Cubs 2014 Season Preview: The Starting Rotation, Part 1

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February 10, 2014 by Ryan S

As pitchers and catchers will be reporting for spring training in three days, I think it’s appropriate to start analyzing the parts that will make up the team, starting with the rotation.

There seems to be a plethora of options for the rotation as we hit the middle of February, including Jeff Samardzija, Edwin Jackson, Travis Wood, Jason Hammel, Jake Arrieta, Carlos Villanueva, Chris Rusin, Justin Grimm, and even potentially (though unlikely) Kyle Hendricks.

So, let’s start at the top.

Jeff Samardzija, Edwin Jackson, Travis Wood

These are the three returning pitchers from the starting staff in 2013.  Wood was an all-star last season, finishing with a 3.11 ERA and a respectable 3.89 FIP in 200 IP over 32 starts with the Cubs.  Overall, he was a highlight of a very bad Cubs team in 2013.

Samardzija’s season, on the other hand, was definitely rocky.  Through 17 starts, he had posted 11 quality starts with a 3.34 ERA and 9.53 K/9 in 113.1 IP.  Over the course of his last 16 games, he threw eight quality starts but allowed five or more runs a staggering seven times in those 17 games.

During that time, his ERA was a 5.47, his K/9 dropped, his BB/9, HR/9 and H/9 increased, and he just didn’t look very effective on the mound, though his season FIP and xFIP were both much better than his 4.34 ERA (3.77 and 3.45, respectively), which suggests some positive regression may come his way in 2014.

Jackson had his fair share of problems as well, turned in just 14 quality starts out of his 31 games started.  He lost 18 games in 2013, and even with a 4.98 ERA, finished the season with a 3.79 FIP and 3.86 xFIP.  This put him at a 2.0 WAR according to fangraphs, and a -1.3 over at baseball reference.

Historically, fangraphs has been kinder to Jackson in terms of WAR (17.7 vs. 11.7 at BR), but there have been seasons where Jackson has had higher WAR over at BR (since the two sites calculate WAR differently).  So, make of that statistic what you will.

These three pitchers are essentially locks for the rotation, barring injury or trade, though I doubt Samardzija will be dealt before the deadline in 2014, and Wood and Jackson should be safe.

My expectations for the group?

  1. I expect positive regression for Samardzija.  He threw 213.2 innings last season, 39 more than the most he had thrown professionally before.  So, it’s reasonable to think part of his late season slump was the result of throwing that much for the first time and that he could rebound in 2014 being more used to the workload.  I would suspect
  2. As for Wood, his H/9, HR/9, K/9 and BB/9 were all on par with his career averages last season, he showed little signs of regression in 2013, and he’ll be 27 this season, edging closer to prime age.  I think we should see similar results in 2014 as we did in 2013.
  3. Oh, Edwin Jackson, here we go.  He had a very low LOB% last season, which could indicate some bad luck.  However, both his H/9 and BB/9 increased last season.  So could it be possible that he was just more likely to allow more runs when allowing more base runners?  It’s been difficult for me to find a significant pattern related to his successes or failures, so I really don’t know what to expect.  But if I had to quantify it, I would expect an ERA in the 4.20-4.60 range and results not dissimilar from last season.

I’ll attack the other starting rotation candidates in the next post.  Thanks for reading, guys.


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