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Grading the Cubs starters: Which rotation showed up the sixth time through the order?

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Hint: Not the outstanding one, but it wasn’t as bad as you think

MLB: Colorado Rockies at Chicago Cubs
Lester warms up for his start against the Rockies
David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

The good news is that the sixth time through the order the starting pitching wasn’t nearly as bad as the five-game losing streak that came with it might have suggested. In fact, a couple of guys had starts that were only slightly off from their outstanding performance in week five. The bad news is that a bunch of other stuff stopped working (I’m looking at you defense) and the Cubs bats were on an extended vacation. The result was the Cubs longest losing streak of 2018.

Let’s take a closer look at each starter’s sixth start.

Jon Lester

Jon was one out away from extending the Cubs' quality start streak, but that’s more of an indict on the arbitrariness of the quality start statistic than anything else. Lester was good in the 5 13 innings he threw this start as you can see from the Baseball Reference line below:

Lester line v. the Rockies
Baseball Reference

Neither of the runs he allowed were earned because they were the result of back to back hits by Charlie Blackmon and Nolan Arenado after an error on Javier Baez.

This was far from one of Lester’s best starts as a Cub (I’d like to see him pitch later into games, to be honest) but aside from the fifth inning (which I already explained above) his inning by inning numbers are pretty on point.

Lester inning by inning v. the Rockies
Brooks Baseball

One other note since I tend to keep an eye on Lester’s velocity during games. He was consistent and higher during this start.

Lester velocity v. the Rockies
Brooks Baseball

Grade: B I’d like to see Lester go longer and trade one or two of those walks for strikeouts, but this was a good start against a potent Rockies’ offense. The baseball-reference game score is a 57, which is almost identical to the 59 he pitched against Cleveland the fifth time through the order.

Kyle Hendricks

I’m not going to lie, when I walked into Wrigley Field for this game I was pretty nervous. The Rockies had taken Kyle deep twice before I got settled into my seat and I had a sense of dread about where this game might be going.

I should know better than to worry about Kyle Hendricks. After those two home runs he seemed to remember that all he does is get guys out, and settled in nicely, despite giving up another solo shot to Arenado in the top of the fourth. The Baseball Reference line tells the tale of Kyle’s quietly brilliant start:

Kyle Hendricks line v. the Rockies
Baseball Reference

Four hits, three runs, all earned. Five Ks and two walks. The key to this start for me, however, is the innings. During a week where the bullpen has been asked to do far to much, only Kyle Hendricks is pitching deep in games. It made me laugh a bit as I thought back to the 2015 BCB days where we used to argue about whether he could handle a lineup the third time through the order.

The answer is clearly yes, and this inning by inning pitch count is beautiful.

Kyle Hendricks Inning by Inning v. the Rockies
Brooks Baseball

Aside from the first inning struggles, which I already noted, this is a gem of a baseball game. Look at that eight pitch seventh inning.

Grade: A. I was about to give this an A- and as I was writing the justification for it I could just hear Tortuga telling me how hard I was being on Kyle. I would still like one less HR and one less walk, but 7 23 innings was so incredibly clutch this week. Besides, it’s not Kyle’s fault the offense couldn’t score in this game. The game score was 62 down from the 74 gem the week before, but innings mattered in this game so I feel okay giving back to back As.

Yu Darvish

The stuff is so good it dazzles. The results are so bad the mind boggles.

I cannot tell you how long I spent playing around with PitchFx charts looking for a clue, something, anything that would explain this start.

I found nothing substantive, but I’ll share the results from my exploration all the same.

The stuff is good. Electric, even. That’s part of the reason Darvish has way more strikeouts than any other Cub and it’s not close, he’s got 37 in 30 innings. Kyle Hendricks and Jon Lester each have an extra start and haven’t caught him. In fact. Darvish has thrown the fewest innings of any Cub starter and still leads the team in Ks:

Cubs Team Pitching Stats
Baseball Reference

My favorite Fantasy Baseball podcast cited a Tweet that said Darvish was dropping his elbow on his release point. I compared his release point from the gem of a start he had the fifth time through the order with the disastrous start he had against the Rockies. I found nothing.

