Entering 2013, Tyler Chatwood was a bit of an afterthought. In the broad conversation of who was going to be filling the last three spots in Colorado's rotation, Chatwood's name was often overshadowed by Juan Nicasio (#18 on this list), Jon Garland (#25), Drew Pomeranz (#26), and Jeff Francis (#38) - not to mention other young pitchers like Christian Friedrich (hurt), Chad Bettis (#32), and Edwar Cabrera (miss you boo). In other words, Chatwood got lost in the shuffle somewhat. After 2013, that certainly isn't the case. How did we get here?
Chatwood has a pretty unusual profile for a 23 year-old pitcher with two-plus years of ML service time. Chatwood had (as he told me back in July) pitched only about ten games in high school after he'd already had Tommy John surgery, but that was enough for the Angels to make him their second round pick in 2008. After a stop in rookie ball, Chatwood spent his age 19 year in the low A Midwest league and then in his 3rd year as a pitcher a 20 year-old Chatwood blew through A+ and AA, ending the year with AAA Salt Lake - all this without being an elite prospect (he did crack BA's top 100 list after 2010, but only at #76).
Thanks to an opening in LA's rotation in early 2011, Chatwood pitched most of his age-21 campaign in the big leagues, struggling somewhat to the tune of a 4.75 ERA and -0.4 rWAR for the Angels. The Rockies saw enough that they liked though and targeted Chatwood when they dealt the Angels starting catcher Chris Iannetta after the 2011 season.
After beginning the season in Colorado's bullpen, Chatwood spent 2012 starting games in AA, AAA, and the major league level - eventually throwing 64 2/3 innings in the Show and starting 12 games for Colorado. Chatwood's results hardly portended 2013 success - he managed just a 5.43 ERA, 1.66 WHIP, and 0.3 rWAR - so it's not surprising that Chatwood entered 2013 as an afterthought.
As expected Chatwood began the year at AAA but was noticeably more effective in a 34 inning sample than he had been in 2012. - dropping his WHIP from 1.90 to 1.29 while increasing his strikeout rate from 7.5 to 8.7/9. Despite Pomeranz being similarly successful, it was Chatwood who received the call to the big leagues when Jhoulys Chacin went down with an injury in late April. After allowing five runs in six innings in his first outing, Chatwood twirled a gem in his second, six innings of shut-out ball against the Dodgers (remember when they were terrible?).
That performance was enough for the Rockies to give Chatwood another shot later in May when a spot again opened in the big league rotation...and this time Chatwood was up for good. All Tyler did from that second big league start until July (a stretch of eight starts) was allow two or fewer runs each time out, going at least six innings in five of those games. After a hiccup in that early July game (six runs allowed), Chatwood proceeded to go another four starts with two runs or fewer allowed, including a complete game loss in which he allowed the game's only run. Chatwood was placed on the DL with elbow inflammation for all of August, but he returned for five strong starts in September.
In all, Chatwood started 20 games with the Rockies in 2013 and allowed two runs or fewer in 16 of those games (and 11 of those games were six innings or more). Quite frankly, that's an amazing achievement - especially for someone who is still learning how to pitch. Unfortunately, the Rockies actually went only 10-6 in those 16 games - another stark illustration of how the offense failed this team last year. In all, the Rockies were 11-9 in the games Chatwood started this year.
Chatwood was extremely effective on the road this season, allowing a .257/.330/.305 batting line with a 2.72 ERA and 1.33 WHIP. Though opponents hit much better against him at home (.294/.355/.416), his home numbers weren't half-bad either. I would also be remiss if I did not mention that Chatwood was quite an asset at the plate this year as well, putting up a .300/.333/.325 line at the plate and serving as a pinch-runner several times.
Grade with Rockies: A
Chatwood exceeded my wildest expectations this year with his stellar 2013. Sure he was limited by injuries and by starting 2013 in AAA - but was anyone honestly expecting this?
|Tyler Chatwood||8||5||20||111.3||5.3||3.3||0.4||0.314||0.763||0.585||0.067||3.15||3.66||4.00||2.4||3.9||All of them|
Bravo Lord Chatwood, now do it again next year.
With four years of team control remaining, Chatwood is quite the potential asset for the Rockies - a cost-controlled mid-rotation pitcher...if he can show that he can perform at his 2013 levels going forward. That's the millions of dollars question for Mr. Chatwood - was 2013 the sign of more glorious pitching to come or was it merely a superlative surprise to be undone by injuries/regression/luck dragon?
On the positive side of the ledger, there's the idea that Chatwood is still a developing product as a pitcher with excellent heat (plus low-90s fastball), multiple plus off-speed offerings (curve and slider) and a tremendous downward angle generated on his pitches for someone generously labeled as six feet tall (I'm guessing 5'10"). This downward plane leads to a very high ground ball rate - in fact his 58.5% ground ball rate this year was third in MLB among pitchers with at least 100 innings pitched. In addition to a low flyball total, Chatwood was able to keep the flies he did allow in the park - his 6.7% HR/FB rate was 9th in MLB and his 0.40 HR/9 ratio was 4th.
That brings me to the glass half empty side: Chatwood's peripherals, possibly outside of the groundball rate, look to be in line for some regression next year. While Chatwood's .314 BABIP doesn't indicate significant luck, good or bad, it's much more likely that a few more of those fly balls are going to turn into home runs next year. If that is the case next year, it will be tougher for Chatwood to maintain his levels of run prevention - especially with a pedestrian 5.3 K/9 rate, a high 3.31 BB/9 rate, and a relatively high 76.3% strand rate.
With that said, Chatwood's groundball profile and plus breaking pitches make him an excellent fit for pitching at Coors Field - much better than the replacement level options the Rockies had coming into 2013. Along with Jhoulys Chacin and Jorge De La Rosa, he will be part of a pretty formidable top three starting rotation. He was a reliable performer for the Rockies in 2013 and I expect a similar (perhaps slightly lower) level of success in 2014 from him with a larger volume of innings pitched making him even more valuable to the team.