While Jason Hammel has had his struggles in the second half of the season and Kyle Hendricks has not found a level of consistency in his first full season in the majors, neither has been the weakest link in the Cubs’ starting rotation this season.
What might be the biggest, and possibly most frustrating, aspect about the back end of the rotation is that no arm really stepped up to take a firm hold on the fifth starter’s spot. It is a role that has featured six pitchers (three left-handers, three right-handers) combine to make 32 starts.
Of those 32 starts, those Cubs pitchers have provided only six quality starts. That’s not too appealing.
Here is a look at who has taken the ball for the Cubs in that spot:
- Travis Wood (9 starts): It looked like he would take the job and run with it after emerging from spring training with a firm grasp on the gig. The Cubs went 3-1 in Wood’s first four starts in which he tossed 23.2 innings, limited batters to a .216 average and .266 on-base percentage. Wood posted a 27.7 K% and 6.4 BB% in those starts. The wheels came off when the calendar turned as he saw his ERA jump from 3.04 to 5.59 after three May starts. Opponents slashed .322/.369/.678/1.047 in those three starts. His May struggles led to his bullpen stint where he has been much more efficient. Since moving to the pen, Wood has limited batters to a .223/.311/.302/.614 slash line while posting a 3.07 ERA/2.43 FIP/3.39 xFIP and a 31.1 K% (76 strikeouts in 58.2 innings) — though his 28 walks (11.5 BB%) serves as a reminder that moving to the bullpen didn’t completely fix Wood.
- Dan Haren (9 starts): It has been a bit of a disappointment for Haren since coming over from the Marlins on July 31. Haren has made nine starts, four of which have ended with him being unable to complete five innings. He has had only one quality start — albeit, an important one — throwing seven scoreless innings against the Cardinals at Busch Stadium on Labor Day. Opponents are hitting .286 and slugging .533 against Haren since coming to the Cubs. Even though the Cubs are 5-4 in Haren’s starts, the team is skipping his Friday start against the Pirates.
- Tsuyoshi Wada (7 starts): A shoulder injury derailed Wada’s chances at getting a a longer look, as he did not make his first start until May 20 in San Diego. The Cubs picked up a 3-2 road win, thanks in part to 4.2 serviceable innings from Wada, who struck out nine, only walked one and allowed two runs. Wada was OK in his next six starts. The Cubs went 4-2 in those games as Wada struck out 22 and walked 10 in 26.2 innings, posting a 3.71 ERA in the process. He only had one quality start in that span, pitching seven shutout innings on June 17 against the Indians. He also had three starts in which he didn’t make it out of the fourth inning. At AAA, Wada was an unimpressive 4-5 with a 3.95 ERA, 16.7 K% and 6.9 BB% in 86.2 innings over the course of 16 starts.
- Dallas Beeler (3 starts): The Cubs’ leash on Beeler was short. He pitched five innings (and allowed only two runs against the Cardinals in the nightcap of a doubleheader sweep on July 7) once, but completed only two innings in a start on July 22 and 1.1 innings in what turned out to be his last start on July 28. The totals for Beeler were ugly in 2015. He posted a 9.72 ERA/3.98 FIP/5.22 xFIP in 8.1 innings of work. He faced 46 batters in those three games, and they slashed .359/.457/.462/.918 with a .438 BABIP. Ouch.
- Clayton Richard (3 starts): The Cubs picked up Richard in a deal with the Pirates on July 3 and has been rather effective as a swing man. The team went 2-1 in Richard’s starts and they weren’t awful. He pitched 18 innings, posting a 1.05 WHIP and 4.00 K/BB, while limiting batters to a .239/.260/.380/.641 slash line. Richard’s overall numbers aren’t much to write home about, but he has posted a 58.9 percent groundball rate in 41 innings of work, which is 8.4 percentage points higher than his career average. Since moving to the bullpen full time on Aug. 12, Richard has a 3.60 ERA/2.89 FIP/2.91 xFIP to go along with 12 strikeouts, one walk and a lofty ground ball rate of 61.8 percent in 20 relief innings.
