The Orioles starting pitching stinks, but they don’t seem too worried about it. The team-owned news outlet is saying that Alex Cobb will be too expensive, and the biggest newspaper in town is reporting that the Birds are keeping close tabs on their own upcoming free agents, Chris Tillman and Wade Miley. Who’s excited for 2018?
It’s basically unavoidable; the Orioles will have to sign at least one free agent pitcher. There simple aren’t enough quality internal options to reliably fill the three open rotation spots. But if it’s not gonna be one of the “big guys”, who will it be?
Searching high, but mostly low
Dan Duquette’s mind works in mysterious ways. It’s anyone’s guess as to who he will identify as a worthwhile investment. But one player he should monitor is Tyler Chatwood. MASN’s Steve Melewski discussed him in a post this week, and he’s a good candidate to expand upon.
Not to mention, his first name is Tyler, and that’s always cool. #teamTyler
The right hander spent 2017 with the Colorado Rockies and put together a solid, but unspectacular, season. In 33 games (25 starts), Chatwood had a 4.69 ERA, 107 ERA+, and 4.94 FIP, striking out 120 and walking 77 in 147.2 innings pitched.
A year earlier, the hurler was much better across the board; 27 games (all starts), 3.87 ERA, 125 ERA+, 4.32 FIP, 117 strikeouts, and 70 walks in 158 innings with a 3.6 WAR. All of this came after Chatwood underwent Tommy John surgery in July of 2014 that cost him the rest of that season and the entirety of 2015.
Chatwood turns just 28 years old in December, and he is making the case that he is fully recovered from his major injury. If anything, he may be stronger than ever. According to Brooks Baseball, he averaged 95.09 mph on his fastball this September, a big increase from the 93.80 mph fastball he featured a year prior and even harder than he was throwing pre-surgery. That doesn’t necessarily mean he would pass the Orioles vaunted physical, but it’s a good sign.
Coors Field, Chatwood’s home park since 2012, is a known pitcher’s nightmare. Due to Denver’s high altitude, baseballs fly out of that stadium. Predictably, he has struggled there to the tune of a 5.17 ERA in 53 games (44 starts) over his career. For what it’s worth, Chatwood is 1-0 with a 3.00 ERA in two games at Camden Yards in his career.
Of course, some consider Camden Yards a hitter’s haven as well, but it’s no Coors Field. On top of that, Chatwood is a ground ball pitcher, racking up a massive 58.1 ground ball percentage. That would translate well to the AL East, a division with Fenway Park, Rogers Centre and Yankee Stadium, three other bandboxes.
Further evidence suggests that it’s not the size of the ballpark that bothers Chatwood. He just really struggles at Coors. In 2017, his ERA was 6.01 at home compared to 3.49 on the road. That is a continuation of 2016, when he posted a 6.12 ERA in Denver and a 1.69 mark elsewhere.
It makes sense when looking at Chatwood’s pitching repertoire. As you may have guessed from his big ground ball number, the righty is a sinker baller. Of all of his pitches thrown, 39.44 percent were sinkers. The problem is that sinkers don’t sink as much, or as reliably, in Denver’s thin air, and when sinkers don’t sink, they get crushed. The sooner he can get out of Colorado, the better.
Just because Chatwood is not right at the top of a rather impressive free agent pitching class doesn’t mean he will be short of suitors; quite the contrary. Type his name into Google news and you are bombarded with other blogs and papers making the case that their preferred team of choice should sign Chatwood, including fellow O’s bloggers Camden Depot. He is a known commodity, and the Orioles will have to battle other clubs for his signature.
On top of that, at 28 years old, he has a couple extra years to his advantage when compared to the likes of Jake Arrieta (32 on Opening Day 2018), Yu Darvish (31), Lance Lynn (30) and Cobb (30). Despite his injury history, that could mean teams are willing to cough up an extra year in order to sign him.
Make no mistake, Chatwood would not be some cheap, one-year free agent signing. He has been a steady, major league pitcher for a few years now in an unforgiving home park. There is no reason to think he will be significantly cheaper than Cobb or Lynn. But the Orioles may be willing to spend more cash on Chatwood, or give him a longer deal, because he is younger and further removed from his injury than Lynn or Cobb.
Much has been said about the team’s concerns when it comes to signing free agent pitchers after the Ubaldo Jimenez disaster, but Jimenez was 30 years old at that point and well-known for his inconsistency. If we’re honest, the O’s were bargain shopping and thought they found a good deal. Turns out they were wrong. Chatwood’s track record certainly seems more stable.
However, Chatwood shouldn’t be viewed as a “workhorse” or an “innings eater”. He is neither. Over the last two seasons, he has thrown a total of 305.2 innings. He hit the disabled list once in 2017 and was pulled from the rotation at one point to work out of the bullpen. In 2016, he had two DL stints. Odds are, Chatwood will miss time with some minor injuries, and he is not an “ace”. But he could provide quality innings and serve as a solid number three in Baltimore’s rotation and would be a marked upgrade on Jimenez or Wade Miley.
So, how much will it take to get Chatwood to the Charm City? It’s hard to say. Last winter’s free agent pitchers provide little insight. Ivan Nova received three years and $26 million dollars as a 30-year-old last year, but Chatwood is better and younger than Nova. You have to expect he will get at least $10 million per season and it may take a four-year deal to nab him. The Orioles should start at four years and $40 million and see where they go from there. Signing a pitcher for his age-28 through age-31 seasons sounds like as safe a bet as you can find in baseball; too bad that’s not saying much.