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Cubs' Tyler Chatwood 'getting back to being myself,' working through struggles

Pitcher’s fastball velocity up, control improved after major struggles in 2018

Cubs pitcher Tyler Chatwood works against the Colorado Rockies on June 11 in Denver.
Cubs pitcher Tyler Chatwood works against the Colorado Rockies on June 11 in Denver.

CHICAGO – Tyler Chatwood is throwing more fastballs, and that is by design.

The 29-year-old’s fastball velocity is the highest it has been in years at 95.9 mph, according to Statcast – more than 2 mph faster than last season. He also is throwing about 17% more fastballs than he did a year ago.

“It’s back to what it was in 2017,” Chatwood said of his velocity. “Last year, I was down. I wasn’t in the right spot to throw hard last year.”

Actually, it’s even 1 mph faster than it was in 2017. He’s throwing the hardest he has since Statcast data became available in 2016.

Yes, Chatwood struggled in his start Thursday, allowing six earned runs in five innings against the Atlanta Braves. Cubs fans are well aware that Chatwood led the major leagues last season with 95 walks in 1032/3 innings. He came to Chicago after signing a three-year, $38 million contract before 2018 and struggled to find any consistency as a starter.

Still, compared with a disastrous 2018 campaign, Chatwood has shown improvement in various metrics that indicate he is trending in the right direction.

One is his increase in velocity, which in turn makes his offspeed pitches more dangerous.

“I maybe don’t have to be as fine with [my offspeed],” Chatwood said. “If there’s a change in velocity, maybe I have a little more margin for error, for mistakes. It should make my breaking balls better and, vice versa, they should make my fastball better, too.”

Chatwood also is allowing fewer hard-hit balls than he did in 2018. According to Statcast, Chatwood’s “barrel” rate (percentage of balls hit with an exit velocity of 98 mph or more) of 3.1% ranks as the 16th best in the big leagues, putting him in the top 4% of pitchers. A year ago, his barrel rate was a pedestrian 6%.

The walks remain a concern.

Chatwood’s walk rate is down from 19.6% a year ago to 13.6%. Most pitchers would be thrilled with a 6% drop in walk rate, but with a rate so high above league average (8.6%), there still is a lot of room for improvement.

“[I’m] just getting back to being myself,” Chatwood said. “Last year, I made mechanical adjustments that I wasn’t used to. I was more trying to please people than just being myself. That’s kind of what I worked back through, getting back to what I do.”

Chatwood said a minor mechanical adjustment made a difference over the offseason.

“For the most part, it was just my hand leaving the glove,” Chatwood said. “Last year, for some reason, it was going toward third base, so I was never on top of the ball. This year, I just try to keep my arm moving as efficient as I can.”

The 6-foot, 185-pound right-hander has appeared in 19 games this season, starting three. Chatwood has been better out of the bullpen than when he starts, although only modestly so (4.80 ERA in starts; 4.34 ERA out of the bullpen).

The recent injury to Cubs starter Cole Hamels could present more opportunities for Chatwood and Adbert Alzolay, who started Monday at Pittsburgh.

“I feel good,” Chatwood said. “I’m worried about getting a guy out rather than what my mechanics are. I’m not worried about mechanics at all. So I think whenever you have that clarity of mind, you’re good to go.”

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