Buster Olney has been ranking the top ten players at every position around the league for a few weeks now, and we’ve, in turn, been checking in on those rankings – most recently: the top left fielders.
In short order, we’ve learned that MLB evaluators (as shared by Olney) consider at least one Cub at every position (besides center field and right field (for now)) one of the top ten at his spot. Seriously.
Some positions (like second base) even carried more than one Cub.
The top ten starting pitcher rankings, for a better example, showed that the Cubs likely have two of the top ten starters in all of baseball (Jon Lester and Jake Arrieta), as well as another guy, Kyle Hendricks, just outside that bunch. Given that fact, it should be no surprise to learn that the Cubs rotation as a whole ranks pretty well among the other rotations in baseball.
According to Buster Olney and the evaluators he’s collaborated with, the Chicago Cubs’ current starting rotation – Jon Lester, Jake Arrieta, Kyle Hendricks, John Lackey, and Mike Montgomery – is the very best in MLB. Here’s how the rest of the rankings shook out:
- Chicago Cubs
- Boston Red Sox
- New York Mets
- Cleveland Indians
- Toronto Blue Jays
- San Francisco Giants
- Washington Nationals
- Los Angeles Dodgers
- Detroit Tigers
- Seattle Mariners
Honorable Mentions: St. Louis Cardinals, Tampa Bay Rays.
That the Cubs’ group was able to edge out the Boston Red Sox led by a trio of annual Cy Young candidates and former winners (Rick Porcello, David Price, and Chris Sale), as well as the New York Mets group of fireballers (Noah Syndergaard, Jacob deGrom, Matt Harvey, Steven Matz) is no small feat.
But it is a product of certain values.
According to Olney, teams have become increasingly risk-averse in a stat-heavy world, and having the best raw talent is no longer the mark of a great rotation: “Pitcher for pitcher, they [The Mets] probably have more pure talent in their rotation than any other team … ‘But they need to actually get out there and do it ….'” The Cubs, apparently, have stayed durable (and productive) enough to qualify for the top spot.
As Olney writes, Lester has pitched 190+ innings for nearly a decade, Lackey has topped the 175 IP milestone for eleven years, Arrieta approached 500 innings from 2015-2016 and Kyle Hendricks is one start short of 70 in his first two full seasons. They are, first and foremost, a durable group. Of course, they’ve also been a really successful group.
Consider over the past two seasons, alone, Jake Arrieta, Jon Lester, and Kyle Hendricks have combined for three NL Cy Young finalists spots, one winner (Arrieta), and the two ERA leaders from 2016 (Hendricks and Lester). Their historically good defense has certainly contributed to that success, particularly the low ERAs, but that is still a long list of accomplishments.
As a whole, their rotation over the past two seasons has been worth a combined 36.3 fWAR (most in the Majors). They also led in ERA, FIP, WHIP, and batting average against were second in strikeout rate, fifth in walk rate and third in innings pitched.
That’s really something.
The Red Sox, the Mets, and, to an extent, the Indians have just as much (if not more) firepower at the top, but the consistent excellency from the Cubs staff as a whole is unbeatable. Thus, they are the best rotation in baseball.
[Brett: I think the Cubs’ group should absolutely be in this conversation, and obviously they’ve been tremendously successful the last two years. That said, things are awfully tight up there at the top. Consider that the 8th ranked Dodgers project for 15 WAR in their starting five (ZiPS); the Cubs project for 16. The Nationals, ranked 7th, actually project for 19 WAR in the rotation. The Red Sox project for 20. None of that is to say that the ranking is wrong, because the projections are only one tool in the toolbelt here. Instead, the point is only that the Cubs are among a handful of teams in MLB with really, really strong on-paper rotations. It’s cool to get the plaudit at the top of this list, though.]