An interesting angle at The Athletic from Eno Sarris, who takes a very under-the-hood approach to evaluating MLB starting pitchers.
In essence, Sarris blends advanced metrics on pitchers’ command, proprietary evaluations from Driveline on pitchers’ stuff, and the demonstrated results that go into next-year projections, in order to evaluate pitchers for fantasy purposes. Command, stuff, and demonstrated results. From there, he ranks the top 175 starting pitchers in baseball:
My top 175 starting pitchers https://t.co/VM9mhHeL9P
— Eno Sarris (@enosarris) February 3, 2020
Now, obviously fantasy baseball is its own animal as it relates to player value in the real world, but the methodology Sarris uses to rank the pitchers is pretty interesting to me regardless of your specific ends.
So, it’s a little collar-tugging to see the Cubs’ five starters listed …
31. Yu Darvish
40. Kyle Hendricks
87. Jose Quintana
124. Jon Lester
175. Adbert Alzolay
To be sure, if the Cubs wound up getting performances in those ranges in 2020, the rotation would be solidly below average. Probably not horrible if everyone was healthy, but you can do the quick math on if every pitcher was evenly distributed throughout the league, then Darvish rates as right at the bottom for a number one, Hendricks a decent two, Quintana a bottom three, Lester a bottom four, and Alzolay a well below-average five.
To be sure, you need more than five starting pitchers to get through a season, so having five in the top 175 isn’t quite as bad as it might sound by the straight math, but what matters here are the under-the-hood signals.
I’d take the over on Darvish and Hendricks, but I’ll admit that the concerns after that are not new, and didn’t just arrive because of this list. There are reasons to think Quintana was better than his results last year, but he’s working through velocity decline. Lester is a horse who is fine in the back half of the rotation, but he’s getting long in the tooth and comes with the risk of severe fall-off and/or injury. Alzolay, who might not actually be the fifth starter, obviously has extremely high variance. You could swap in Tyler Chatwood, and again, high variance.
The Cubs’ on-paper rotation is scary. That’s just the reality. It could prove to be fine or even above-average, and some of the depth arms could prove to be better than number fives. But it’s crazy to think about how ugly things could get this year for the rotation after failing to add a sure-fire starter this offseason, and still being a little ways out from actually developing some of those guys internally.
Gonna have to stay healthy. And gonna have to get a whole lot of happy surprises from the bullpen. And gonna have to score a lot of runs.