It’s understandable that Yu Darvish is garnering all of the attention. He’s the big name signing with the lucrative contract and a chip on his shoulder after last year’s World Series collapse. His highly anticipated debut Tuesday — against his former team, no less — may have displayed rust, but also showed the velocity and swing-and-miss arsenal that the Cubs have so much faith in. There’s good reason to be excited about Yu.
But Tyler Chatwood, it seems, has been lost in the Darvish fanfare. Darvish signing so late in the off-season certainly has something to do with it, as does Chatwood’s signing in early December feeling like ages ago.
No one should sleep on Chatwood, however. His fastball velocity (over 93 mph for his career) and elite spin rate on his curve have been well documented, as have his home/away splits. Despite the talent, Chatwood doesn’t have an inspiring career to date, but the comparison to the Astros signing Charlie Morton last off-season is appropriate. A new team with a different philosophy on how to utilize his arsenal might make Chatwood the best No. 5 in the league, meaning this could be an elite rotation. In other words, this was a worthy gamble by the Cubs.
Stats matter very little in spring training, particularly for established veterans. Nonetheless, Chatwood’s first two outings are encouraging, as he’s surrendered just one hit and no runs through three innings. The most important stat in this limited offering is that he has only walked one batter. Considering his career BB/9 of 4.17 is troubling, to be generous, that he’s displaying a bit more control this early in the spring is a positive sign. The ability to consistently command the strike zone will ultimately determine if those road splits from his time in Colorado can be maintained throughout a full season.
What piqued my interest in Chatwood today was an interview with Kris Bryant. When asked Tuesday about what he’s most excited about this season, he spoke of the new faces in the clubhouse, specifically mentioning Chatwood. “Seeing Chatwood pitch the other day had me super excited just because he was a guy that, you know, when I would face, I wouldn’t be comfortable facing him,” Bryant said. “His stuff is very deceiving and good… he’s a great pickup for us and I really think he’s going to help us out.”
It seems rather benign that Bryant mentions Chatwood, but keep in mind that Bryant said this on the same day that Darvish debuted — and Chatwood remained in the forefront of his mind. I think there’s something to that excitement that is both genuine and telling. Chatwood’s new teammates see in action the reasons the front office was aggressive in pursuing him.
Chatwood also spoke to reporters Tuesday, and unsurprisingly, he feels as good as his early outings suggest. “My stuff’s coming around, so I feel like I’m getting sharper so far, so just keep building on that.” Tyler also seems ready to embrace the target, to borrow from Joe Maddon. “It’s good to have that bull’s eye on your back,” exclaimed Chatwood. “It means you’re doing something right.”
He also seems to feel right at home as a Cub. “It’s been awesome so far… we got to kind of choose where we wanted to be and this is where we wanted to end up.” And concerning the new clubhouse atmosphere and the leadership style of Maddon, Chatwood is fitting right in. “You’re supposed to have fun and enjoy what you’re doing. I feel like [Maddon’s] able to bring that out in all his players, and I think the results that they’ve had here in the last couple years kinda show what that enables everyone to do.”
For all of the concerns about Chatwood — he’s a few years removed from Tommy John surgery, his career stat-line is mediocre, and his walk rate is atrocious — there’s a significant reason for optimism. The ever-increasing reliance on breaking balls across MLB, Chatwood’s elite spin rate on his curve and four-seamer alike, and the pitching support in Chicago all bode well for a breakout season. Expect Tyler to throw his curve more and more, utilize his sinker to induce ground balls, and attack the top of the zone with his four-seam fastball.
What becomes of Chatwood the Cub will be interesting to see unfold. I’m excited for the journey.