Cubs 2014 Season Preview: The Starting Rotation, Part 2

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February 12, 2014 by Ryan S

In part one of the discussion on the 2014 starting rotation, I discussed Travis Wood, Edwin Jackson and Jeff Samardzija, the three guys that will be in the rotation barring any strange circumstances.  Now, allow me to outline the other guys vying for the fourth and fifth spots.

Jason Hammel

Hammel has reportedly been signed by the Cubs, though an announcement has not yet been made.  However, this is a guy coming to Chicago on a one-year deal in a year they aren’t expected to be competitive.

His numbers in 2013 weren’t very good (4.97 ERA, 1.457 WHIP, 10.0 H/9, 0.0 WAR, 5.78 IP/start), but the signing is reminiscent of signings like Scott Feldman, who aren’t worth much and could be flippable at the trade deadline.  Hammel is likely to crack the rotation.

Jake Arrieta

Arrieta is a guy who has always been valued because of his size and his stuff, but who has always baffled people as to why he can’t find consistent success at the big league level.  After puzzling the Orioles for parts of four seasons, he was dealt to the Cubs in 2013 and made nine starts for Chicago.

In those nine starts, he posted decent numbers (3.66 ERA, 1.123 WHIP, 0.7 WAR), though he posted a high 4.2 BB/9 and had just a 1.54 SO/BB ratio.  The story was consistency for him though; he pitched five games allowing one run or less, but also allowed four or more runs in three starts.

So basically, he was all or nothing in 2013 for the Cubs.  As fun as he was to watch pitch when he was doing well, he was equally frustrating to watch when he was walking hitters left and right.  He should have a chance in the rotation in 2014, but it wouldn’t surprise me if he were relegated to the bullpen at some point in the future.

Carlos Villanueva

Villanueva was signed to a two-year deal before the 2013 season and ended up in a swing role for the club, starting 15 games and appearing from the ‘pen 32 times.  Statistically, he was much better out of the bullpen than in the rotation:

Stat:            ERA        WHIP         K/9         K/BB         FIP         BAA

Starting       4.50        1.26         6.50         2.17        4.80       .248

Bullpen         3.03       1.14         8.84         3.80        2.61       .233

Interestingly, his BAA was lower in the bullpen despite a higher BABIP against in the pen (.302 vs. .275).  I expect that in the case of injury, he may have a chance to get some spot starts, but I hope to see him in the bullpen in 2014.

Chris Rusin

The southpaw Rusin started 13 games for the Cubs in 2013 to the tune of a 3.93 ERA and a 0.7 WAR according to Baseball Reference (0.1 WAR at fangraphs), though his FIP (4.75) and xFIP (4.46) suggest he may not have been as good as his ERA suggests.

He had a few bad starts here and there, but over the course of 10 starts from Jul. 22 through Sept. 12, Rusin posted a 2.54 ERA and 1.25 WHIP, and over that time, whenever he went out to the mound, you just felt comfortable knowing he would give the Cubs a shot.

Looking at the splits, he was much better against LHH than RHH: .200 BAA vs. LHH, .277 vs. RHH; 2.92 FIP vs. LHH, 5.33 vs. RHH; 4.7 BB% vs. LHH, 9.6 vs RHH.  It seems to me that he gave up more contact vs. righties and nibbled more (explaining the higher walk rate).

He very well may have a chance to land in the bullpen to start the season, but a slot in the rotation seems somewhat unlikely.  Going in his favor is that out of Hammel, Wood, Jackson and Samardzija, only Wood is a southpaw.  If they want two lefties in the rotation, Rusin could have a leg up.

In the bullpen, the signing of Wesley Wright as a second lefty to complement James Russell could edge Rusin out of the pen, especially given how much more effective he is vs. left handed hitters.  If Rusin, Wright and Russell were all to make the pen for the Cubs, they would likely be carrying just four right-handed relievers, which could present problems for the club.

Justin Grimm

Sahadev Sharma wrote a piece over at BleacherNation about Grimm earlier this week, and it sounds like he’s confident and believes he’s ready to be a starter in the major leagues.  He adds that the Cubs told him to come to camp ready to start.

With all the depth the Cubs have in terms of potential rotation pieces now, I find it hard to believe that he would crack the bigs as a starter to start the season.  And in fact, I think it hard to believe that he’d crack the bullpen either.

With the additions of Jose Veras and Wright, plus Pedro Strop, Villanueva, Russell, Kyuji Fujikawa, Hector Rondon (who had a good second half in 2013), and potentially Rusin, Grimm very well could be overlooked.

I think the plan for Grimm is to continue to start, and I expect him to start the year in the rotation in Iowa, with a chance to come to Chicago in the case of trades or injuries to either the bullpen or rotation.


Kyle Hendricks

Hendricks was brought over as a throw in with IF Christian Villanueva in a 2012 trade with the Texas Rangers, but he has turned out (in my eyes) to be the real steal in that deal.  This year, he is a non-roster invitee to spring training for the Cubs.

In 2013, between AA Tennessee and AAA Iowa, Hendricks posted ridiculous numbers: 1 2.00 ERA, 1.06 WHIP and a 3.76 K/BB.  Hendricks doesn’t walk a lot of guys (1.85 BB/9 at AA, 1/80 BB/9 at AAA) and had good FIPs at both levels (2.65 in AA vs. 3.18 in AAA).

One of the big criticisms I’ve heard about Hendricks is that he doesn’t throw very hard.  However, I think that’s great.  It seems to me that he’s a finesse pitcher with a good knowledge of the strike zone and how to get hitters out without blowing them away with a 95 MPH fastball.

Now, he’ll likely start the year in Iowa.  But when he gets the chance in the big leagues, I haven’t seen anything yet that tells me he isn’t up to the challenge of getting hitters out.

I don’t expect him to continue to put up ridiculous ERAs in the low two’s.  But if he could crack the bigs as a starter and post ERAs of 2.75-3.25 consistently, would anybody be mad?  I anxiously await his arrival at Wrigley Field, and foolishly or not, I have high expectations for him.


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