Tyler Chatwood has emerged as the best pitcher on the Colorado Rockies. Through 44.2 innings, Chatwood already has accumulated 1.4 WAR. Jorge de la Rosa and Jhoulys Chacin may rank ahead of him, but it’s only due to pitching more than twice the amount of innings. That’s pretty shocking considering Chatwood’s performance in the majors prior to 2013. In 206.2 innings, Chatwood had a career 4.96 ERA, and his 4.98 FIP and 7.76 xFIP didn’t leave a ton of argument for improvement. At the same time, Chatwood was promoted way too aggressively. Considering Chatwood converted to pitcher his senior year of high school, began his professional career the following season and was pitching in the majors at age-21. But two years later, that inexperience has become less of an issue. The raw Chatwood is starting to take steps toward becoming a finished product.
Without knowing Chatwood’s age, it would be easy to write him off. But since he was promoted so early, it seems as if he’s much older than 23. And given how young he is, it’s reasonable to expect some development from Chatwood. Chatwood was a second-round draft pick, and appeared on Baseball America’s 2011 Top 100 Prospects list, ranking 76, so it’s not as if he’s come out of nowhere. Chatwood has always had some promise, and it appears he’s starting to live up to some of those expectations.
The development of a slider is a major reason for his breakout. Chatwood barely used the pitch in 2011, but started to feature it during 2012. The results were mixed. The pitch had a 10.00% whiff rate, which isn’t awesome, but that was good enough to be his best offering. It’s taken a major step forward this year, garnering whiffs at an above-average 19.48% rate. It’s become Chatwood’s most effective pitch against right-handers.
He’s seen a similar improvement with his curveball, though to a much lower effect. Through his first two seasons, Chatwood’s curve rated as his worst pitch, with a -9.9 pitch value. It’s become more of a weapon in 2013. His whiff rate has jumped to 10.68%, which is passable, but a big improvement over where it had been in the past. His progress with the pitch is significant, since he’s relied on it more. His usage has jumped four percent against both right-handers and lefties. It’s become a fairly reliable weapon against all hitters. A big part of Chatwood’s improvement with the curve has been his ability to finally throw it for a strike.
That improved control is not exclusive to just Chatwood’s curve. He has also seen his four-seam fastball ball rate decrease from 50.00% to 34.68%. That has made a huge difference, and Chatwood’s four-seamer actually rates as his best pitch according to pitch values. Chatwood has clearly noticed, as he’s using the pitch more often. It’s become his primary offering for strikeouts against both righties and lefties as well. Chatwood’s new-found ability to throw both his curve and four-seam fastball for strikes has helped him post a career-low 8.2% walk rate.
For the first time in his major-league career, Chatwood is starting to show some upside. And given his age and lack of experience, it’s not unreasonable to think there’s still room for improvement. Even if he doesn’t take another step forward, Chatwod has already gone from replacement-level pitcher, to a potentially above-average starter this year. You can’t ask for much more from a 23-year-old pitcher.
Chris is a blogger for CBSSports.com. He has also contributed to Sports on Earth, the 2013 Hard Ball Times Baseball Annual, ESPN, FanGraphs and RotoGraphs. He tries to be funny on twitter @Chris_Cwik.