jason hammel featureBy at least two metrics, the 2014 Chicago Cubs starting rotation was one of the best in MLB. The FIP (3.61) and total WAR (14.3) of Cub starters ranked 7th and 6th, respectively, overall. Despite Edwin Jackson’s and Travis Wood’s struggles, the Cubs were able to produce a top ten rotation, thanks largely to career years from Jeff Samardzija, Jason Hammel and Jake Arrieta, as well as the strong debut of Kyle Hendricks.

However, 2015 is a different season.

Jeff Samardzija is on the south side, Jason Hammel’s numbers dove after he was traded, Jake Arrieta has only had one excellent year so far, and Kyle Hendricks has barely surpassed his rookie status. At first blush, it looks like the Cubs should expect to regress quite a bit in 2015.

However, by exploring the Fangraphs Depth Charts, we can see some reason for optimism. The 2015 Chicago Cubs’ starting rotation is ranked 7th best in MLB by WAR – just about where they finished last year.

With a starting five of Jon Lester, Arrieta, Hammel, Hendricks and Wood (plus their depth), the Cubs don’t even project to reach their 13.1 WAR total on the wings of any unlikely performances. Among the nominal five starters, the depth charts project the lowest ERA (3.23) to come from Lester and the highest (4.27) to come from Wood. Point being, these projections (like most) are relatively conservative, in my opinion, which make them all the more possible for the Cubs to reach.

The Cubs aren’t the only hot hands in the NL, though. Six of the top ten starting rotations are from the National League (as you might expect), and the Cardinals are one of them – 3rd overall, trailing only the Dodgers and Nationals. The Cubs do fair a bit better than the rest of the NL Central, though: the Pirates are 13th, the Brewers are 19th, and Reds are 23rd.

Projections are not to be counted on for the exact numbers that they produce, but they can be very helpful when predicting the relative value of given teams or players. In this instance, I am very encouraged to see the projected, relative value of the Cubs starting rotation in 2015 – especially compared to the rest of the NL Central.

There is a lot of talk about the offensive powerhouse the Cubs are expected to become in short order, but they’ve already had several strong years of pitching, especially from their starters. With the looming Free Agent class of 2016 loaded with high-end pitching talent, we may be talking about the Cubs’ hurlers for a long time, before their young sluggers steal the show.

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