Over at the Athletic, Sahadev Sharma took an interesting look into the back of the Chicago Cubs’ rotation. So far, we’ve mostly assumed that the last two spots will be filled by Jason Hammel and Kyle Hendricks, but Sharma wonders if Adam Warren might challenge Hendricks for that last spot.
To be sure, Hendricks should have the inside track. He is just as young and under control as Adam Warren is, so, in that respect, starting one over the other shouldn’t really be a consideration. He’s been a part of the starting rotation for almost two seasons now, and has done quite well. In his first 260 big league innings, Hendricks has slashed 3.49/3.34/3.46 ERA/FIP/xFIP, with a better than expected strike out rate (20.1%) and an excellent walk rate (5.5%).
But, it’s not as though Warren lacks upside of his own. He has a fastball that sits comfortably around 93 MPH – compared to Hendricks’ fastball at 89 MPH – and the ZiPS projections absolutely love him as a starter. In Sharma’s article, you’ll even find promising quotes from Yankees GM Brian Cashman about Warren’s ability to successfully sequence hitters (set them up, to knock them down) and about his complete, well-rounded pitch mix.
According to Sharma, if the Cubs plug Warren into the rotation, they might look to utilize Hendricks’ remaining minor league options and send him to AAA Iowa to start the year out. Then, of course, he would be the sixth man to come up in case of emergency. But Sharma stumbles upon another angle/benefit to that idea. If Hendricks is sent to AAA Iowa, the Cubs can deliberately monitor/manage his usage, so that he can be fresh later in the season, presumably for the final stretch of the year and playoffs. Not only will that keep Hendricks fresh and effective (his sinker was down to 87 MPH at the end of last season), but it could also serve to rest the front of the rotation without sacrificing anything significant in the win column.
Still, keeping Hendricks in the rotation and Warren in the pen offers as many, if not more benefits of its own. By stashing Warren in the bullpen, you add another fantastic reliever to an already impressive group. Not only does Warren add value just by acting as a super utility pitcher, he is projected to be outstanding as a traditional reliever. Just for clarity, ZiPS projects roughly 78 innings pitched with a 2.64 ERA and 1.4 WAR for Warren as a reliever in 2016. Those are just silly numbers.
In my opinion, you start Hendricks and keep Warren in the pen.There will definitely be some injuries to the rotation at some point in 2016, in which case you could plug Warren in right away. Otherwise, I’d use Warren with relative frequency, because he is capable of throwing a number of multiple inning appearances. Then, if the need arises midway through the season, you can make a change by adding Warren to the rotation, or, you can wait until 2017, have him stretch back out, and fill in the fourth/fifth spot of the rotation, alongside Hendricks. Both are young, under control for a while, and offer significant upside.
So give Sharma’s article a read over at the Athletic (there’s so much more in there), and let me know what you think. Warren might yet be a fantastic starting pitcher for the Chicago Cubs, but for 2016, his best value might come out of the pen.