2016 Cubs Postseason Heroes, Part II: The Rotation

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2016 Cubs Postseason Heroes, Part II: The Rotation

Chicago Cubs

jon lester cubs featureThe Chicago Cubs are STILL your 2016 World Series Champions and nothing can ever change that! Woo.

But before the offseason wheels start churning once again, I decided to take one final (three-part) statistical look back at the Cubs’ performance this October and November.

This is the second of that three-part series, in which I’m going separate the Cubs into three buckets – the hitters, the starters, and the relievers – and examine everyone’s performance from a high-level perspective throughout the postseason.

You can find the first part of the series (the hitters) here.

In our first piece, we discovered that some of the biggest contributions came from relatively unexpected sources; maybe the same discovery will happen today. Of course, there are far fewer starting pitchers to address overall, but I’ll bet at least some of the statistics surprise you. Let’s get right into it with the 2016 Cubs Post Season Heroes, Part II: The Rotation.

Like they did during the regular season, the Chicago Cubs postseason rotation was relatively static. All in all, they rostered just four different starters and each made their scheduled starts as expected. For the NLDS, NLCS, and World Series, those names were as follows (alphabetical):

Jake Arrieta
Kyle Hendricks
John Lackey
Jon Lester

Together, those four starters accounted for 123 of the 162 starts in the 2016 season. Jason Hammel, the odd man out of the playoff rotation, and Mike Montgomery, the in-season 6th starter, accounted for another 34 starts and a smattering of other pitchers checked in for one a piece. Those four, however, were the ones who carried the biggest load in the regular season, which is why they did so in the offseason as well.

Like last time, I’m going to use some of the more traditional/counting statistics that directly led to Cubs’ victories, because 1) the small sample of the postseason and 2) the fact that were looking back on their performances not tying to project them going forward.

Let’s start by simply examining how many innings each pitcher threw.

Most IP in 2016 Postseason:

1. Jon Lester: 35.2 IP

2. Kyle Hendricks: 25.1 IP

3. Jake Arrieta: 22.1 IP

4. John Lackey: 13.0 IP

So there are no surprises here, as John Lackey made just three starts and Jake Arrieta made just four. Hendricks and Lester each made five starts a piece, but Lester had the longer leash and pitched three innings in relief of Hendricks in Game 7. But now that that’s out of the way, let’s move onto some of the more interesting statistics.

Like, say, the least amount of damage given up.

OPS Allowed in 2016 Postseason:

1. Jon Lester: .560

2. Kyle Hendricks: .562

3. Jake Arrieta: .645

4. John Lackey: .756

Ah, well, that’s excellent. The starters that had the most appearances also allowed the least amount of damage during their time. Lester did allow the most hits plus walks overall (33), but the same pattern/relative order as the number of IP followed: Hendricks (26), Arrieta (24), Lackey (20).

That said, the front three of the rotation, regardless of how many appearances they made, really held up their end of the bargain. Each had an OPS under .650 which is absolutely excellent (postseason, regular season, or otherwise). The Cubs phenomenal defense surely played a part in that, but that’s nothing to be ashamed of.

Even though all five of the Cubs starters from this season proved to be effective by allowing weak contact and limiting hard contact on balls in play, we know that racking up strikeouts and limiting walks can be extremely important. So let’s head that way next, to see who kept matters in his own hands the best.

Walk Rate in 2016 Postseason:

1. Jon Lester: 4.4%

2. Kyle Hendricks: 7.0%

3. Jake Arrieta: 7.6%

4. John Lackey: 10.3%

There is once again no change in the relative order of performance from top to bottom. That said, I think the biggest victory here is not Jon Lester’s brilliant 4.4% walk rate, but rather Jake Arrieta’s 7.6%.

During the regular season, Arrieta struggled with his command to the point of periodic ineffectiveness. In fact, his regular season walk rate (9.6%) was the highest it ever was with the Cubs. But, when the Cubs needed him to be at his very best (and thus most controlled), Arrieta tightened up and limited the free passes. As far as under the radar stories of the postseason go, that’s atop the list.

But walks are only half of that equation, aren’t they? Erasing damage and getting out of jams frequently requires a strong ability to induce strikeouts, as well. And it’s here, where the order finally switches up.

Strikeout Rate in 2016 Postseason:

1. Jake Arrieta 27.2%

2. Jon Lester: 22.1%

3. John Lackey: 20.7%

4. Kyle Hendricks: 19.0%

Despite their success in the postseason, Cubs starting pitchers (with the exception of Arrieta) were not especially good at recording strikeouts. In fact, Hendricks posted a strikeout rate nearly four percentage points lower than what he did in the regular season. And again, Arrieta was able to utilize his nastiness to get big outs when he needed them.

But now that we know how many innings each pitcher tossed, how much damage they allowed, and their individual contributions for strikeouts and walks, let’s head over to a more run-oriented stat.

ERA in 2016 Postseason:

1. Kyle Hendricks: 1.42 ERA

2. Jon Lester: 2.02 ERA

3. Jake Arrieta: 3.63 ERA

4. John Lackey: 4.85 ERA

It’s here where we see the whole picture come together quite a bit more clearly. Although he didn’t lead in OPS allowed, was last in strikeout rate, and was well behind the leader in walk rate, Kyle Hendricks did what he did all season, and that’s get outs by way of contact.

And, don’t forget, he also erased three baserunners with pickoffs (none of the other starters had any). In fact, if there’s one actually unexpected lesson to be learned from the 2016 postseason, it might be that Hendricks’ pickoff move is actually pretty devastating.

So what’s the takeaway from the Cubs starters in the postseason? Well, it’s hard to say. Kyle Hendricks pitched the Cubs into the World Series and started Game 7, adding three pickoffs and the lowest ERA throughout. Jake Arrieta came up at his best when the Cubs needed him most. John Lackey didn’t quite pitch as well as he did during the regular season, but was undoubtedly useful in keeping the Cubs close enough to win and keeping the other arms fresh …

… but I don’t think you can take anything away from the NLCS co-MVP Jon Lester. He made two starts and a relief appearance in the World Series, while keeping his ERA around 2, and allowing the least amount of damage while carrying most of the responsibility. The Cubs couldn’t have done it without any of these pitchers, but Lester had – by far – the biggest impact.

If Ben Zobrist didn’t have an unbelievable World Series (capped off by a lead-taking hit in the top of the 10th of Game 7), I think Lester would have been right in line to win the World Series MVP. He was that good.

And, remember: if you want to get Cubs championship swag to celebrate what these players accomplished, head over to Fanatics and check out the huge selection of official Cubs gear. You’re supporting BN in the process, so thanks!

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Author: Michael Cerami

Michael Cerami covers the Chicago Cubs, Bears, and Bulls at Bleacher Nation. You can find him on Twitter @Michael_Cerami