Last season, the Cubs had arguably the best starting rotation in all of baseball. Kyle Hendricks and Jon Lester were in contention for the NL Cy Young and also had the two lowest ERA’s in the entire league. With Jake Arrieta just behind them at 13th overall (who also threw his 2nd career no-hitter), the Cubs rotation was not to be taken lightly. While ERA isn’t everything, it’s a solid indicator of how effective a pitcher is while he is on the mound and fairly reliable for comparison amongst starting pitchers.
In 2017, the Cubs rotation has looked like an entirely different group, even though only one face has changed in newly acquired Brett Anderson as former Cubs pitcher Jason Hammel signed with Kansas City. Even with the same four starters leading the way for the rotation that pitched the Cubs to their first World Series championship in 108 years, some are starting to question whether the group is good enough to make a second run.
Last year, the bullpen was the question mark. While a piece or two still may be added to the bullpen this season, it has been more reliable than the starting rotation. Because the rotation was a large reason the Cubs made their title run in the first place, their performance has been somewhat unsettling for for fans so far in 2017.
Are they doomed? Probably not. But, it’s an issue that needs to be discussed. Let’s break down the starting rotation’s numbers:
- Jon Lester: 2.66 ERA / 1.27 WHIP / 21:7 K:BB
- Jake Arrieta: 3.65 ERA / 1.01 WHIP / 29:5 K:BB
- John Lackey: 4.88 ERA / 1.29 WHIP / 26:8 K:BB
- Brett Anderson: 3.54 ERA / 1.57 WHIP / 14:11 K:BB
- Kyle Hendricks: 6.19 ERA / 1.38 WHIP / 13:7 K:BB
While the Cubs have managed to begin the season 11-8, it’s been largely due to the offensive support. The Cubs are 4-1 when trailing by 3 runs or more in the 7th inning or later this season, while the rest of the league has combined for 6 wins. Obviously this is due to great pitching out of the bullpen and clutch hitting across the lineup. The rotation should be thankful for being dug out of a hole for nearly half of the team’s wins.
Expect the starting five to settle into a groove eventually, but there’s a few things to keep an eye on.
Velocity: Jake Arrieta and Kyle Hendricks have experienced a velocity drop in a few of their outings this year. While the movement of Jake Arrieta’s 2-seam fastball may hide the drop until he fixes the problem, Kyle Hendricks cannot afford to lose much, if any, velocity to his fastball. Peaking out around 92 MPH, Kyle Hendricks is a ground ball pitcher and needs as much of that 92 MPH he can muster.
Control: Jon Lester is often an artist on the mound, but has struggled with his command so far this season. Opposing hitters are batting .267 against him and he currently has a 3:1 K:BB ratio, suggesting he is missing his spots. Yes, the sample size is small. But, Jon Lester isn’t getting any younger, and as pitchers age, location becomes more and more important as velocity drops.
The First 1/3: In the early goings, the Cubs have fallen behind nearly every game they’ve won and lost. If the Cubs are going to continue winning ball games, they must get off to better starts. The starting rotation has been hit early and often, something that the offense cannot continue to overcome all season long.
It’s not clear if the Cubs acquire another starting pitcher and move Brett Anderson to the bullpen, move RP Mike Montgomery to a part/full time role as the 6th man of the rotation, or grind out the rotation as it is now. However, continue to monitor the 3 issues listed above and be weary of how deep each starting pitcher lasts every outing
The season is young, the Cubs are reigning champs, but there’s always room for improvement. Let’s hope this Cubs team continues to grow.
Statistics found at www.mlb.com/stats