Going into spring training, it appears that the Chicago Cubs project their rotation to be Jake Arrieta, Jon Lester, John Lackey, Jason Hammel and Kyle Hendricks. If Hammel can pull back to early 2015 form and Hendricks can beat his projections by just a bit, this might well be how the season starts. Of course, it also might not.
Several other pitchers already on the roster have shown interest in that final slot, and there is always the chance of another arm being added before things really get underway in 2016, but I’m going out on a limb and predicting that Adam Warren is going to find his way into the rotation. It might be through injury, or someone slumping, but my guess is that, come Opening Day, he’ll be one of the five. Here’s why.
Warren is a disciplined five-pitch guy. He has both two- and four-seam fastballs in the 94 mph range. He has a slider that is actually more of a cutter which has previously hung in around 86 mph. He’s been working on this pitch, which is right around average for a right-handed slider, and has increased both depth and movement. Coming into 2016 this slider could become more of a weapon that it is currently. Warren also has a plus changeup that is separated from his fastball by nearly 9 mph — a good differential. His curve is rated at only average, but the ground ball rate he induces with both his changeup and his curve are elite level.
This is a guy with only 20 MLB starts to his name. He pitched well out of the bullpen for the Yankees, but he also started for them the first part of the season and put up respectable numbers. The 17 starts he made last season were by far a career-high total. Warren made 69 relief appearances in 2014 with a 2.97 ERA.
Eno Sarris over at Fangraphs did a comparison article prior to the 2015 season, breaking down Warren’s pitches, and making some very interesting comparisons. The changeup is Warren’s best pitch, and it compares favorably in pitch-to-whiff ratio with that of Michael Wacha. He is projected to have a WAR of 3.1-3.6 depending on what system you choose. Compare that to Hammel at 1.7 and Hendricks at 1.8 and you’ll see where I’m heading here. Even Jon Lester is only projected at 3.1.
Favorable comparisons have been made to Zack Greinke, and that’s something to think about. Other analysts have suggested that the progression and career track, along with the success thus far, is very reminiscent of Cy Young winner Jake Arrieta. I believe that Warren is due for a breakout year, and I also believe sticking him in the bullpen, unless it’s with the notion of adding him to the rotation down the line, or keeping him for depth, would be a mistake. The former fourth-round pick clearly has the makings of a quality starter, and with a bit more movement on his slider/cutter and slightly more drop on his sinker, could be elite. I think he is the sleeper in the rotation, and hope to be proven correct when the pitchers and catchers report later this month. Remember, Arrieta was a good pitcher, and then matured and was suddenly great. With that same sort of work ethic, Warren could follow suit.
A problem it would be okay to have would be deciding which of the group of very qualified pitchers you want to start. Kind of like the Cubs other problem of how to line up a batting order full of sluggers. It’s only January, but 2016 is stacking up to be a very interesting season for the Cubs.