The Cubs made a modest addition to their rotation today, announcing the signing of Tyler Chatwood to a three-year, $38 million deal. The former Rockies starter should fit in rather nicely in the back of the rotation, leaving just one spot to be filled, and whether that will be Shohei Ohtani, Alex Cobb, or someone else remains to be seen.
Chatwood was a second-round draft pick of the Angels in 2008, and he made his major league debut with the Angels in 2011. After Chatwood was traded to the Rockies in November 2011, the 28-year-old pitched five seasons in Colorado, missing 2015 with Tommy John surgery.
If we think of Chatwood as John Lackey's replacement, that is probably the proper perspective. He has had good numbers away from Coors -- a 3.49 ERA and .200 batting average against -- and the obvious hope is that he can be more like that iteration of himself when he is pitching at Wrigley and the ballparks of the NL Central instead of making half of his starts in Denver. One of the other reasons that the Cubs must have been drawn to him is his very high groundball rate. Chatwood has consistently kept his in the upper 50s, hitting 58.1% last year, the highest mark in his career since a 58.5% in 2013.
There are valid concerns, of course, but no back-end starter is without them. Chatwood has a full injury history, for starters. He had the aforementioned Tommy John surgery that cost him his 2015 season, and that was actually his second time under the knife for elbow surgery. Chatwood had his first Tommy John in 2006 when he was still in high school. He has been shelved for assorted other smaller concerns, but two elbow surgeries is enough to raise an eyebrow.
Along with that, Chatwood has struggled with his command. He had the worst walk rate of his career last season, so Jim Hickey and company must believe they can help him with that. Chatwood's strikeout rate did go up in 2017, but so did his home run rate.
The simple road splits mentioned above are just the surface though. Chatwood had a lower hard contact rate away from Coors Field last year (32.4% at home, 25.8% away), and his HR/FB drops in road games as well (28.6% to 17.9%). His groundball rate stayed about the same, but he gave up fewer line drives on the road and more fly balls. For whatever it's worth, this contributed to a difference in BABIP of .217 on the road compared to .350 at home.
Coors Field is hard on pitchers, and we have known this for years, so none of this should be all that surprising. It's apparent that the Cubs are banking on him staying healthy and pitching like he did on the road in 2017.
What this means for the Cubs going forward in free agency is not necessarily any more clear. It might mean that the price on Alex Cobb got to be too high, but signing Chatwood does not rule out signing Cobb or even Yu Darvish as well. We don't know any more about where Ohtani is going to go today than we did last night, so bringing in Chatwood is not necessarily an indication of what he is going to do.
Adding Chatwood to the rotation is a good move, and my only real fuss with it is the amount of money he was given, but that's a very minor concern. The takeaway should be that they have -- as has become true to form for the Cubs -- gotten out ahead of the market and signed the guy they want. Now we wait for the other chips to fall.