With Spring Training about a month away from starting in earnest, everyone around baseball is focusing squarely on the 2018 season. That doesn’t mean certain players aren’t still using their 2017 performance as motivation, though.
Whether last year was a strong one or a disappointing one on an individual basis, there are plenty of starting pitchers with plenty to prove once April rolls around. The following five hurlers are each at different stages of their respective careers, but they all have one thing in common — they should be taking the mound with a chip on their shoulder this year.
Tyler Chatwood, Chicago Cubs
Playing your home games at Coors Field usually isn’t fun if you’re a pitcher, and Tyler Chatwood felt the brunt of that during his tenure with the club. The right-hander has shown flashes of production over the years, but hasn’t been all that consistent.
That can be seen between his 2016 and 2017 seasons — after going 12-9 with a 3.87 ERA and career-high 2.0 fWAR in 158 frames, he came right back and struggled to an 8-15 record with a 4.69 ERA, a career-worst 12.2% walk rate and just 1.1 fWAR in 147.2 innings pitched.
But still, he was an intriguing free-agent commodity because of his work away from Coors Field — despite a 6.01 ERA and .381 wOBA allowed at home last year, those numbers dropped to 3.49 and .297, respectively, on the road. His hard-hit rate (32.4% to 25.8%) and soft-hit rate (19.7% to 24.4%) both improved away from Coors, but it’ll be hard to keep this production up if his .217 BABIP allowed gets worse (which it probably will).
The Cubs pounced earlier this winter by signing him to a three-year, $38 million deal to be part of their rotation. So, now is the time for him to get his control in check and show the consistency he’s lacked thus far as a big leaguer.
Matt Moore, Texas Rangers
Even with his injuries and subsequent struggles as a member of the Tampa Bay Rays, it wasn’t too long ago that southpaw Matt Moore was seen as a tremendous value when considering his contract and production. That’s part of the reason why the San Francisco Giants were willing to trade Matt Duffy away to acquire him during the 2016 season.
Like most things for the Giants in 2017, though, Moore’s year was a disaster. His 5.52 ERA through 174.1 innings was the worst among qualified pitchers, and his 4.86 SIERA didn’t paint much better of a picture for him. His 34.7% hard-hit rate allowed and 8.6% swinging-strike rate were both the worst single-season marks of his career, and while he did enjoy taking the mound at AT&T Park, he was downright horrendous everywhere else.
Moore posted a 4.21 ERA and .318 wOBA allowed by the Bay, but his 7.22 ERA and .396 wOBA allowed on the road were the worst marks among qualified starters in 2017.
Now, he’ll have to deal with pitching in the American League again after getting acquired by the Texas Rangers, along with playing home games at Globe Life Park, which was one of baseball’s most run-friendly environments last year. With free agency on the horizon next winter, it’s now or never if he wants to secure something more than a one-year deal.
Blake Snell, Tampa Bay Rays
The 4.53 SIERA aside (mostly thanks to a 12.7% walk rate), Blake Snell had an encouraging 2016 debut through 89 frames, posting a 24.4% strikeout rate with a 3.54 ERA and 1.9 fWAR. However, it took him 129.1 innings this past year just to reach that 1.9 fWAR once again. His SIERA (4.72) and ERA (4.04) both rose, while his walk remained a problem (10.8%) and his strikeout rate went down (21.1%).
What’s encouraging about his sophomore campaign, though, is how he turned things around following a horrendous first half. After limping to a 4.85 ERA and .341 wOBA allowed in 52 frames prior to the All-Star break, those numbers significantly improved to 3.49 and .282, respectively. His 23.7% strikeout rate resembled more of his 2016 production, while his 8.0% walk rate is the best control we’ve seen from him in the big leagues.
It also helps that he saw his line-drive rate (21.2% to 16.3%), ground-ball rate (40.4% to 46.4%) and hard-hit rate (36.5% to 30.2%) take noticeable steps forward.
With the Rays signaling toward another rebuild, Snell will be an important asset for them since he’s under team control through 2022. Which pitcher will they get in 2018: the first- or second-half version?
Dinelson Lamet, San Diego Padres
It was a fascinating rookie season for Dinelson Lamet in 2017. The most eye-popping part of the 25-year-old right-hander’s performance was his ability to miss bats — he posted a 28.7% strikeout rate to go along with an 11.8% swinging-strike rate across 114.1 frames.
That helped him put together a 4.03 SIERA, but his ERA settled in at 4.57 because he walked 11.1% of hitters faced while allowing 43.1% fly-ball rate and 35.3% hard-hit rate (which led to 1.42 homers allowed per nine innings). His last 73.1 innings (3.80 ERA, .287 wOBA allowed) were more productive than his first 43 (5.93 ERA, .334 wOBA allowed), but his strikeout rate (30.9% to 27.4%) and walk rate (8.4% to 12.7%) both got worse between these two periods of time.
San Diego has brought in some veteran arms this winter, but Lamet has firmly put himself on the Padres’ radar for the future. A solid 2018 performance with some improvement in key areas could go a long way in continuing to solidify his place in the rotation.
Jordan Montgomery, New York Yankees
When looking at a number of advanced metrics, Jordan Montgomery had himself one heck of a rookie year. He pitched to a 3.88 ERA and 4.34 SIERA in 155.1 innings of work, and among hurlers with at least 100 frames last season, he ranked among the top 20 in swinging-strike rate (12.2%) despite just a 22.2% strikeout rate, and among the top 10 in hard-hit rate allowed (26.5%).
He even performed better in the launching pad that is Yankee Stadium, posting a 3.43 ERA, .271 wOBA allowed and 0.77 homers per nine innings (those numbers were 4.38, .320 and 1.70 on the road).
Roster Resource currently has Montgomery slotted into the fifth spot of the Yankees’ rotation, but New York has been actively pursuing big-name starting pitchers (mostly Gerrit Cole before he was traded, and now potentially Yu Darvish). If no addition is made and the southpaw makes the Opening Day roster, he’s got plenty of motivation to prove he belongs.
About Matt Musico
Matt Musico currently manages Chin Music Baseball and contributes to The Sports Daily. His past work has been featured at FanDuel Insider, numberFire, Yahoo! Sports and Bleacher Report. He’s a lover of all baseball, especially the Mets.