Forgive me, for I am about to take a plunge so damning and ludicrous that the editorial staff of RotoExperts.com personally called and asked about my mental state.
If ever there was a time that the nickname Chris Mitchell gave me three years ago ever held merit, the following words will confirm it. At this point, you’ll want to sit down, breathe easy and promise not to throw this waiver wire column back at me if all goes horribly wrong. (Right now, it’s 2:56 p.m. Central time on Thursday, May 5. I’m going to walk outside and ponder my words).
At 2:59 p.m. CDT, I’m saying invest in Rockies pitcher Tyler Chatwood, and I mean all in.
You see, Chatwood is hurling the ball as if he has forgotten the shame and stigma which comes from being a pitcher on a franchise which has had only two starters record a single-season ERA under 3.00 in its 24 years of existence (Marvin Freeman’s 2.80 ERA in 1994 and Ubaldo Jimenez’s 2.88 in 2010). Granted it’s only May 5, and yes, we are playing with a sample size of six starts. Yet Chatwood, owned in 20 percent of polled mixed leagues, has shown early signs of defying the odds and pitching a path toward joining Freeman and Jimenez in what is truly rarified air.
Chatwood lowered his ERA to 2.15 after blanking the Padres (which, for the most part this season, hasn’t been too daunting a task) on Wednesday, handcuffing their bats to three hits while fanning seven over eight innings. That gem comes off the heels of 6.1 innings of shutout work Chatwood put in at the Diamondbacks on April 29. Now let’s get something clear: no one is suggesting Orel Hershiser’s 59-inning scoreless streak is in danger from Chatwood, nor I am stating Chatwood will sit at the table with the Kershaws and Arrietas of the world. What is being stated is the kid can pitch and deserves a look for those of you still believing Shelby Miller is a start away from turning it around.
What ignited Chatwood’s strong start? Embracing the BFF every pitcher longs to connect with on a daily basis: control.
In Facebook terms, “it’s complicated” would be the best way to describe the relationship Chatwood has had when it comes to steadily dating the strike zone. The one-time second-round pick of the Angels has sported a BB/9 rate of 3.91 prior to this season, including rates of 11.2 percent, 8.6 percent and 7.9 percent in his three previous stints with the Rockies. That, plus a declining strikeout rate (and the obvious) made Chatwood a toxic option in even the deepest of leagues along with most NL-only leagues when draft/auction season began.
Yet Chatwood has found the zone with surprising consistency. Much of it has to do with weaning off his fastball, which he has used just under 69 percent of the time thus far compared to the 82 percent rate he relied on his heater in 2014. Instead of letting his low-to-mid 90s heat become the focal point for extended batting practice, Chatwood has rediscovered his changeup along with unveiling a cutter that, while used just five percent of the time, has given him a five-pitch arsenal to keep hitters off-balance.
The Tommy John Surgery Chatwood had in July 2014 has helped reset a career that seemed to be on its way toward him being yet another promising arm that eventually becomes a journeyman with flashes of brilliance. While it can be debated that Chatwood may be experiencing such a stretch, I’m going against the grain and suggest that owners should run with Chatwood for as long as possible. A start or three? A potential All-Star invite? Votes for NL Cy Young? Who the hell knows where this stretch ends, but it’s one worth benefiting off of.
Yes, why, yes, the Coors Field factor comes into play. Sure, Chatwood is one bad outing away from being as insignificant a pitcher many of us believed he was six weeks ago. You can’t ignore the 7.20 ERA, the 2.00 WHIP and the fact his .378 batting average against makes opponents look like the second coming of Jimmie Foxx. His next home start comes against the Diamondbacks this Monday, which will be an intriguing outlier as to whether the madness I’ve convinced myself of writing is a stroke of brilliance or if, at the end of the day, Chatwood is what he is: just another damn Rockies pitcher.
Look, not all of you enjoy running the risk of one pitcher holding a match dangerously close to an open gas container that is your staff’s ERA and WHIP, so let’s take a gander at some players who can help an early May quandary or two:
*Rajai Davis, OF, Indians: As brutally-challenging the search for saves can be, finding steals at this point of the season is as daunting as one of the elaborate traps Jigsaw used to create seven “Saw” movies. The 35-year-old Davis can still swipe bags, as his seven in 22 games is nearly half of the 18 stolen bases he recorded in 112 games last season. As disjointed as the Indians’ offense has been this season, expect Davis, owned in 12 percent of polled mixed leagues, to continue seeing his name in the starting lineup, where he should be moderate source for runs scored depending on where the Tribe places him in the order. His isolated power numbers are about the same as last season, which means Davis is good for the occasional homer. I see him as a good deeper league option, but if your league has liberal daily transactions, plugging him when need be should net good results.
*Danny Santana, SS/OF, Twins: Having seen his playing increase since Byron Buxton was sent down to the minors, Santana has entrenched himself as the Twinkies’ leadoff hitter and has thrived for the most part, having recorded multi-hit games in three of his last eight outings. Like Davis, Santana offers a cheap source of speed, as he had five steals entering Thursday’s play. We keep waiting in hopes the Santana of 2014 who hit .319-7-70 and 20 steals makes a triumphant return, but that 1.9 percent walk rate could pull down his production altogether. Still, the Twins have no immediate plans to bring up Buxton, which means Santana, owned in six percent of polled mixed leagues, could be a pleasant surprise if he ever curved his giddiness and showed just a modicum of discipline.
*Jayson Werth, OF, Nationals: The bat isn’t as dominant as it once was, but after batting .211 in April, Hairy-Faced McThunder Bat has shown signs of coming around with a .533 slugging percentage and an .846 OPS early in the very merry month of May. He’s owned in 17 percent of polled mixed leagues as a result of his improved numbers. I can’t see Werth repeating his .221 batting average from last season and strongly feel he can hit 20-25 homers if he’s healthy. There’s some buy-low potential here, even in standard leagues, where his power would be welcome.
*Colby Lewis, P, Rangers: When combined with his home park, Lewis’ propensity to allow homers makes him a risky play, yet his numbers have held up thus far. He’s given up eight freebies to fans in 38 innings, and he could see that rise significantly as the weather warms up. Lewis is owned in 12 percent of mixed polled leagues, and if you accept the fact he’s an innings eater who can help your win and WHIP categories, the thought of adding him to your roster becomes easier to accept. There’s also a slight increase in his strikeout totals, which should also make Lewis at least worth a look in deeper leagues.
*Rubby De La Rosa, P, Diamondbacks: I’ve always been a fan of De La Rosa’s arm, and I still get a sense there’s a breakout coming from him in the next couple of seasons. Overlook the 4.60 ERA for a moment and look at the fact he’s whiffing nearly 10 batters per nine innings and has taken his K-BB margin to 17.1 percent compared to last season’s 10.1. De La Rosa is owned in 14 percent of leagues and is showing strong indicators (including a .226 batting average against) that the breakout I just mentioned could be on the verge of happening sooner rather than later.
*Nate Smith, P, Angels: A late add following the news of Garrett Richards’ potential TJS, Smith is the Angels’ third-rated prospect and stands to be in play for a call-up in the immediate future. He’s 2-1 with a 3.79 ERA in six starts at Triple-A Salt Lake City and is striking out nearly a batter per inning (31 in 35.2 frames). Smith falls into the solid yet unspectacular type, yet shows some intrigue for his WHIP and strikeouts. Keep his name in mind, because he’s going to get a look at some point if the Angels don’t call him up as Richards’ replacement.