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Can Tyler Chatwood repeat 2013 success?

Tyler Chatwood was one of the most pleasant surprises for the Rockies in 2013 - but can he be that pitcher again in 2014?

Doug Pensinger

If you were to list the most pleasant surprises that occurred in 2013, the emergence of Tyler Chatwood as a reliable MLB starting pitcher - more or less out of the blue - had to be near the top. After a 2012 that saw Chatwood throw 64 replacement level innings (5.43 ERA, 1.66 WHIP), Chatwood all of a sudden became an integral part of Colorado's rotation.

Despite spending the beginning of the season in the minors and another month on the DL, Chatwood managed to throw 111 innings of 3.15 ERA baseball while maintaining one of the highest groundball rates in the league at 58.5% (3rd in MLB among pitchers with over 100 IP). 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 (Chatwood had pitched only about ten games in high school after he'd already had Tommy John surgery when he was drafted in the 2nd round back in 2008).

Chatwood was extremely effective on the road in 2013, 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. All of those things are very positive.

The bad news is that it looks an awful lot like Chatwood might have gotten very fortunate to put up those numbers. A gigantic indicator of Colorado's 2014 success will be seeing if 2013 was the sign of more glorious pitching to come from Chatwood or if it was 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 a plus 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 the aforementioned high groundball rate. 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 serious 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. Those peripherals help explain his 2013 FIP of 3.66, over half a run higher than his ERA - which is still great for a Rockies pitcher.

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. I much prefer hoping that Chatwood can even approach what he was in 2013 to the memory of hoping that Juan Nicasio could be a decent 3rd starter last year. In other words, I believe that Colorado's projected 2014 rotation has both a higher ceiling and a higher floor than the version they entered 2013 with.

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