This week, MLB Tweeted out the following graphic, and it caught my eye for obvious reasons:
— MLB (@MLB) March 25, 2018
According to MLB.com, the Cubs rotation – Jon Lester, Yu Darvish, Jose Quintana, Kyle Hendricks, and Tyler Chatwood (their order) – is the third best in all baseball, behind only the Astros and Indians, both of whom have really strong groups:
Astros: Justin Verlander, Dallas Keuchel, Lance McCullers Jr., Gerrit Cole, Charlie Morton.
Indians: Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, Trevor Bauer, Josh Tomlin, Mike Clevinger.
But if you ask me, there’s actually a lot less risk in the Cubs group – which is just so deep. Indeed, that’s partly why their ranking was so high: “Darvish’s arrival comes in addition to what the Cubs could get out of a full year of Quintana (whose stats improved across the board working with Willson Contreras last year) and a nice upside play in the No. 5 spot, where Chatwood should benefit from fleeing Coors Field. Mike Montgomery remains a valuable swingman here when the Cubs inevitably need a sixth starting arm.”
That’s really the thing about the Cubs rotation (as we’ll explore more deeply in a second) – they may not have a “Clayton Kershaw” or “Corey Kluber” type, but their top four starters are probably better than any top four in baseball, their No. 5 has got to have the most upside among fifth starters, and I’m confident that no one has a more versatile, sure-fire sixth starter than Mike Montgomery.
But in the end, having the top rotation in the National League is nothing to sneeze at, even if two other staffs rank ahead of them. But that wasn’t the only ranking of the day.
While MLB attacked the process subjectively, FanGraphs released their positional power rankings of every starting rotation in baseball, and those objective/projection-based rankings also have the Cubs high up on the list, just one spot lower than they did at MLB.com:
- Houston Astros
- Cleveland Indians
- Los Angeles Dodgers
- Chicago Cubs
- New York Mets
- Washington Nationals
- New York Yankees
- Boston Red Sox
- Arizona Diamondbacks
- St. Louis Cardinals
Although the Dodgers leapfrogged the Cubs in these rankings, I don’t think anyone would argue that Dodgers’ rotation is the better bet. Why? Well, the Dodgers have one guy projected for over 6.0 WAR (Kershaw, obviously), and then no one projected for more than 2.6 the rest of the way. The Cubs, by contrast, have two guys projected for over 4.0 WAR (Darvish, Quintana), another guy projected to get close (Jon Lester), and yet another just barely under the 3.0 WAR mark (Hendricks), in what sure seems like an uber-low projection. On top of that, the Cubs rotation has a fair amount of youth, with each of Quintana, Hendricks, and Chatwood checking in at just 28-29 years old.
Moreover, I think you can make some arguments against the Astros (is Justin Verlander really going to lead that staff again at age 35, after a long postseason?) and Indians (will Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar actually be healthy? Is Trevor Bauer really that good?), but the numbers are what they are.
In any case, combining what we’ve learned from both lists, and my totally authoritative gut, I think it’s fair to say that the Cubs rotation this season is probably the best in the National League.