Chicago Cubs: The renaissance of Tyler Chatwood

(Photo by Quinn Harris/Getty Images)
(Photo by Quinn Harris/Getty Images) /

The Chicago Cubs bullpen, though lacking a true closer, has been among the best in MLB.  One reason is the renaissance of Tyler Chatwood.

On a warm Wednesday night on May 22, with the wind blowing out hard to center, Chicago Cubs reliever Tyler Chatwood came on in relief.  Cole Hamels had fought hard, but an elevated pitch count ended his night early after four innings.

Sixty-two pitches and four innings later, having given up just one run and striking out three, Chatwood left in the 9th inning to a standing ovation. It must have been a sweet sound after last year.

The year of pitching badly

The low point in 2018 was probably July 26 against the Diamondbacks.  With the Cubs behind 2-1 in the top of the fifth, Chatwood had walked his sixth batter of the game and thrown a wild pitch, and Maddon made the switch.  As Chatwood walked off, the fans let him have it.

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By the time it was all over Chatwood had found himself relegated to the bullpen and never pitched in a game after September 8.  His numbers were off the charts bad: a 5.30 ERA, a 1.804 WHIP, and a 0.89 K/BB ratio.  He walked a career-high 95 batters in just 103 2/3s innings pitched.

What did the front office see in 2016 and 2017

After recovering from Tommy John surgery, Chatwood posted an ERA+ of 125 in 2016 and 108 in 2017. This is important because ERA+ is ballpark adjusted, and pitching in Coors Field is no easy task.  He averaged 5.8 in 2016 and 5.9 innings in 2017, struck out over 100 batters in each of those two years and induced a lot of ground ball outs.

Also, Chatwood was 27 in 2017 and with a pitching staff in 2017 boasting 38-year-old John Lackey, 33-year-old Jon Lester, and 31-year-old Jake Arrieta, and with Lackey headed to retirement, finding a capable and younger replacement seemed an ideal move.

Then, as John Steinbeck wrote, “The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry.”  And they did go awry in 2018, very much awry, for the front office and Chatwood.

The renaissance year, so far

2019 started badly. In a March 31 appearance in Texas. Chatwood issued three walks, recorded no strikeouts, allowed a home run and three earned runs in 1 2/3 innings. Then things took a little turn.

The beginning was a two-inning, one run, no walks, two strikeout appearance in Atlanta.

Two appearances in Milwaukee (1 1/3 innings, no runs, three Ks, two walks) and Pittsburgh (one inning, no runs, one walk, and a strikeout) seemed to signal a further turn of events.

The start

Then came April 21 and the spot start against the Diamondbacks.  At this point 19 games into the season, the Cubs were under .500 at 9-10, in fourth place, and the rumblings were growing louder by the day.  This would be Chatwood’s first start since August 18, 2018.  No one was holding their breath.

Turns out if you had bet the house on Chatwood on that April 21 game you’d be set for life.  In six innings, he allowed no runs, on two hits, three Ks and two walks.

The Cubs won 2-1 to go to 10-10, and since then the Cubs have been on a roll.  Chatwood has been key in this hot streak.  In 16 1/3 innings since April 21, he’s gone 3-0 and pitched to a 2.76 ERA, and in the last two games, he’s been all but lights out, with a 1.50 ERA, and 1.000 WHIP.

Oh, and as we saw on Thursday, the guy can hit a little, too.

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It’s a long season and as we’ve seen with Jon Lester and Kyle Hendricks pitchers slump every bit as much as hitters.  It would be a huge boost to the bullpen and the Cubs if Chatwood can maintain his current level of performance.  But so far, here’s to a great start to the 2019 season for Tyler Chatwood.