at hand: is Chatwood a realistic closing option for Maddon and the Cubs? Such a question would have been comedic last season and perhaps still is now. With the state of the Cubs bullpen, though, it’s worth exploring.

Pedro Strop is good

There’s no telling when or if Brandon Morrow will pitch for the Cubs again. With him out due to an elbow injury, the Cubs have relied on the next man up mentality, using Pedro Strop to close out games.

Strop performed admirably doing this in 2018, converting 11 of his 13 chances post-All-Star break (following Morrow’s injury). He finished the season with a 2.26 ERA, putting on a gutsy performance in the National League Wild Card Game.

However, Strop (5.06 ERA, 4-of-6 in saves, 12 games) struggled early this season before hitting the injured list with a hamstring strain. To be fair, his early struggles might be attributed to a separate hamstring sprain that he suffered in spring training.

When Strop is healthy, there is no Cubs reliever more reliable than him. This makes him the obvious candidate to close games for the team, but it also opens up another issue: getting to the ninth inning.

Bridging games to the ninth inning has been tough

Strop has been the Cubs’ main setup man during Maddon’s tenure on the North Side, if not longer. With him injured and in the closer role, as well as other relievers being ineffective, holding late leads has been troublesome for the Cubs in 2019.

When Strop returns from the injured list, he’ll likely return to closing games for the Cubs. But with the way Chatwood is rolling and how solid Strop is before the ninth inning, giving the former a shot as the closer isn’t as far-fetched as it may sound.

Chatwood’s walks haven’t disappeared completely; he’s also allowed four home runs (he allowed nine last season) already, all in relief.

The conclusion

The Chicago Cubs bullpen ranks fifth in the NL with a 3.97 ERA entering Thursday. Also, Steve Cishek (2.35 ERA, 4-of-5 in saves, 22 games) has been a rock for Maddon this season. Things aren’t horrible, but there’s always room for improvement.

If the Cubs were to give Chatwood a chance to close games, it would allow Cishek and Strop (when he returns) to solidify late games before the ninth inning. Could Chatwood still blow saves, if anointed closer? Of course.

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Could the Chicago Cubs also use Chatwood in late innings and just let Cishek or Strop close? Again, of course. With how Chatwood has fared, though, giving him the keys to the bullpen’s most important job isn’t the craziest idea.