A few weeks ago, the 2016 Steamer Projections identified the Chicago Cubs starting rotation as the best in baseball. With a combined 17.4 WAR projected for 2016, the combination of Jake Arrieta, Jon Lester, John Lackey, Jason Hammel and Kyle Hendricks came out on top of the Mets, Nationals Indians and Dodgers (as well as, of course, everybody else).
By the numbers, the Cubs are projected to be on top, but we know that baseball can’t be entirely evaluated by the numbers. Which is why it’s equally nice to see that in Part I of the annual team unit rankings, Buster Olney (ESPN) ranked the Cubs starting rotation as the fourth best in baseball – behind only the Mets, Indians and Cardinals, and just ahead of the Giants, Dodgers, Pirates, and Nationals.
So, then, by this evaluation, the Cubs don’t have quite the best rotation in baseball, but they’re pretty darn close. Ranking the Cubs behind the Mets and then Indians actually sounds about right, and isn’t much of an insult when you consider how deep and talented both rotations are.
The projected rotation for the Cardinals – Adam Wainwright, Michael Wacha, Jaime Garcia, Mike Leake, Carlos Martinez – is full of holes and question marks. Wainwright, 34, is coming off of a season where he threw only 28 innings thanks to an achilles injury. Wacha still hasn’t thrown 200 innings and was a great deal worse in the second half (4.01/4.93 ERA/FIP) than the first half (2.93/3.13 ERA/FIP). Jaime Garcia is a good pitcher, when he’s healthy, but he’s thrown only 350 innings in the past four seasons combined. Mike Leake, the Cardinals’ biggest offseason addition, is steady, but uninspiring. And Carlos Martinez ended the season on the disabled list with a shoulder strain.
I understand the potential, but rotations already come with so much risk. This one is loaded with it.
But hey, the Cubs’ rotation is still ranked in the top five. Combined with the statistical projections, this is very nice to hear. The Cubs have a strong, healthy top of the rotation in Jake Arrieta and Jon Lester, two consistent and workhorse veterans in John Lackey and Jason Hammel, and one young, perhaps underrated pitcher in Kyle Hendricks who finished with 3.4 WAR and a 3.25 xFIP in 2015.
And I suspect the increased use of super utility pitchers (the Cubs could have four of the best in Travis Wood, Trevor Cahill, Clayton Richard, and Adam Warren) could elevate the back end of the rotation’s numbers significantly. Pitching through the order for third time with less frequency will undoubtedly help out Hendricks and Hammel, in particular, and the Cubs have the ideal pen to do it.
One last thing to notice about the list is the distribution of teams. Eight of the top ten rotations according to evaluators are from the National League and three are from the NL Central. The Cubs have a booming, exciting offense, but the pitching they’ll face is getting better, too. Be prepared for that and expect challenges along the way.
For a full write-up on each rotation and more context around the list, check out the Baseball Insider article by Buster Olney here. Most of the Cubs’ hype for 2016 surrounds the offense, but the pitching could be equally strong.