Many of you may be surprised to read that the 2013 Chicago Cubs starting rotation ranked 15th in baseball in ERA, 16th in strikeouts, and 9th in WHIP. It was a sneakily effective bunch, led by fantasy super-unknowns Travis Wood and Scott Feldman, while also receiving small contributions from Matt Garza and Jeff Samrdzija’s strikeouts. But while the Cubs rotation provided plenty of undervalued production in 2013, it’d be a little difficult to expect such a strong performance once again. And even if they did, the anemic Cubs offense will leave any starters struggling to pick up wins.
2014 Chicago Cubs - Pitching Staff Preview
In the bullpen, while the Cubs collected a few potential closers in Jose Veras, Pedro Strop, and possibly Blake Parker, Jose Veras looks like the early favorite to. He will be given a shot to hold down the gig, or a leash to hang himself with. He is still not a particularly sexy options, but he could post decent ratios en route to collecting maybe 20 saves.
2013 Stats – 8-13, 4.34 ERA, 1.348 WHIP, 214 K, 213 2/3 IP
Jeff Samardzija has been one of the more frustrating pitchers in fantasy for two straight seasons. In 2013, Samardzija posted an xFIP of 3.45, a SIERA of 3.60, and a FIP of 3.77, all indicative of Samardzija’s dominant stuff and ability to miss bats. Unfortunately, since he is prone to extended periods of ineffectiveness, he has simply been unable to get his season-end numbers to match those great peripherals up to this point. He needs to clean up his command in the zone, but he’s athletic enough to do so, and if he does he’ll be a top 20 starter. He’s a nice high-upside draft choice who will at least provide strikeouts by the bunch.
2014 Proj. – 12 Wins, 3.80 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, 215 K, 215 IP
2013 Stats – 9-12, 3.11 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 144 K, 200 IP
Travis Wood had an excellent 2013, but count me as one of those not buying in long-term, especially from a fantasy perspective. Wood’s peripherals and batted ball profile in 2013 all suggest a true-talent ERA in the 3.90 to 4.40 range, and his secondary production is nothing to write home about. He’s a fly ball pitcher who kept an amazing % of flies in the park, something I do not see continuing in the friendly confines of Wrigley. Unless Wood miraculously beats his peripherals again, he’s a pitcher who provides below-average production in all four categories. He’s a good streaming candidate, but I would not be drafting him in standard leagues – the upside is not there to justify the significant blow-up risk.
2014 Proj. – 10 Wins, 4.10 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 140 K, 190 IP
2013 Stats – 8-18, 4.98 ERA, 1.46 WHIP, 135 K, 175 1/3 IP
Edwin Jackson had a very forgettable 2013, but his peripherals (FIP, specifically) suggest that he was pretty much the same pitcher he’d been for the past four seasons. I’m not projecting a total bounce-back for Jackson, but I think his left-on-base percentage will rebound from its dismal 63% level in 2013, and I think his strikeout rate recovers as well. He’s not a pitcher to draft, but he should be a decent streamer/emergency starter this season.
2014 Proj. – 10 Wins, 4.10 ERA, 1.35 WHIP, 150 K, 185 IP
Numbers Four and Five - Starting Pitcher
The Cubs have a couple of different options to plug into the back end of their rotation, and none of them are worth following too closely. Jason Hammel is recovering from injury, and nothing about his profile suggests his excellent 2012 was not a fluke. Between the poor production and health issues, I wouldn’t roster Hammel this season. Ditto Jake Arrieta, who’s due for some regression back to his usual high-4 ERA self. Arrieta has the stuff to be a dominant starter, but he has not been able to miss bats, throw strikes, or get outs to this point. Kyle Hendricks, who posted an amazing 2013 between AA and AAA, may get some innings in the rotation this season, but he doesn’t have the stuff to be more than a 4th/5th starter. Chris Rusin will get some innings as well, but he doesn’t have the strikeout potential to make up for the significant shortcomings in the rest of his game. None of these pitchers should be looked at for more than an occasional streaming fill-in.
Veras has the closer role, to start, but Pedro Strop is also worth paying attention to. Neither has super-star type closer "stuff", but whichever ends up in the closer’s role long term should be more than serviceable in your fantasy ‘pen.
2013 Stats – 21 Saves, 3.02 ERA, 1.07 WHIP, 60 K, 62 2/3 IP
Veras is a more than capable closer, and though he should regress a bit from his very strong 2013, the move to the National League should help offset that a bit. Veras should be a middle-of-the-road closer, with both a high floor and also little hope he produces like he did in 2013. One small caveat about Veras – there’s a good chance he’s traded at the deadline and is no longer a closer.
2014 Proj. – 25 Saves, 3.40 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 70 K, 65 IP
2013 Stats – 1 Save, 4.55 ERA, 1.24 WHIP, 66 K, 57 1/3 IP
Pedro Strop, when he’s on, looks every bit of a shut-down closer. Unfortunately, he hasn’t been terribly consistent over the last two seasons, and I doubt the Cubs will give him the closer's role unless Veras really struggles. He’s going to pitch in the 8th inning, and will probably pick up a handful of saves, either through being the more effective pitcher or through Veras being moved.
2014 Proj. – 10 Saves, 3.25 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 60 K, 60 IP