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Can the Cubs fix Tyler Chatwood?

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The bullpen move hasn’t seemed to help. What else can the Cubs do?

Photo by Brian Davidson/Getty Images

Let’s get this out of the way first thing.

The signing of Tyler Chatwood by the Cubs this past offseason has been nothing short of a disaster. It’s even worse than the Cubs’ signing of Edwin Jackson before the 2013 season, a signing that Theo Epstein later admitted was a mistake, especially because right at this very moment, the Cubs would be better off with the 2018 version of Jackson than they are with Chatwood. (And seriously, how on Earth did that happen? E-Jax has made eight good-to-excellent starts for the Athletics, four years after he had what’s probably the worst season ever for a Cubs starting pitcher.)

They are, however, stuck with Chatwood for the foreseeable future. There are two full years left on the contract, and there’s no way Theo & Co. eat two years of this deal. If Chatwood is this bad in 2019, maybe the 2020 money is eaten and they release him, but not now.

So what’s the way to make the best of this? The bullpen hasn’t been the answer, as he’s been pretty bad in his relief outings, including Wednesday night in Kansas City.

In the Tribune, Mark Gonzales has this suggestion:

Until 25-man rosters can be expanded on Sept. 1, Chatwood will be stuck pitching in low-leverage situations like his role in the final two innings of Wednesday’s loss. Chatwood continued to struggle, and the Cubs cannot send him to the minors without his consent.

So when reinforcements from the disabled list and Triple-A Iowa arrive, this would be a perfect time for a member of the coaching staff or the player development department to work exclusively with Chatwood.

Well... sure, I suppose, but I’d have to think that someone has already been doing this with Chatwood. And who would that be? It’s not like pitching coach Jim Hickey can drop everything and work solely with Chatwood.

And what I really don’t understand about Chatwood is this: He had a well-established walk rate while with the Rockies, about 4.1 per nine innings, though it was 4.7 last year. That’s over a period of 103 appearances (88 starts) and 505⅔ innings. That’s not a small sample size.

But as a Cub, that rate has nearly doubled, to 8.2 per nine innings. Chatwood doesn’t have enough innings to qualify, but if he did, that would lead the major leagues... by a lot. By more than three walks per nine innings — the only MLB pitcher even closer as a qualifier is Lucas Giolito, at 5.1.

Here is Chatwood striking out Jonathan Villar, then with the Brewers, on April 5, 2017 at Miller Park:

Here’s Chatwood striking out Tommy Pham on April 17 at Wrigley Field:

And here he is striking out Edwin Encarnacion on April 24 in Cleveland:

Do you see anything different in the motion in 2018 compared to 2017? There are a lot of moving parts in Chatwood’s motion, but there doesn’t seem to be any huge difference between last year and this year. So how is “exclusive” work going to fix it? I’m obviously no expert, but you’d think if the Cubs coaching staff hasn’t figured it out by now, a few more weeks isn’t going to do it, either.

So what to do?

Don’t even think about the minor leagues. Modern baseball doesn’t work that way. Yes, Chatwood would have to be waived (no one would claim that contract) in order to be sent to Iowa, but what’s the point? To have him pitch in Triple-A games? Issuing walks is something that’s pretty much the same in the big leagues and the minor leagues. It wouldn’t help.

What I can’t understand is the team’s apparent unwillingness to put Chatwood on the disabled list. Every major-league pitcher has some sort of “arm fatigue” or “shoulder inflammation” at this time of year, just from ordinary pitching. There are 22 days left in August, and sure, it’s fine if Chatwood pitches the last couple of innings of a game the Cubs aren’t likely to win, as was the case Wednesday night against the Royals.

But otherwise, I don’t think anyone wants to see him in a game, not fans, not the media, not the coaching staff. That means many days the Cubs are playing with a 24-man roster.

That’s what I’d do. Have him examined, I’m sure a team doctor could find some sort of inflammation that would be worth shutting him down and placing him on the disabled list. Then he can be activated again September 1 and pitch in blowouts.

Hopefully, Chatwood’s issues are something that can be deconstructed and reconstructed during the offseason and spring training. But doing it this way during a pennant race doesn’t seem a useful use of a roster spot.

Whatever they do, I suspect the Cubs will have to do it soon.

Poll

What should the Cubs do with Tyler Chatwood?

This poll is closed

  • 4%
    Nothing. Just leave him be
    (51 votes)
  • 11%
    Have someone from the staff work "exclusively" with him, as suggested in the Tribune
    (116 votes)
  • 17%
    Get him to agree to go to Iowa until September 1
    (181 votes)
  • 61%
    Put him on the disabled list until September 1
    (647 votes)
  • 4%
    Something else (leave in comments)
    (50 votes)
1045 votes total Vote Now