How bad is Cubs’ Tyler Chatwood? So bad, they can’t stop winning when he pitches
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The count was 2-0 to Cardinals shortstop Paul DeJong. The bases were loaded with only one out. The score was 1-1. Not five innings into his 18th start of the season, Cubs pitcher Tyler Chatwood already had walked five — the 10th time he’d reached that dubious mark.
Judging by the tension in the Wrigley Field stands, it sure felt like Chatwood was about to implode.
First baseman Anthony Rizzo must’ve sensed this, too. He walked to the mound and told Chatwood an inning-ending 6-4-3 double play was but a pitch away.
“And then we’re going to score some runs in the next inning,” Rizzo added. “So here you go.”
DeJong swung at the next pitch and bounced back to Chatwood, who threw home to start what instead was a 1-2-3 double play.
“That’s the game,” manager Joe Maddon said. “That’s the game changer. That’s the seminal moment.”
Then the Cubs scored twice in the bottom of the fifth for a 3-1 lead in a game — the first of a Saturday doubleheader — they went on to win 7-2.
“I told [Rizzo] when we went back to the dugout, I said, ‘That’s the kind of captain meeting we needed,’ ” second baseman Ben Zobrist said. “He recognized something needed to be said, and he said it. Maybe it helped Chatty turn his attention a little bit in that moment, I don’t know.”
Who could possibly know?
Who could explain how it is that Chatwood leads all of baseball in walks — and actually has more of them (79) than strikeouts (78) — yet his team has won four straight games, and seven of the last nine, started by him?
“You can’t change what happened in the past,” Chatwood said. “Obviously, I know I’ve walked a lot of people. But [if] you walk them and they don’t score, I guess it’s not really relevant.”
That’s easy for him to say. Chatwood is displaying the worst command by a Cubs starter since Sam Jones, who was the last Cubs pitcher to have more walks before the All-Star break than Chatwood’s 73. When did Jones do that? Way back in 1955, when he was a 20-game loser (but you knew that already).
Chatwood has basically been terrible since signing a three-year, $38 million deal with the Cubs in the offseason, and he was pretty poor again in start No. 18. Well, if you can call 5 1/3 innings of one-hit ball poor. Can you, when it also involves a half-dozen free passes and more balls (45) than strikes (40)?
That’s a stat line one might expect a highly talented, yet still rough around the edges, high school pitcher to produce.
“If he had given up six hits and walked one or two, then everybody’s more amenable to it,” Maddon said. “But he gave up one hit and walked [six]. So if you’re going to walk guys, you just can’t give up knocks. And that’s what he did today, and that’s why he was effective.”
I’d argue with the man, but I don’t know if I could pull it off.
This is as good a time as any to mention that the Cubs are at “war” with themselves. But let me explain, or try to.
I rooted through a Fangraphs story like a raccoon in the night and planned to reference it heavily if Chatwood collapsed like a house of Cards against the Cardinals. Here’s a bit of what it said:
“Only six clubs (the Orioles, Padres, Rangers, Reds, Royals and White Sox) have received less production from their rotation, and none of them are threatening to win a championship this year.”
“The 3.0 WAR the Cubs’ rotation currently possesses is the team’s lowest first-half total going back to at least 1974.”
“Tyler Chatwood has been a disaster.”
The headline itself was a real grabber: “The Cubs Are on Pace for Their Worst Rotation Ever.”
I’m not the sharpest knife in the drawer when it comes to baseball analytics, but I know this: Cubs starting pitchers have the highest walk total in the National League and are second only to the White Sox in all of baseball. And only the Reds’ and Marlins’ rotations have thrown fewer innings.
That’s bad, right?
Maddon muses often lately about Kyle Hendricks getting his groove back, Jose Quintana kicking it into a higher gear, Yu Darvish being healthy and Chatwood pitching as though he has at least a vague notion of where the ball is going.
Maybe all of it will happen. Maybe some of it won’t.
“Selfishly, you want to pitch good and help the boys out,” Chatwood said. “But at the end of the day, all that matters is winning.”
It must be true.