What if Tyler Chatwood is Good in 2020?

I believe this to be true: Tyler Chatwood’s 2020 ceiling is higher than Jose Quintana’s.  His stuff is superior, he misses more bats, and Quintana’s age and career trajectory suggest he could be in for another down year.

I also believe this to be true:  I would bet money on Quintana if forced to wager on who would have the better year.  Q has a more consistent body of work (even if some of that is more “lifetime achievement” instead of “actual performance as a Cub”) and his floor is probably higher than Chatwood’s.

In 2019, one of the pleasant surprises was the overall effectiveness of Tyler Chatwood out of the bullpen. On the season as a whole, he averaged a career-best 8.7 K/9 innings while walking “just” 4.3 batters per 9 – his best rate since 2016.  He allowed just 7.6 hits per 9 innings, the best of his career as well.  In all, every sign pointed to Chatwood turning a corner and harnessing some of his overwhelming talent.

But is one season of a success rate 19% better than the average Major League pitcher in 76 2/3 innings cause for excitement about Chatwood this year?  I have my doubts.

Tyler Chatwood will be 30 for his entire 2020 season.  The most similar pitchers to Chatwood, per Baseball-Reference.com, are as follows:  Kris Benson, Omar Olivares, Rich Gale, Denny Galehouse, and Phil Ortega.  None of those pitchers had particularly good Age 30 seasons, and none of them magically got better after their 20’s ended (Ortega retired after Age 29, in fact). So there’s little history to suggest Chatwood will be a pleasant surprise as the Cubs try to get back to the postseason in 2020.

HOWEVAH…

Chatwood exists in an organization that may have found something in him that can be unlocked.  His pitches have confounding movement in and out of the strike zone, which is a nightmare for opposing hitters when Chatwood is able to command his stuff.  He has terrific velocity – he routinely hit 98 on the radar gun last year – and putting those two weapons together made it worth the Cubs’ time to completely re-work his mechanics into something more predictable.

There’s also the David Ross Factor.  Ross was a master of working with pitchers who may live too deeply in their own head (like, I dunno, Jon Lester). Chatwood may very well benefit from a skipper who can communicate to him in the dugout the way a skilled Headcase Whisperer such as Ross has shown he can.  This is a big plus as the Cubs look to get more than the bare minimum out of their Number 5 Starter.

Chatwood’s career with the Cubs has been a mixed bag, to put it kindly.  From his first outing, it was clear he had the tools to make good on the investment Theo Epstein made in him.  Butdespite last season’s glimpses of greatness during a lighter workload, Chatwood is a massive question mark.  There are many players on the Cubs’ roster whose potential outweighs their results, but Chatwood may be the one on whom the most rests.

If Chatwood struggles (or just plain stinks), several pitchers will get a shot to earn the role of Fifth Starter: Alec Mills, AdbertAlzolay, Duane Underwood Jr, or perhaps someone on another roster.  All are unproven and interesting options, but none preferred.

However, if Chatwood is the effective bullpen piece from last year, stretched over 5-6 innings?  That outcome could result in a Central Division crown for the Cubs… and maybe more.

-Joel

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