Although it hasn’t been officially announced by the teams yet, it’s coming: Cole Hamels, a starting pitcher, will be joining the Chicago Cubs, who have a full five-man rotation. (UPDATE: It’s official.)
So, then, among the many things to discuss about Hamels is … how exactly does he fit into the rotation?
Well, to dispense with the obvious: even though Hamels is being picked up as a depth/upside/bounceback guy, he is absolutely and unquestionably assured of a rotation spot for the foreseeable future. He’s a veteran starter who is having a down year in the results department, but whom the Cubs clearly want to give chance to pitch in a competitive environment, in a new home ballpark, in front of a better defense, in a DH-less league, etc. There are reasons to believe Hamels can be a solid starter again with the Cubs.
If everyone else in the rotation is healthy, then, what happens?
Well, if the Cubs are determined to stick with a five-man rotation, that means either Tyler Chatwood or Mike Montgomery are bounced. Chatwood makes more sense from a performance standpoint (it is nearly impossible to justify giving him another start right now, let alone another 10). Montgomery makes more sense from a bullpen need standpoint (he’s been very successful there before, and lefty Brian Duensing has been ineffective all year).
Montgomery, to me, has earned the right to stay in the rotation, and also gives the Cubs a better chance to win when he starts than Chatwood. But I understand that Montgomery is getting up in innings, and you don’t want to see him wear down at the end of the year because his leap in innings from 2017 (130.2) to this year was too dramatic.
I question how comfortable the Cubs would be moving Chatwood to the bullpen at this point, given his extreme wildness. He’d go from starting pitcher to pure mop-up man, and is that really worth a bullpen spot? (Which, of course, highlights how crazy it is that he’s getting *starts* right now.)
If there isn’t a phantom injury, I tend to think the best move for the Cubs is a six-man rotation for a stretch. It keeps everyone starting, but gives everyone extra rest (which could allow them to go a little deeper into games, and, in turn, could sharpen up the bullpen). The risk is that the starters all keep going five innings, and then you have either a shorter bullpen to cover the same number of innings, or you have to go with an absurd three-man bench so that you can keep eight in the bullpen.
Of all the options, though, I think I’m willing to take that risk for a little while.
Generally speaking and in the aggregate, through the history of baseball, guys pitch better on extra rest. It’s just a thing. Maybe they don’t like it, maybe they have to adjust routines, but it’s a statistical reality.
Joe Maddon didn’t sound opposed to a six-man rotation this week when discussing what he’d do if the Cubs added another starting pitcher (Sun-Times): I’m not opposed to six [starters] this time of the year. The quality of the guy coming in would matter, also.”
Again, although he’s struggled this year, Hamels is a former ace, a veteran who still has his velocity and stuff, and a “name” who undoubtedly commands some respect in the clubhouse. There won’t be any issues with the Cubs and Maddon saying, “Here’s what we’re doing now because we have this guy.”
If everyone is healthy, my vote is six-man rotation for now. From there, these things tend to sort themselves out quickly anyway.