Tyler Chatwood pitches for the Rookie-A Tempe Angels in July 2008.
I’ve always been a bit of a skeptic about Tyler Chatwood.
He has talent. No quarrel there.
But he’s never made a FutureAngels.com Top 10 Prospects list since he was selected in the second round of the June 2008 draft and signed shortly thereafter.
Baseball America ranked Chatwood among Angels top prospects at #11 in the spring of 2009, #14 in 2010, and #2 in 2011 behind Mike Trout.
I’ve always had two concerns with Chat.
One has to do with his height. Tyler is listed at 6’0″. There’s a perception among both baseball professionals and some sabermetricians that the best starting pitchers are tall and lanky.
Personally, that doesn’t concern me much, as I’ve always believed that if Chatwood pitched effectively then “size matters not,” to quote Yoda.
My main concern was with Tyler’s high walk rate.
Take for example the game depicted in the above photo. July 22, 2008. The Tempe Angels hosted the Peoria Padres. It was about a month after Chatwood signed. In four innings, he struck out five, walked four, and gave up four runs on three hits.
It’s foolish to judge a player by one game, but that performance has always stuck in my mind because it was somewhat typical of what happens when Tyler loses his control.
From behind home plate, I could see that killer 12-6 curve. The problem was he struggled to throw it accurately.
A high walk rate has plagued Chatwood throughout his career.
In his first three minor league seasons, he averaged 7.6 strikeouts and 4.8 walks per 9 innings. Promoted to Double-A Arkansas for the second half of 2010, in 12 starts he averaged only 3.6 walks per 9 IP but his strikeout rate also dropped to 4.7. I was told that he was being very efficient, getting a lot of groundball outs early in counts.
I knew that, internally, the Angels this last winter were very high on Chatwood, and there were whispers he was on the fast track to the big leagues even though he just turned 21 last December.
He began 2011 with Triple-A Salt Lake. With Joel Piniero injured and Scott Kazmir ineffective, Tyler found himself in the big leagues for his debut on April 11.
After six starts, he’s walked more than he’s struck out — 4.9 strikeouts and 5.6 walks per 9 IP. Yet he’s survived. His ERA is 4.08. He’s getting his groundouts, having thrown eight double-plays in 35 1/3 innings.
I keep wondering how long his luck will hold out, yet last night against the 21-9 Cleveland Indians he went eight innings, allowing one run on two hits, striking out five while walking five. He threw 111 pitches, about 13.9 per inning, and pitching coaches like to see a pitcher average 10-15 pitches per inning. He may be walking a lot, but he makes up for it elsewhere.
How long can his luck hold out before the walks catch up with him?
Or the more optimistic question would be, how long before the walk rate tails off and Chatwood establishes himself as a reliable major league pitcher?
The Angels sent Matt Palmer to Salt Lake in late May, so clearly management has decided that Chatwood is in the majors until further notice.
Even with the high walk rate, Tyler is really making me wish I’d included him on that Top 10 list last November.