- Donn Roach (1 start): The line for Roach’s one start with the Cubs, which came June 27 against the Cardinals: 3.1 IP, 8 H, 4 ER, 1 BB, 1 K, 18 batters faced, 61 pitches. He also batted in the Cubs’ lone run in that game with a RBI single off Michael Wacha.
And then there are the arms who were possible fifth starters coming into the season, none of whom managed to grab a big league start:
- Carl Edwards Jr.: The pitcher formerly known as C.J. Edwards could have had a leg up in the competition among the Cubs’ pitching prospects, but pitched solely in relief in 2015. Rated as high as 28th by Baseball America prior to the 2014 season, Edwards had his highs (.145 BAA, .207 SLG, 31.8 K%) and lows (17.6 BB%) in 37 relief appearances (239 batters faced) at Triple-A Iowa in 2015. Edwards still could get a start in a bullpen day before the end of the regular season and could be a candidate for a back-of-the-rotation spot next season.
- Pierce Johnson: Among the most seasoned of the Cubs’ pitching prospects, Johnson went 6-2 with a 2.08 ERA and 1.14 WHIP in 16 starts for Double-A Tennessee. Johnson had some injury concerns coming out of spring training, which limited his time on the mound this season. Johnson didn’t make his season debut until June 11, didn’t make it into the seventh inning of a start until July 7, and didn’t throw 100 pitches in a start until Aug. 8. Still, Johnson was effective as batters on hit .223 and slugged .305 against him. He didn’t strike out too many (18.8 K%), though, and the 8.4 BB% could stand to come down. Johnson finished the year with good numbers, posting a 2.36 ERA in his final eight starts. He pitched a total of 53.1 innings during that stretch and faced 210 batters, who slashed .214/.273/.313/.585 against him. Johnson struck out 40 (19.0 K%), walked 14 (6.7 BB%) and completed seven innings in five of those eight starts.
- Jacob Turner: Unfortunately, things never came together for this prized former prospect. After fighting injuries in spring, Turner pitched a total of nine innings in two June starts for Double-A Tennessee. He allowed five hits, two walks and collected seven strikeouts in those games before being sidelined with what turned out to be a season-ending injury. Turner will only be 25 next season and has three arb years left before hitting free agency. So, there still could be time for him to figure it out.
- Eric Jokisch: The left-handed pitching Northwestern Product debuted on Sept. 7, 2014, but hasn’t made an appearance in The Show in 2015. Jokisch made 14 starts at Triple-A Iowa, posting a 5-4 record and 5.27 ERA in 70 innings, as he, too, dealt with injury issues. Jokisch’s peripherals were none-too-impressive either. He posted a 1.49 WHIP, 10.4 H/9, a 5.0 K/9, 3.0 BB/9 and 1.7 K/BB.
- Felix Doubront: A forgotten man in this mix, Doubront was cut in spring training. He latched on with the Blue Jays, where he went 1-1 with a 4.87 ERA in four starts. He ended up with the Athletics, where Oakland is 5-1 in his starts. Doubront’s numbers in those starts aren’t good by any standards, though, as he owns a 5.34 ERA, and 133 opposing batters have slashed .283/.354/.442/.796.
- Trevor Cahill is also probably worth an honorable mention here. While he isn’t currently a starter, Cahill has turned in some quality innings in relief. Since debuting with the Cubs on Sept. 2, he has pitched to a 1.46 ERA/2.74 FIP/2.28 xFIP, posted a 60.0 percent ground ball rate, 15 strikeouts, 3 walks and allowed two earned runs in 12.1 innings. He hasn’t been overly effective as a big league starter since posting a 2.6 fWAR for the 2012 Diamondbacks, but is only 27.