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Grading The Cubs Starters: Outstanding!

This is the pitching staff the Cubs anticipated.

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Jose Quintana continued to baffle the Brewers this week
Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports

I’m not going to bury the lede here, the Cubs pitching staff was outstanding the last time through the rotation. The Cubs have won four of their last five games and starting pitching has a lot to do with it. Before we dive into each pitchers last start, let’s take a look at the combined line for the starters:

34IP 16H 4R 3ER 7BB 28K

Also, a note. Earlier in this series someone had suggested I look at game scores. I’ve included the game score for each pitcher from Baseball Reference, I’ve also included their previous game scores for comparison purposes. I’ll probably turn this into a chart later this season.

This is the rotation the Cubs front office was aiming for in the off season. Let’s take a look and see what we can learn from this set of starts from the Cubs front five.

Jon Lester: So close

This game aside, if you had told me that Lester was going to throw seven innings of four-hit, three-run baseball I would have been pretty happy with that. The Cubs are averaging over five runs a game and under regular circumstances. That should have been enough to get it done:

7 IP 4H 3R 3ER 2BB 4K

Alas, it was not to be on this particular Wednesday evening in Cleveland. This was Lester’s third best start by game score in 2018. His score of 59 (previous, in reverse order: 72, 37, 71, 31) pretty accurately reflects the results. Lester was the victim of the long ball and hard contact. This was an okay outing from a location perspective, maybe a bit more wild than Lester usually is (you can also see that in the BB/K totals):

Lester Pitch Map
Brooks Baseball

However as the game went on his velocity dropped a bit and he started to get hit hard. You can see the velocity dip in this chart, it corresponds to all three solo shots from the Indians.

Lester velocity by pitch
Brooks Baseball

In case you’re wondering how those pitch totals match up to innings, here are the inning by inning numbers:

Lester inning by inning pitch totals
Brooks Baseball

The velocity drop around 41-52 is right around the middle of the fourth inning to the start of the fifth inning, which is also when the hard contact (and home runs) increase.

Grade: B+ Generally the Cubs offense should be able to score more than three runs, they just didn’t that night and three solo shots from the Indians were too much for the offense to overcome.

Kyle Hendricks: Effective and consistent

I’ve been accused of being a bit tough on Kyle, but maybe it’s just because I’m so used to seeing the guy who showed up at Wrigley Field against the Brewers. If Kyle has 10 more starts like this in him this season things are going to go well for the Cubs:

7 IP 4H 0R 0ER 0BB 5K

By game score, this was by far Kyle’s best outing of the season: 74 (previous, in reverse order: 54, 58, 33, 62)

The inning by inning breakdown of Kyle’s outing was the model of consistency for this outing.

Kyle Hendricks inning by inning
Brooks Baseball

You can also see this in his velocity by pitch:

Kyle Hendricks velocity by pitch
Brooks Baseball

The Cubs needed every bit of precision from The Professor, because they only scored one run on a Kyle Schwarber solo shot. There was very little margin for error here. Kyle and the bullpen rose to the occasion. I’m going to forgo the pitch map here because it isn’t particularly illuminating, but if you’d like to look at it it’s linked here.

Grade: A. There isn’t a lot more you can ask from a Cubs starter. This was Kyle just getting guys out.

Yu Darvish: Fifth time’s a charm

This start was exactly what Yu needed. For the third week in a row he was having an outstanding outing into the fourth inning. For the third week in a row he got two outs. For the third week in a row he found himself in his biggest jam of the game with two outs in the fifth. But this time, after walking the pitcher (yikes) and giving up a single to Lorenzo Cain, he got Christian Yelich to ground out. The fifth inning was still a bit of an adventure relative to the rest of his outing as you can see below:

Darvish inning by inning
Brooks Baseball

However this time he got out of it and fought his way to this line:

6 IP 3H 1R 0ER 1BB 8K

His scoreless sixth inning has some harder contact outs than he’d been giving up previously in the game. Joe pulled him after six innings. He’d thrown 104 pitches, 70 of them for strikes. That was good for his second highest game score of the season, 70 (previous, in reverse order: 34, 30, 72, 35)

