The never-ending goal of finding pitching is necessarily a work in progress, whether it is on the amateur, minor league, or Major League level.
And while the Chicago Cubs’ organization might be lacking at some levels (help is on the way) the short-term looks good, with two of the top 10 pitchers in baseball, according CBS Sports’ latest rankings of the starting pitchers they’d most want for the 2017 season.
The Chicago Cubs used different avenues to acquire Jon Lester and Jake Arrieta, who round out the rankings at ninth and tenth, respectively, which is a reminder that top arms can come in a variety of ways.
Lester enters Year 3 of his six-year, $155 million megadeal, coming off a season in which he set career bests in earned run average (2.44) and WHIP (1.016), while tying a career best winning 19 games. The peripherals and advanced statistics show Lester performed well, too. He set career bests in ERA+ (164), H/9 (0.68), opponents batting average (.209), and win probability added (4.99), while also being the beneficiary of a career-best 84.9 percent strand rate and .256 opponents BABIP.
The southpaw also had career best seasons from his two most reliable pitches. According to FanGraphs’ PITCHf/x pitch values, Lester’s fastball (22.4 runs saved) and cutter (15.1) were among the best in the league and of his career.
Arrieta followed his 2015 Cy Young campaign with an 18-win season highlighted by a no-hitter. His 6.3 H/9 wasn’t a career best, but led the league for the second straight season – and his 1.084 WHIP, .194 opponents batting average were among the league’s best in 2016. Unfortunately, Arrieta’s control issues (which had been a bugaboo prior to landing in Chicago) reappeared in 2016 with an inflated walk rate (9.6 BB%) and a league-leading 16 wild pitches.
As you well know, Arrieta will be a free agent after the season. And while he says he is welcome to a return to the Cubs, the Scott Boras client is expected to cash in on this remarkable three-year run with a major payday.
Even still, having two of baseball’s 10 best pitchers is a good foundation for the 2017 season. Buster Olney’s rankings earlier this offseason had Lester and Arrieta in basically the same spot as the CBS rankings.
But where is Kyle Hendricks?
Left-handers David Price (Red Sox) and Jose Quintana (White Sox) also received votes, as did Cardinals righty Carlos Martinez. But Hendricks didn’t, thus, making him a notable omission to the list. And it’s not as if he couldn’t make a strong case for inclusion.
Hendricks pitched a career-high 190 innings (plus 25.1 more in the playoffs) and led all of baseball in ERA (2.13) and ERA+ (1.88). He also owned a slew of sparking statistics including a .205 opponents batting average, 0.98 WHIP, 3.86 K/BB, and a 25.4% soft hit rate that highlighted what made him one of baseball’s toughest pitchers to square up in 2016.
(For what it’s worth, when MLB.com did its own rankings earlier this offseason, it was Hendricks – and not Lester or Arrieta – who was the Cubs’ sole representative on the top ten. So, it’s not as if he’s getting no love at all.)
Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw tops the CBS list, which is littered with names you’d expect, such as 2016 Cy Young winners Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer, as well as potential Cy Young candidates Noah Syndergaard and Chris Sale. And it’s worth noting the Cubs and San Francisco Giants are the only teams with two pitchers in this top-10 list. Meaning 40 percent of this list is comprised of pitchers who made starts in the NLDS.
In the end, having two to three top-10 pitchers – no matter their age or contract situation – is a good place to be.