That the Chicago Cubs targeted position players throughout the course of their multi-year rebuild was a secret to nobody.
Be it a pick in the draft, a trade for prospects, or some sort of international signing, the front office repeatedly reminded us (with their actions) that a core of position players was a priority.
It’s quite funny, then, to learn that their pitching staff has had the ninth best ERA during the five year stretch between 2012 and 2016 (the full length of the rebuild).
Indeed, by any number of measures, the Cubs have actually boasted a top three pitching staff in all of baseball in both of the past two seasons. In 2015, Jake Arrieta won the NL Cy Young award, and each of Jon Lester and Kyle Hendricks were finalists in 2016. Three Cy Young finalists in two years. It’s pretty amazing.
By that standard, then, it won’t be a surprise to learn that all three come in for mentions in Buster Olney’s recent ranking of the top starting pitchers in baseball. Check it out:
- Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles Dodgers
- Max Scherzer, Washington Nationals
- Madison Bumgarner, San Francisco Giants
- Chris Sale, Boston Red Sox
- Corey Kluber, Cleveland Indians
- Noah Syndergaard, New York Mets
- Justin Verlander, Detroit Tigers
- Jake Arrieta, Chicago Cubs
- Jon Lester, Chicago Cubs
- Johnny Cueto, San Francisco Giants
Honorable Mentions: Rick Porcello (Red Sox), David Price (Red Sox), Stephen Strasburg (Nationals), Aaron Sanchez (Blue Jays), Chris Archer (Rays), Kyle Hendricks (Cubs), Carlos Martinez (Cardinals), Masahiro Tanaka (Yankees).
With help from evaluators around the league, Olney compiled a ranking of the top ten starting pitchers in baseball, plus eight additional honorable mentions. Those are the results, and the relative positioning of everyone after Syndergaard, in my opinion, is fluid (including, to an extent, the honorable mentions). Of course, that means that the Cubs have three of the best 18 or so starters in all of baseball – Jake Arrieta, Jon Lester, and Kyle Hendricks.
The 2016 NL Cy Young award finalists were also the three NL leaders in WHIP:
Max Scherzer: 0.97
Kyle Hendricks: 0.98
Jon Lester: 1.02 pic.twitter.com/lpZhceVhx9
— Michael Cerami (@Michael_Cerami) January 3, 2017
If pressed, yes, I would put Jon Lester ahead of Jake Arrieta, but these three pitchers represent three sides of an elite coin, don’t they? Lester is the dependable type, Arrieta inarguably has the highest upside/best ability to dominate, and Hendricks is making things work exceptionally well, but in his own unique way. In that regard, it isn’t super easy to say who is definitively “better” than the others.
And what I didn’t share here – which might answer many of your questions, so far as you have them – is Olney’s remarks on each of the starting pitchers. Each blurb offers more in the way of context and explanation, so be sure to check out Olney’s article for more.
But Olney didn’t stop there (in reality, he’ll be running through all of the positions, but because there are so many more pitchers than any other position, landing your name on this list is a little more difficult). Following the starters, Olney also ranked the relievers. And what do you know, the Cubs land another name in the top five. Check it out:
- Zach Britton, Baltimore Orioles
- Andrew Miller, Cleveland Indians
- Kenley Jansen, Los Angeles Dodgers
- Aroldis Chapman, New York Yankees
- Wade Davis, Chicago Cubs
- Mark Melancon, San Francisco Giants
- Dellin Betances, New York Yankees
- Edwin Diaz, Seattle Mariners
- Seung Hwan Oh, St. Louis Cardinals
- Cody Allen, Cleveland Indians
Honorable Mentions: Craig Kimbrel (Red Sox), Jeurys Familia (Mets), Roberto Osuna (Blue Jays), Kelvin Herrera (Royals), Matt Bush (Rangers).
Not unlike the starters, I think there are certainly some arguments to be made this way or that (Olney is a bit higher on Mark Melancon than I am, even if I’d still have him included somewhere), but the overall rankings look about right – especially the top four. Even if you’d rearrange them individually, those top four are the clear top four in the game right now.
The Cubs’ entry, Wade Davis, ranks fifth overall behind those four, but don’t be misled. According to Olney, Davis would rank higher than fifth on this list if it weren’t for concerns about his elbow. Because beyond that, he is as good as anyone in the game. Think about that.
So with three of the best starters in the game, plus one of the game’s most dominant closers, the Chicago Cubs pitching corps figures to be very strong once again in 2017. They might even finish with a top three staff for the third consecutive season. We’ll see.
Just like the starters, Olney offers his thoughts on each of the relievers, so be sure to head over to ESPN and read the full article. It’s definitely worth it.
And also keep on eye out for the positional rankings, which are starting to trickle out today. I’m guessing the Cubs definitely have a finalists at first base, second base, third base, shortstop, and maybe even some honorable mentions in the outfield and behind the plate.
It’s good to be on top.