The Chicago Cubs sure seemed like they added a pair of strong reinforcements to their rotation in free agency this offseason.
Yu Darvish had long been considered one of the game’s most exciting pitchers, a true strikeout artist with strong velocity and an extensive collection of secondary pitches. Meanwhile, if you adjusted his numbers to reflect the fact that he pitched at Coors Field, Tyler Chatwood seemed like he could be a strong under-the-radar signing.
For a grand total of $164 million, the two pitchers would call Wrigley Field home for the next several years. And so far, the Cubs have received stressful starts, an ungodly amount of walks and an anxious player on the disabled list.
It’s important to note it’s still only June and both players have time to turn things around, but right now, here’s just what kind of risk the Cubs are facing.
Tyler Chatwood’s historic amount of walks
Here’s the good news about Tyler Chatwood: he allowed just one earned run in 4.2 innings against the Phillies and improved his ERA to an above-average 3.86. The bad news: He still seems to have absolutely no idea where the ball is going.
Through 58 innings this season, Chatwood has issued 56 walks. It’s a simply breathtaking amount of walks. How Chatwood has managed to be even close to average when it comes to run prevention likely comes down to a strong ground ball rate (54.2 percent, per Fangraphs) and sheer luck. But it probably isn’t sustainable, due to a lack of ability to go deep into games and an ugly 5.00 FIP.
Chatwood was never a control specialist, holding a 4.3 BB/9 in two seasons with the Rockies after returning from Tommy John in 2016, but he was never this level of wild as an MLB pitcher. If he can’t start regularly throwing that sinker for strikes, he’ll continue with the ignominious sort of history you can see below.
5+ Walks in a game
Mark Buerhle: 6 times in 493 career starts
Bob Gibson: 7 times in 482 career starts
Max Scherzer: 8 times in 309 career starts
— Mike Garrigan (@MikeGarrigan23) June 7, 2018
highest walk rates in baseball history (minimum 10 starts):
1. Dick Weik, 23.0% (1949)
2. Bill Parsons, 22.3% (1973)
3. John D'Acquisto, 22.0% (1977)
4. Ken Wright, 22.0% (1973)
5. Tommy Byrne, 21.7% (1951)
6. Bobby Witt, 20.8% (1987)
7. Tyler Chatwood, 20.7% (2018)
— Jeff Sullivan (@based_ball) June 7, 2018
Yu Darvish on pace for career-worst season
The run prevention numbers haven’t been so good to Darvish, who currently holds a 4.95 ERA and was previously reported to be worried that Cubs fans hate him. Darvish is currently on the disabled list with right triceps tendinitis and could be back soon, but he’ll have plenty to work on.
While the strikeouts are still there for Darvish, he is walking batters at a career-high pace (though not as high a rate as Chatwood), he’s allowing homers at a career-high pace and he’s averaging only five innings per start.
As a reminder, it’s still June and either of those player could re-find what worked for him in the past. It’s happened countless times throughout baseball history. Justin Verlander once ran a 4.54 ERA through an entire season as a 31-year-old and is now looking like the best pitcher in baseball again. But right now, Darvish is an under-performing pitcher about to turn 32, has had injury issues in the past and is under contract through the 2023 season. Things could get ugly.
Where do the Cubs go from here?
Despite all of this, the Cubs are still in a good place. Their win on Thursday moved them 35-24, just a half-game back from the NL Central-leading Brewers. They have three more veteran pitchers in Jon Lester, Jose Quintana and Kyle Hendricks, as well as one of baseball’s best lineups and a bullpen that ranks third in MLB in ERA. The Cubs are built to absorb one or two underperformers.
But as the team looks ahead and hopes to lure Bryce Harper to Chicago, its ideal future includes Yu Darvish pitching like a near-ace and Tyler Chatwood supplying back-end rotation depth. Things could still break right, but neither player is on a trajectory toward that future right now.
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