Today’s Chicago Cubs starting pitcher is Adam Warren, who was sent to AAA Iowa a couple weeks ago to stretch out for this very day.
At Iowa, Warren threw 8.2 innings over two starts, allowing four earned runs on four walks and six hits, striking out six. And now he’ll swing into the starting rotation at the big league level, something that was envisioned for him back when the Cubs acquired the 28-year-old righty in a December trade for Starlin Castro.
Since then, though, things haven’t quite gone as hoped.
Warren is two years removed from being an integral part of a successful Yankees bullpen, and it was just last year that he successfully performed in 43 appearances (17 starts) as a swingman for the 2015 team that participated in the AL Wild Card game.
Recent history suggests better days are ahead for Warren, who struggled in May and June with the Cubs after an encouraging April. Warren faced 29 batters in eight innings of work in the season’s opening month. He struck out nine (31.0 K%), walked three (10.7 BB%) and induced a 58.8 percent ground ball rate en route to posting a 2.01 FIP and 3.04 xFIP while allowing no earned runs.
Since then, Warren has fallen on hard times. In the 17.2 innings that followed, Warren faced 82 batters and walked more (11) than he has struck out (nine), while watching his ground ball rate dip to 42.6 percent. It all adds up to a 6.62 ERA/6.92 FIP/6.33 xFIP.
Despite his struggles, Warren’s changeup has been particularly good. Using FanGraphs’ PITCHf/x pitch value, Warren has the third most effective changeup (4.2 runs saved) among MLB relievers, trailing only A.J. Schugel of the Pirates (5.2) and teammate Trevor Cahill (6.1). On a per-100 pitch basis, Warren’s changeup still grades out on the positive side (4.39) but trails leader and changeup specialist Francisco Rodriguez (23.72) by a wide margin.
For as good as Warren’s change has been, his other pitches have been equally as bad. On a per 100-pitch basis, Warren has negative marks for his two-seam fastball (-2.66), slider (-1.25) and cutter (-1.26).
Over at The Athletic, Sahadev Sharma wrote about what was ailing Warren after his strong start. Among the highlights, Sharma noted the effectiveness of Warren’s changeup in getting groundballs, but the eyebrow-raising decline in whiffs against that pitch – especially with two strikes. That has led to Warren going with his four-seamer more often, which has led to some rather dreadful results.
According to BrooksBaseball.net, opponents have hit .308 and slugged .500 against the 130 four-seamers Warren has thrown since May 1. Further complicating matters is opponents hitting 1.000 on the 12 sinkers they have seen during this stretch. All the while, the changeup has been good. Warren has limited opponents to a .074 average against that offering in 2016, including a .105 mark on the 68 he has thrown since the start of May.
So now Warren joins the Cubs’ rotation to help give a breather to the other starters in the middle of a long, 24-game stretch without a scheduled day off until the All-Star break. Warren recently told the Des Moines Register that Theo Epstein, Jed Hoyer, Joe Maddon and Chris Bosio outlined a plan for his time in Iowa and eventual return to Chicago.
Perhaps working on his pitches in a starter’s role will give Warren a better feel for his stuff moving forward. At this stage of the season, it would be especially useful to know how Warren might be able to help the Cubs in the second half as a starter or a reliever, what with the trade deadline coming in less than a month.
After today’s start, it’s up on the air what will happen with Warren and the rotation. It’s possible he’ll get another start after the All-Star break, he could move back into the bullpen, or he could head back to AAA Iowa.
Brett Taylor contributed to this post.