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Grading the Cubs starters: Things are starting to look up

Quality starts and questionable fifth innings.

Tyler Chatwood gets his first win as a Cub with a quality start in Cleveland
Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

Wow, what a difference a week makes. After a week where the Cubs starting pitchers struggled almost across the board it was nice to see most of them rebound this week despite a road trip to Coors Field.

Jon Lester: Baffling el Birdos

This was exactly what the Cubs needed from their ace after the starting pitching had a bit of a rough week. They faced off against the rival Cardinals, and Lester shut the birds down.

Let’s look at the line:

6 IP 2H 1R 0ER 1BB 7K

I was a bit nervous in the bottom of the first inning. Lester hit Harrison Bader with a pitch and Bader decided to test Jon Lester’s weakness by stealing second and then advancing to third on a throwing error by Willson Contreras. Matt Carpenter hit a rope to second that Javier Baez fielded. He had a chance at doubling off Bader, but the throw was wild. Bader came home on a wild pitch and it looked like the Cardinals had something going against Lester early with a lot of hard contact. Lester settled in by striking out Marcell Ozuna to escape the first.

The Cardinals would have to wait for Joe Maddon to go to the bullpen to get anything else going at Wrigley Field.

Lester velocity v. Cardinals
Brooks Baseball

Lester’s velocity was in line with what we expect. His inning by inning totals were solid. The fourth had a lot of pitches relative to most one, two, three innings because both Ozuna and Jose Martinez worked long at bats before hitting into outs.

Lester inning by inning totals
Brooks Baseball

Lester is most effective when he’s able to stay around the low corners, he was able to do that in this start.

Lester pitch map
Brooks Baseball

Grade: A- This is what the Cubs expect from Lester. He got a quality start had good control and didn’t allow an earned run.

Kyle Hendricks: Mostly just got guys out

At Bleed Cubbie Blue you hear a lot of the following: Kyle Hendricks, all he does is get guys out. That Kyle didn’t show up until the second inning at Coors Field, but after a rocky first he shut down a really good offense in their home park.

Let’s start with the pitching line and inning by inning pitch totals:

5 IP 5H 3R 3ER 0BB 6K

Kyle Hendricks inning by inning pitch totals
Brooks Baseball

All three runs scored in the first inning after an RBI single by Charlie Blackmon followed by a two run home run by Nolan Arenado. I was a bit worried that Kyle was about to get rocked by Coors, however he settled in after that for a Kyle classic. Lots of soft contact, some Ks and zero walks. The pitch counts were high for the first two innings so Kyle was out of the game after the fifth.

The pitch map for this game is below:

Kyle Hendricks pitch map
Brooks Baseball

This section isn’t as long as the others, but frankly that’s because the start was pretty uneventful. Hendricks gave up three more hits and stranded all of those batters on the base paths.

Grade: B+ The only thing keeping this from being an A is the innings, I’d like to see Kyle go at least six.

Yu Darvish: Stay out of your own head

One of the side benefits of having Joe Maddon as the Cubs manager is the vast array of Korked shirts that get released over the course of a season. If you haven’t checked out Korked yet, I strongly recommend it. I also strongly recommend that someone buy Yu Darvish this shirt:

Stay out of your head Maddonism
Korked Baseball

This start was eerily similar to Darvish’s last start. Everything was going well into the fifth inning and then it all fell apart. I felt like I blinked and the game got away from Darvish who never recovered. The win probability chart illustrates this point:

Win Probability Chart April 25th
Baseball Reference

But I’m getting ahead of myself, let’s start with Yu’s line:

4⅔ IP 5H 5R 5ER 4BB 4K

Here’s the thing. This was a no-hitter through 4 23 innings. It’s not just that things fell apart in the fifth. Darvish gave up his first hit (a ground rule double to DJ LaMahieu ) and he never recorded another out. This inning by inning look at pitches and counts tells the tale:

Darvish inning by inning pitch totals
Brooks Baseball

The velocity for this game is generally in line with Darvish’s past velocity although it’s worth noting that Willson Contreras thought that Darvish might have been holding back in the fifth. I went back and watched that inning (no, it was not fun) and while Darvish looked like he was more cautious in the fifth, it looked more like he stopped attacking the zone than like he was holding back significantly from a velocity standpoint. Here is the velocity chart for the game:

Darvish velocity against Colorado
Brooks Baseball

Last time I didn’t show the pitch map because the difference inning to inning is so wide that it skews the map. This time I’m going to show the map for the entire game but then I’m going to try something a bit different. First, the total map:

Darvish pitch map
Brooks Baseball

However, using the filter tools on Brooks Baseball I filtered the first four innings vs. the fifth. You can see how much more cautious Yu got in looking at the first pitch he threw each batter. Below are the maps for the first pitch for the first four innings of data followed by the fifth. It’s basically a tale of two pitchers.

