Breaking Down the 2016 Chicago Cubs Starting Pitching

A lot has been written about the 2016 Chicago Cubs starting rotation. Speculation abounds. The various statistical sites have weighed in with their projections, based on previous years’ performance and crunched numbers. Appearances, as we all know, can be deceiving, as can projections made purely on statistics and numbers. A lot depends on how players perform in Spring Training, who steps up, who falls back. There will be a lot of pitchers in Arizona, but only a select few will make that starting roster.

The top of the rotation is set. Jake Arrieta is coming off his Cy Young 2015 performance and hoping to step right back in where he left off. If you average the Fans and Steamer projections, he’s expected to win around 16 games with an ERA of around 2.50 and an FIP a little over 2.70. The following is a breakdown of what the projections say about all of the pitchers on the 40 man roster. I have loosely averaged the projections from Fans and Steamer. They don’t tell the whole story, of course, so following the table are some comments and projections of my own.

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You can sort this any number of ways. If you choose WAR, you get basically the starting rotation as it’s been projected, though the order shifts, putting Kyle Hendricks in the fourth slot, and Jason Hammel in the fifth. If you sort by ERA/FIP, you get a much different projection – Arrieta, Lester, Cahill, Hendricks, and Warren, and if you include him in the mix, Warren is bumped by Travis Wood. If you go with projected wins, you are back to the expected rotation, but this, of course, doesn’t take into account that they are projecting several guys as relievers who are hoping to compete for a rotation slot at Spring Training, but are not projected to pitch enough innings, or to start, which skews everything. Among those are Adam Warren, Justin Grimm,Travis Wood, Trevor Cahill, and Clayton Richard, and some of these guys – Wood in particular – project just outside the range of the starters, with fewer opportunities. It’s a great problem to have, but it is still a problem.

Barring some amazing performance by one of the other invitees in Arizona, there’s a good chance the Cubs go into the regular season with the rotation intact. If he shows well this spring, Adam Warren could bump either Hammel or Hendricks, and if the stats and projections are to be believed, it would be Hammel, not Hendricks, dropping out of the number five slot.

The question that will be answered in the next few weeks is a simple one. A number of pitchers were told to report to Spring Training prepared as starters, and not as relievers. Several of them have been told personally that they will be given a shot. This might be like when they told Starlin Castro he wasn’t going to be traded and not to worry over it, and then when the season ended, they traded him. If it’s a serious competition, it will be interesting to see how it is conducted, and how it plays out.

Adam Warren has a lot of upside ahead of him, and projects to be a decent number three, or even number two pitcher at some point. Hammel is coming off a very disappointing second half, but a stellar first half in 2015, so which guy will be in camp this spring? Hendricks improved throughout 2015, and with a little more placement – possibly a tick of velocity – or even another pitch, could stretch his starts out to the six innings we’d all like to see. If that happens, he is more reliable than Hammel.

Cahill added a pitch in the fall, a knuckle curve, and also slightly increased his velocity.  Both he and Travis Wood were nearly lights out through September and October. Justin Grimm found his groove in August and was also very strong down the stretch. If these guys are actually getting into a competition, it’s going to be game-on in Arizona, and a thing of beauty to see.

It’s also not a good idea to dismiss guys like lefty Clayton Richard, Carl Edwards Jr., who got his first taste of big league action last year, and Dallas Beeler, who is also still developing.

The bullpen is a subject for another day, and another article. It may be premature to project who will be a part of it. One thing is certain, a couple of injuries in the rotation would not kill this team, they are deep, and talented. I also expect that the incredible offensive lineup, and the addition of Jason Heyward and Ben Zobrist on defense, along with a full year of Addison Russell at shortstop and an improved, hard-working Kyle Schwarber in left field, will take a lot of pressure off of the guys on the mound. The numbers should pretty easily beat the projections. You heard it here first.

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