Colorado Rockies pitcher Tyler Chatwood has already beaten the odds.
Sure, the 26-year-old right-hander is one of the 65.5 percent of pitchers who were able to return to professional baseball after having a second Tommy John surgery. But a small number of those pitchers were able to shoulder the workload they did previously. Chatwood is also one of those.
After missing most of 2014 and all of 2015, Chatwood returned to Colorado's rotation and threw a career-high 158 innings. What's more, the five-year big leaguer was as effective as he's ever been, posting a 3.87 ERA (126 ERA+) and 3.6 rWAR in 27 starts. Chatwood pitched around injuries, but none were related to the torn ulnar collateral ligament he had replaced in May of 2014. It was, in all, a wonderful story of perseverance -- one helped by a key adjustment on the mound.
Entering 2016, Chatwood was mainly a four-pitch starter; he used four-seam and two-seam fastball regularly, and at times worked in a slider and curve ball. His offspeed offerings didn't change much last season, other than the fact that he used his curve even less frequently than before. But Chatwood started mixing in a cutter 22 percent of the time, according to Fangraphs, and the results were terrific.
Chatwood also had the benefit of not losing much off of his fastball from where it was pre-surgery, which is a wonderful and extremely fortunate thing. But the cutter allowed him to further mitigate the effects of his inability to strike batters out and avoid walks; Chatwood issued four free passes per nine innings, and though his 6.7 strikeouts per nine easily beat his previous career totals, the figure was still well below the 7.9 K/9 average for NL starters.
Instead of missing bats altogether, Chatwood focused on missing barrels. It worked; among NL pitchers with at least 150 innings pitched, Chatwood's 57.3 percent ground ball rate ranked No. 1. That contributed to his 29.5 percent hard-hit rate, which placed him 10th in the league.
The approach brought particularly great results in environments that don't penalize pitchers for frequently allowing contact, as Coors Field is wont to do. Chatwood posted a 1.69 ERA in 80 innings and limited opposing hitters to a .190/.286/.272 line on the road.
Chatwood will be a free-agent after next season. That's good news in that the club can lean on him heavily in a contract year if they're contending (like most of us think they will), or they can ship him out to a winning club at the deadline. His injury-riddled past won't be a secret to opposing teams, so it'll likely limit what the Rockies can get in return. But something is better than nothing, which is what Colorado would receive if Chatwood simply walks after the season.
At any rate, Chatwood appears to be a key cog in a rotation that will be expected to do big things in 2017. That's the most important part out of all of this.