Chicago Cubs: Odds and Ends: Chatwood in 2020, Give the starters a rest, Lindor and Javy up the middle?


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David Banks - USA Today Sports
David Banks - USA Today Sports

So much going on in my crowded little mind, but a couple of things piqued my interest this morning. As the trade season nears, the Cubs will undoubtedly be seeking lefty-relievers, but might they seek a position player or two as well? What about the starting rotation next year? The Cubs could find themselves short a pair of starters, and it’s just about time for them to at least start considering their game-plan for 2020.

Time is ticking, and the window for another championship with this core is starting to close. Sadly, it’s becoming evident that the Cubs’ 2019 team may not be strong enough to go all the way this year, but, as the saying goes, maybe next year.

Could Chatwood be a starter again in 2020?

I’ve said for a while now, that Tyler Chatwood seemed to be in an excellent position to return to the mound as a starter in 2020. That was an educated guess, but now, according to ESPN, “Reports are projecting Tyler Chatwood as a starting pitcher in 2020.”

The Cubs face losing both Cole Hamels and Jose Quintana next season to free agency, although Quintana has a $10.5M team option. Hamels will be 36, but he’s been an asset, while Q’s only going to be turning 31, but has been sporadic in his outings. The likelihood of the Cubs retaining both is nil, leaving a gap in the rotation for Chatwood, whose $38M contract expires after 2020.

Chatwood has been strong this year, despite giving up some runs in recent outings. His walk rate is down, his control has improved by a factor of ten, and his velocity remains good. I’m not blaming any guy who gives up homers at Coors Field (as Chatwood did last week), because pop-bunts in that place can fly out of the park.

Chatty was signed by the Cubs to be a starter, but horrific appearances in 2018 (too many to count) led him to be replaced by a spot-starter (Luke Farrell), then finally (permanently) by Cole Hamels. Chatwood would make a total of 20 starts for the Cubs in 2018, during which time the Cubs posted a winning record of 12-8.

Chatwood’s most significant issue last year was control. He walked an MLB worst 94 men last season, with 85 of those coming in his appearances as a starter (average of 4.25 walks per game). When he did put the ball over the plate, he was getting pelted, giving up 83 hits (4.15 per game) in those same 20 starts, in addition to all of the walks. By the time Chatwood has finished his duties as a starter, his ERA had climbed to 4.93, and his WHIP stood at 1.780.

Chatty kept busy this winter, trying to improve, then Tommy Hottovy worked with him extensively during the spring. The result? In my opinion, a much-improved pitcher who demonstrates about 10x better control. Chatwood has now made 17 appearances this season (16 in relief, one as a starter), and overall, the results have been good.

The stats may cloud your opinion, as Chatwood’s given up 30 hits and 21 walks in 35.0 innings this year, making his WHIP 1.457, but his ability to pitch out of those jams has been incredible. Chatwood’s ERA currently stands at 3.60, which ranks third best among both the Cubs’ starters and relievers.

Filling in for an injured Jon Lester, Chatwood earned a spot-start on April 21, as the Cubs hosted Arizona. Chatwood pitched 6.0 scoreless innings that day, giving up just two hits and two walks while striking out three. Inducing a pair of double-play groundballs, Chatwood and the Cubs were able to erase two of the four baserunners that Chatwood allowed.

I think the Cubs should give him one of the (possibly) two open spots next year and let him have a shot at redeeming himself for 2018. He’s already bought and paid for, and he has a year left. The Cubs are rich in righties in the bullpen, and they’re wasting quality starts by leaving Chatwood imprisoned there.

Does Maddon need to rest his starters?

Joe Maddon needs to have a few of the struggling starters skip a start, in hopes that an added day off might help to give them a reset. While Kyle Hendricks and Cole Hamels have been the workhorses, Jon Lester, Yu Darvish, and Jose Quintana seem to continue to struggle.

In conjunction with the bullet above, why not give Chatwood a few spot-starts (one for each of the three struggling starters)? If Maddon were to start Chatwood for Darvish, then two weeks later start him for Lester, followed by a start for Quintana, each of the three would gain an extra day’s rest before the All-Star break, which may help them pitch more effectively for the second-half. The spot-starts would have to come in two-week increments (unless the Cubs had an off-day in there somewhere) as Chatwood would need at least five days between starts.

Doing so would also prime Chatwood for both emergency spot-starts and the possibility that he could be a starter next season. Rather than to bank on him to be effective next year, start him a few times this season to check his consistency. If he fails, the Cubs would now that they may need to be seeking a pair of starters for next year, rather than focusing on the need for one.

Kendall Graveman is supposed to return for 2020 (following Tommy John surgery that sidelined him for this season), but there are no guarantees that he’ll pitch well. Better than the Cubs put themselves in a position to be proactive, rather than reactive, as reactive is what caused the ruffles in last year’s season.

Baez and Lindor up the middle?

If you think watching Javier Baez is fun, pay attention to Francisco Lindor sometime. Lindor is slashing .303/.368/.533 this season, but for some reason, MLB Trade Rumors is reporting that he may be up for trade this year.

Following his 40-game suspension. Addison Russell has come back relatively strong, but questions linger about whether the Cubs will keep him beyond this year. He has gotten a lot fewer starts than I had expected him to get after returning this year, leading me to believe that there’s at least some indication that the Cubs may be showcasing him so that other teams can get a look.

Both Russell and Lindor are controllable through the end of the 2021 season, they’re the same age (25), with Lindor being about three months older. Granted, Lindor is currently making about 3x what Russell is-- $10.85M vs. $3.4M for Russell—but bear in mind that Russell’s issues off the field caused him to have to settle for a lesser amount of money.

The biggest difference between the two is that Francisco Lindor has been consistently good (both offensively and defensively), while Russell has struggled at the plate and has continued to see his error rate rise while playing defense. Lindor’s worst offensive year (2017) produced a slash-line of .273/.337/.505, while Russell’s best year (also 2017) saw him slash .239/.304/.418. Defensively, Russell has committed a total of 48 errors in 1663 chances (2.89% error rate), while Lindor has committed 50 errors in 2440 chances over the same period, for an error rate of 2.05%.

If Lindor were to become a Cub, Baez would have to be moved back to second base, with Lindor becoming the regular shortstop. That would make for an insanely powerful and insanely talented middle infield, that would undoubtedly produce at the plate, as well. Oh, by the way… Russell currently has a WAR of 0.6, with a career WAR of 12.5; Lindor’s 2019 WAR is 2.2, with his career WAR standing at 26.0.

I’m not suggesting that Cubs will actively seek this a deal to acquire Lindo, but man that would be a doozy!

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