What can we expect from Tyler Chatwood?

Doug Pensinger

The youngest member of the opening day rotation is going to be very important to the Rockies in 2014.

In retrospect, it's pretty incredible Tyler Chatwood put up a 3.15 ERA in 111.1 innings last year. That's a fantastic mark in any ballpark, but for a pitcher who calls Coors home, it's downright incredible. That's a 73 ERA-, a metric that adjusts for home ballpark and where 100 is league average. For a guy to be 27 percent better than league average after consecutive seasons where he was 20 percent worse, it's a startling reversal. The pertinent question to ask now, though, is if he can carry that over to 2014.

There are a number of factors to consider in projecting Chatwood, and the most conspicuous is probably his age. Despite already having two full years in the Majors, Chatwood is only 24, entering his prime years. His first supbar season in Los Angeles, 2011, can be attributed to being rushed as a green 21 year old. His 2012 in Colorado was pretty lousy as well, resulting in a 5.43 ERA, but 2012 should probably be a mulligan year for every Colorado pitcher. Weird stuff was going on that year.

So was 2013 just the natural result of a talented guy emerging from his trial by fire to become an above-average regular? Well, it's hard to determine. He allowed a BABIP of .314, so no red flags there. The questionable numbers are his strikeout rate and home run rate.

Chatwood struck out 5.34 batters per nine innings last year. League average is around 7 and elite is usually around 9. Strikeout rate is generally one of the best indicators of future success, since it's the one outcome that is completely independent of luck. Any ball put in play can become a base hit or an error, while a K is a guarantee.

Additionally, Chatwood's home run per fly ball rate, at 6.7% is way too low to continue. Pitchers do have some control of the quality of contact they give up, but I think it's fair to assume that a few more of those fly balls will sneak over the fence in 2014. Chatwood hasn't demonstrated an ability to keep that HR rate so low for his full career (it was 9.6% in 2011 and 18.8% in 2012).

Regarding quality of contact: Chatwood's ground ball percentage in 2013 was an exceptional 58.5%. Grounders are pretty awesome; they don't turn into home runs, they are rarely extra base hits, and they can lead to double plays. With Colorado's exceptional infield defense, grounders are damn useful.

If Chatwood maintains that ground ball rate, I think he'll be just fine in 2014 (assuming the infield stays healthy and rangy). He'll need to continue limiting walks (his walks per 9 innings was 3.3 last year, the best rate of his career), but if he does so, I see no reason why he can't be successful. Chatwood the worm murderer will be able to continue his strong Major League numbers, and shorten games to boot, so long as he keeps the ball on the ground.

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