I am going to share the pitch map here because it’s notably more effective than his previous starts:

Darvish pitch map
Brooks Baseball

One more thing of note from this start, If you look at Darvish’s velocity by pitch chart he literally needs a different y axis than the other Cubs starters because he varies his speeds so much over the course of a game. First, see it in chart form:

Darvish velocity by pitch
Brooks Baseball

However, to understand how effective that is, take a look at this video of Manny Pina striking out on a 64 mile per hour curve ball. That effectively froze Pina, and who can blame him given that it followed a 95 mile per hour fastball?

Pina is frozen by a 64 mph curve ball

Grade: A- I could probably be persuaded to bump this up to an A, however I’d like to see a few more strikeouts and one more inning from Yu.

Jose Quintana: Bring on the Brewers

Can I just pause and say I love watching Jose Quintana pitch against the Brewers? He’s been incredible against them since he joined the Cubs and this start was no exception. He notched his highest game score of the season so far: 79 (previous, in reverse order 42, 12, 70, 34)

Jose Quintana baffled the Brewers for seven innings racking up the following line:

7IP 2H 0R 0ER 1BB 7Q*

The most adventurous part of the game for Q was the sixth inning when Lorenzo Cain walked and both Orlando Arcia and Yelich worked full counts. The net result? A slightly higher pitch count and no damage.

Quintana inning by inning
Brooks Baseball

His velocity waned a bit as the game went on, but it didn’t hurt his effectiveness. He was ultimately lifted after the seventh inning at 103 pitches.

Quintana velocity by pitch
Brooks Baseball

Quintana has now thrown 13 innings of shutout baseball against the Brewers in 2018. They’ve gotten five total hits off him in that time period. He’s also racked up 13 Qs to 3 BBs over that time period.

Grade: A Seven innings of shutout ball with only two hits and an excellent K to walk ratio is brilliant. I’m reserving the pluses for things like complete games.

*No, that’s not a typo, I score Quintana Ks as Qs.

Tyler Chatwood: Effectively (less) wild

I think my favorite “stat” from this game is that it’s the second game in 2018 where Chatwood has struck out more batters than he’s walked.

7IP 3H 0R 0ER 3BB 4K

It’s reflected in his game score of 74 for this game which is notably higher than his previous game scores (previous, in reverse chronological order: 60, 54, 35, 58)

Sahadev Sharma at the Athletic noted that Chatwood abandoned his four seam early in this game for his two seam. He showed increased control almost immediately. This is the pitcher the Cubs thought they were signing. Slightly higher walks and a lot of ground ball outs. Chatwood was very effective in this outing.

Man, what a difference a pitch makes. Take a look at these inning by inning numbers for Chatwood:

Chatwood inning by inning
Brooks Baseball

The velocity had a lot of good variance and as you can see from below Chatwood’s stamina was great. There was no drop off in velocity as the game wore on:

Chatwood velocity by pitch
Brooks Baseball

I was really hoping there would be a visible move in the pitch map here given the outcomes. I played around with the data a bit and didn’t see one. In case you’re curious about the pitch map for this game, it’s linked here.

Grade: A- Chatwood is the Cubs fifth starter and he threw seven innings of shutout ball against a contending league rival. His BB:K ratio wasn’t as pretty as Hendricks or Quintana, so this is an A-, but I’ll take an A- from our fifth starter...well, every fifth game day.

A few more fun stats about this run

The Cubs have a six-game quality start streak as they face off against the Rockies tonight.

The Cubs’ starters held the Tribe and the Brewers to three earned runs over 34 innings. If you just look at the four starts against the Brewers, the Cubs starters did not allow an earned run over 24 innings at Wrigley Field.

Over this five game stretch the Cubs starters struck out 28 batters and walked only seven.

Here’s hoping the starting pitching dominance continues against Colorado.