Courtesy of Tina's Brain
It's no secret that we here at Cubs DNA have a bit of a soft spot for Tyler Chatwood. You might even say we never gave up on him. Maybe it's because we just like underdogs, or because we felt bad for him after all the social media Kool Kids picked on him for the entirety of 2018 when he had a clear case of the yips and just couldn't get it together. Maybe we just like a man with a nice smile and a tremendous beard. Or perhaps we believe there's still some usable talent in there that could benefit the Cubs in the last year of his contract, and would like to finally see them maximize it for the benefit of everyone involved. We root for the Cubs and their players' success. We're weird that way.
It was great while it lasted, though!
We all know what happened in 2018. The Cubs signed Chatwood to a 3 yr./$38 million deal as a presumed 5th starter, and Chatwood put up a 5.30 ERA and an 8.25 BB/9. Chatwood had always had a high walk rate, but the FO jumped the gun on the market thinking they could harness his sexy spin rate, not wanting to wait out or pony up the cash for the Alex Cobb/Wade Davis duo they clearly preferred but knew would be more expensive. (The Brandon Morrow signing was also part of that winter--go read what Pronk has to say about that, and you can gnash your teeth appropriately.)
Ultimately, Davis wound up signing a 3 yr./$52 million deal with the Rockies, while Cobb went to Baltimore (yes, they still have a team) on a 4 yr./$57 million deal right before spring training. Since then, Davis's time in Colorado has not been pretty--he managed 43 saves in 2018, but with a Coors Field-aided 4.13 ERA. More troubling was his 2019, with an 8.65 ERA, a whopping 1.875 WHIP and only 15 saves. Cobb's story hasn't been much better, with him missing most of 2019 with season-ending hip surgery after a 2018 campaign consisting of a 4.90 ERA and 1.411 WHIP.
Mind you, our Chatty isn't technically "earning his paycheck." Convention (and FanGraphs) says that a player is worth around $9 million per win (if you choose to treat them like a commodity), meaning Chatwood should be worth at around 1.3 WAR per season to earn his keep. I'll admit that is... not happening. Let's have a look at the four players we've discussed in monetary terms, shall we? Behold the following table, using each player's average annual value as their cost per season. You'll see that Chatwood is actually the only one who delivered any net value at all in 2019.
OK, OK... overall this looks bad. But hear me out... I'm not just trying to polish a turd, here. I promise! Chatty's 2019 was much improved from 2018 in a lot of ways, when he went from a full on starter role to a swingman job, but especially if you take out the blip that is the month of June (which was mostly the result of one disastrous outing against the Braves):
After that, it seemed like something clicked with Chatwood and his walks plummeted. Look at that batting average against and those K numbers in August and Sept/Oct! The entire second half, in fact, looks something akin to... dominant? While I'll grant he pitched fewer innings, he essentially cut his walks by half, while striking out more batters, lowering his batting average, OBP, AND slugging against to some pretty otherworldly-looking numbers. In fact, those second half slash line numbers are miles better than what the 2019 NL Reliever of the Year put up in the second half in about the same number of innings. (Chatwood had a much lower ERA as well, for that matter. No, I'm not saying he should've won... although I do wonder if Kirby Yates vanished.) What changed? The Cubs finally adjusted to the swingman role they put him in, and were resting him after outings according to the number of innings he pitched. They seemed to figure out a secret formula to maximize Chatty in his role, and once they did he showed that he could not only be useful, but extremely effective in pretty much any type of situation.
So what to do with Chatty now? Well, there are four options--you either make him the 5th starter, move him into the bullpen permanently, try and trade him to fill other needs, or keep him in his swingman role. With the Cubs finally unlocking his swingman secrets and the possibility of finding another team to take his contract looking fairly slim, I say if it isn't broken, keep shuttling him back and forth and using him to his best advantage. If you can move him in a good deal, great. Otherwise, I like the idea of Swingman Chatty just fine.