Darvish first pitch innings one through four
Brooks Baseball

The first four innings are reminiscent of the entire map. Darvish pitches in and out of the zone, there are a mix of balls and strikes.

Darvish’s first pitch fifth inning

He just stopped throwing strikes on the first pitch. If you watch the video it’s a problem the whole inning, but gets worse as the game gets away from Darvish.

He’s a professional pitcher and he’s going to push through this, but right now the fifth inning hump is pretty painful to watch with Darvish on the mound.

Grade: D+ The Cubs need Darvish to go deeper into games and he can’t keep melting down in the fifth.

Jose Quintana: Cautious Optimism

Quintana has had a rough start to 2018 and his third start was one of the worst of his career. I was holding a my breath a bit that he had to follow up that start with a game at Coors Field. His start against the Rockies was good, not great, but effective. His line isn’t quite what the Cubs are hoping for from Q, but it was a marked improvement over his third start. Here is Q’s line from Colorado:

5⅓ IP 8H 4R 4ER 1BB 7K

Quintana threw more strikes as the game went on, including a highly effective fourth inning that included two strikeouts on only 10 pitches.

Quintana inning by inning pitch totals
Brooks Baseball

The fifth inning was pretty effective as well, particularly considering two of those eight pitches wound up over the wall as Charlie Blackmon and Nolan Arenado hit back to back homeruns off of Q. He started to lose the zone a bit in the fifth, and Maddon pulled him relatively early at 83 pitches.

That mixed bag is evident in his pitch map as well:

Quintana pitch map v. Colorado

Quintana picked up his second win of the season in this start and I’m a pretty big fan of the seven Ks with only one walk. I would have liked to see him pitch later and with some more consistency, but this is a pretty good start in Colorado.

Grade: B- mostly for the control and the ability to come back in a hard park for pitchers.

Tyler Chatwood: Effectively Wild

Chatwood has taken the mound four times with the Cubs. He’s only had more strikeouts than walks in one of those starts (this April 10th outing against the Pirates where he allowed nine hits and five earned runs, I’ll fully understand if you don’t want to revisit that box score).

The numbers just don’t tell the whole story here. To illustrate that I’m going to show you the traditional PitchFx maps/charts that I use, but I’m going to follow that up with some screen caps from the second inning in Cleveland.

Credit where it is due, this is a quality start. Here’s Chatwood’s line from Tuesday night:

6 IP 4H 1R 1ER 5BB 5K. He threw 92 pitches, 49 of which were strikes. In other words he threw strikes 57 percent of the time. However, when you look at his pitch map, I mean, this is all over the place:

Tyler Chatwood pitch map
Brooks Baseball

There isn’t a lot of consistency inning by inning, either. Some innings like the fourth look under control, some like the second look more wild.

Chatwood inning by inning pitch totals
Brooks Baseball

In fact, let’s take a closer look at that second inning. Chatwood strikes out two, walks one and successfully picks off Tyler Naquin to end the inning. That sounds effective on paper. It looks anything but. Here is the screencap of the first strikeout of Ramirez

Chatwood strikes out Ramirez

That’s a full count and could have just as easily been a walk as a K. I have a lot of questions about this zone (for example, that first pitch looks pretty good) but let’s ignore that for a minute. Chatwood is all over the place here. Next up, Naquin:

Chatwood walks Naquin

These first three pitches aren’t close and Chatwood is quickly down 3-0 on Naquin. He reigns it back in to again run the count full before walking Naquin on a borderline pitch that looks just a tad bit low.

Roberto Perez is next:

Chatwood strikes out Perez

Perez doesn’t like this strike three call and I can’t say I blame him, but that’s not the point of this set of screencaps. The point is that this is a pretty wild K. It could have easily extended the at bat.

Having watched him pitch a few times now, it seems like this just who Chatwood is, wild, but effectively so. He keeps managing to get out of trouble even after walking too many guys. I hope that continues, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see it backfire eventually.

Grade: B, it wasn’t pretty, but it got the job done.