Starting Rotation and Bullpen Power Rankings – Hello, Cubs Again!

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Starting Rotation and Bullpen Power Rankings – Hello, Cubs Again!

Analysis and Commentary

jake arrieta vintage

FanGraphs is rolling on with its power rankings series, now addressing the pitchers from the rotation and the bullpen.

In case you forgot, these FanGraphs rankings project various performances by position, across every team in baseball, taking expected playing time into account.

Using the FanGraphs Depth Charts (a blend of the ZiPS and Steamer projections), the power rankings break down each position by playing time and calculated the overall production (using fWAR) from that spot on the diamond.

Previously, we’ve looked at FanGraphs’ positional power rankings for shortstop and third basecatcher, first base, and second base, and, most recently, the entire outfield.

So far, the Cubs have been very represented within these rankings, so let’s see if that holds true for their pitchers today.

At the top of the starting pitcher rankings, you’ll find the New York Mets and Los Angeles Dodgers tied with a projected 19.7 fWAR a piece. But, it’s only just behind those two juggernauts that we find the Chicago Cubs in third place, with a projected 18.5 WAR from the starters in 2016. The Nationals and the Indians come in just behind them, and this isn’t the first time someone’s pegged the Cubs rotation as one of the top five in baseball.

Led by Jake Arrieta (5.2 WAR) and Jon Lester (4.7 WAR), the Cubs have an excellent one-two punch, with a quality trio in John Lackey, Jason Hammel and Kyle Hendricks following just behind. Jeff Sullivan, who wrote the accompanying notes/comments on each rotation, is a huge fan of the Cubs’ starting five, and is confused by the talk of it being a “weakness” for the team. In addition to a quality 1-5 (full of aces, veterans and youth), Sullivan notes the Cubs excellent depth in the form of Adam Warren (and, more likely Trevor Cahill) is even above average. In fact, how about this: “At all five rotational slots, individually, the Cubs are ranked above average.” That is a very encouraging piece of information.

Moving on to the bullpens, the Cubs once again find themselves among the top ten in baseball. At eight overall, the Cubs are trailing the historically scary Yankees bullpen, as well as the Dodgers, Red Sox, Astros, White Sox, Orioles and Cardinals. But, like the Cubs outfield, I have a feeling that their bullpen may be greater than the sum of its parts.

Led by a back three of Hector Rondon (1.2 WAR), Pedro Strop (1.0 WAR) and Justin Grimm (0.8 WAR), the Cubs bullpen is projected to finish 2016 with a combined 3.6 WAR. Although that is still good for the top 10, 3.6 WAR feels quite low, and there seems to be a very obvious reason why.

According to Depth Charts, Trevor Cahill (55 IP), Travis Wood (45 IP ), Adam Warren (40 IP) and Clayton Richard (30 IP) are projected to finish far fewer innings out of the pen than just about anyone else would guess, given their particular skill set. And while I can see each of them getting a start here or there (which wouldn’t count towards their innings in the pen), I’d take the over on each of those projections, as long as everyone stays mostly healthy.

And, with those four super utility pitchers, the Cubs are entering unchartered territory in terms of expected innings pitched from the pen. Not only are these former starters capable of gearing it up in shorter bursts (improving their performance), but their overall innings pitched should be purposefully increased and allow them to add much more value (in terms of WAR) than your typical pen. (Of course, those innings have to come from somewhere, which could mean slightly reducing the rotation’s WAR.)

Craig Edwards agrees with that sentiment and states that, although the bullpen isn’t the strongest part of the Cubs organization, it is far from a weakness.

If the super utility pitchers play up to their abilities, it can quickly turn into a strength. If you recall, the Cubs were formerly identified as the fifth best bullpen in MLB, so this isn’t too far off from that pick. Instinctively, something in that 5 to 10 range for the Cubs feels about right.

So, now that we’ve covered all eight positions plus the rotation and the pen, let’s check back in on the overall rankings:

  • Catcher – Miguel Montero – 14th
  • First Base – Anthony Rizzo – 2nd
  • Second Base – Ben Zobrist – 4th
  • Shortstop – Addison Russell – 8th
  • Third Base – Kris Bryant – 3rd
  • Right Field – Jason Heyward – 4th
  • Center Field – Dexter Fowler – 17th
  • Left Field – Kyle Schwarber/Jorge Soler – 7th
  • Starting Rotation – Jake Arrieta, Jon Lester – 3rd
  • Bullpen – Hector Rondon, Pedro Strop, Justin Grimm – 8th

Not bad, Cubs. Now let’s play some freakin’ games.


Author: Michael Cerami

Michael Cerami is a Writer at Bleacher Nation, and you can find him on Twitter at @Michael_Cerami.