Going into the dead of winter where the changes come slowly (and sometimes suddenly) it’s interesting to look ahead at the upcoming season as things stand now. Both the Chicago Cubs and the St. Louis Cardinals have changes to deal with in their starting rotation, and this could affect the NL Central outcome for the year.
The Cardinals have the core of their pitching staff on paper. Adam Wainwright is back, and the latest rumors have Jaime Garcia recovered from shoulder surgery by Spring Training. Both of these players will have to be watched carefully, and it’s reasonable to expect that their recoveries will have some effect on their game.
The Cubs have added John Lackey, but will have to deal with questions that arose near the end of last season, particularly with starting right-hander Jason Hammel. There are options in the bullpen, and among new acquisitions, such as Adam Warren, to fill that last starting slot, should it prove necessary. And of course, there is no lack of rumors involving adding another arm prior to opening day.
Lining the starters up against one another, assuming good health, and a return to form for Hammel, and taking the liberty of lining both teams rotations up in order, we get the following:
Jake Arrieta is coming off a Cy Young season. His stats and WAR are off the charts, and considering that he picked up steam going into the second half of last season, it’s reasonable to assume he’s going to have a good year.
Adam Wainright won 20 games in 2014, but spent most of 2015 on the bench with an Achilles injury. He looked good in his postseason return, but time will tell if he’s ready to stand up to the once every five days grind.
Jake Arrieta: RHP W/L 22-6 ERA 1.77 WHIP .0865 236 SO WAR 8.7
Adam Wainwright: RHP W/L 2-1 ERA 1.61 WHIP 1.036 20 SO WAR 0.9
(2014 for Wainwright) W/L 20-7 ERA 2.38 WHIP 1.031 179 SO WAR 6.1
In the number-one spot, the Cubs have a slight to moderate advantage. The intangibles are how well Wainwright bounces back, and how much momentum Arrieta maintains coming out of 2015.
In the number two slot (and keep in mind, this is just a projected rotation, based on what we have seen, and know) it would seem that on paper, the scale tips slightly toward the Cardinals. Wacha has the better W/L record, but as we all know, that’s the number you don’t pay so much attention to a lot of the time. The WAR is nearly identical, the WHIP *is* identical, and the ERA is only off slightly. Overall, pretty evenly matched.
John Lackey: RHP W/L 13-10 ERA 2.77 WHIP 1.211 175 SO WAR 5.7
Carlos Martinez RHP W/L 14-7 ERA 3.01 WHIP 1.286 184 SO WAR 4.0
At the number three post, ex-Cardinal John Lackey has the edge on everything EXCEPT the W/L category. It’s conceivable Lackey could work into the number-two slot in Chicago, dependent on how things continue. The WAR for Lackey is telling, if you are a believer in that particular metric. If the change of venue suits him, Lackey could excel this season. Martinez is a steady performer who wins more than he loses. Again, reasonably close matchup.
This fourth slot would seem to be a clear win for St. Louis, but considering that it’s still questionable whether or not Garcia will be back for Spring Training, and absolutely uncertain how he will perform assuming he does make that recovery date, the disparity in stats might be harder to read. Adding into this the fact that most of Hammel’s quality starts and good numbers come from the first half of the 2015 season, prior to a leg injury he suffered diving for a ground ball, this one is pretty much a toss-up.
Hendricks wins this last spot fairly handily. Again, there is a slightly larger W/L percentage for Leake, but he moved from the Cincinnati Reds to the Giants, and his numbers suffered. He’s moving again to St. Louis, and there’s no way to tell how that will affect his pitching. He’s a steady, reliable starter, but the edge goes to Hendricks in this slot, just due to steady improvement, and the lack of a team change to deal with in the offseason.
It’s almost pointless to get into the stats on the bullpens, because the names and faces are subject to change, but both teams have strong closers in Trevor Rosenthal and Hector Rondon. Their numbers are included below, but those of the middle and long relievers are not. There’s time enough to consider those as the pieces fall more firmly into place over the next 104 days.
Trevor Rosenthal RHP W/L 2-4 ERA 2.10 SV 48 WHIP 1.267 83 SO WAR 2.7
Héctor Rondon RHP W/L 6-4 ERA 1.67 SV 30 WHIP 1.000 69 SO WAR 2.2
I think in this category, Rosenthal has a slight edge due to experience, but Rondon, like Kyle Hendricks and Jake Arietta, improved as 2015 continued. His numbers may also improve due to the powerful offensive lineup the 2016 Cubs will boast, and the improved starting rotation which should provide better and less explosive opportunities for saves. Also, despite the lower number of saves, Rondon wins the ERA and WHIP battle handily.
Overall, given a lack of any injuries, it seems that – at least in speculation- the current rotations of the two teams are very similar. The Cubs have a great cadre of relief pitchers, and other options for the starting rotation that will no doubt shift things one way or the other.