Darvish release point v. the Brewers
Brooks Baseball
Darvish release point v. the Rockies
Brooks Baseball

I wondered if velocity was a problem, or pitch makeup, and I found out that if anything Yu’s velocity was up against the Rockies, not down. I also saw that he was definitely using his whole repertoire during the game.

Darvish velocity v. Rockies
Brooks Baseball
Darvish velocity v. Rockies
Brooks Baseball

I mean. I’m kind of at a loss. The stuff is good. It’s striking guys out.

Even the inning by inning looks good outside of the third.

Yu Darvish inning by inning
Brooks Baseball

And the Rockies just had Yu’s number. This is clearly not an acceptable start for a top starter from a team that considers itself in contention. If this were the first clunker of the year, I’d let it pass as “eh, baseball” but this is more the norm than the outlier, and that’s a problem:

Darvish line v. the Rockies
Baseball Reference

Grade: F. Six runs in 4 13 innings. I mean. There isn’t a strikeout total in the world that makes that okay.

Jose Quintana

This start was a lot better than you probably remember. In fact, earlier this week I heard someone describe Q’s last outing as “terrible” and I remembered thinking the same as I sat down to write this. And then I looked at the numbers. Let’s start with Q’s line:

Quintana line v. the Cardinals
Baseball Reference

Let’s get the bad out of the way first: Q only went four innings a day after Darvish needed the pen to step up. He also had the same number of walks and Ks, which is really Chatwood-esque. But, all three runs were unearned because Q got let down by the defense in the second inning. Javy’s second error of the week was the only reason Tommy Pham came to the plate, and the three runs that scored as a result of that HR are the only three runs the Cardinals scored.

I’m not trying to make this a better start than it was. Q was struggling and Maddon was right to pull the plug after 4 innings of high pitch counts:

Quintana inning by inning v. the Cardinals
Brooks Baseball

But Q was battling and his velocity looked good. I definitely don’t want to see this version of Quintana again any time soon, but this start was a lot better than the media made it sound this week.

Quintana velocity v. Cardinals
Brooks Baseball

Grade: C-. I can’t give him lower than this, he should have been out of the second earlier and he battled even though is control wasn’t what it should have been. The truncated start was as much Maddon pulling the plug early as it was Q struggling. The game score of 46 might have warranted a D/D+ this week, but I’m pretty hung up on the fact that the runs were the result of an error.

Tyler Chatwood

Last year I used to ask if Good Lackey or Bad Lackey was showing up today. It’s a reference to the nursery rhyme about the girl with a curl in the middle of her forehead... you know... when she was good she was very, very good and when she was bad she was horrid?

Well, here’s the thing with Chatwood. His hair seems straight to me, but man, he’s that rhyme.

Spolier alert: This was Bad Chatwood.

Tyler Chatwood line v. Cardinals
Baseball Reference

He threw four innings (it’s like the magic number was four this week). He gave up four runs (although in fairness to Chatwood, only three of those were earned runs). He struck out more than one guy an inning (5Ks): good! He also walked more than one guy per inning (5BBs): bad.

The walks are clearly a part of who Chatwood is, but the frequency of them this year is high, even for Chatwood. 7.4 BB/9 is high. Too high. That said, even in this outing he managed that damage from those walks in an admirable way. Take a look at the inning by inning below:

Chatwood inning by inning v. the Rockies
Brooks Baseball

Can I have more of third inning Chatwood and less of first/fourth inning Chatwood, please? Asking for a fanbase.

Grade: D+ . This is about the same quality of start that Quintana provided (BR game score of 42 for those keeping track at home) but the runs were earned and while the good was better than Q the bad was worse.

I do want to finish up this week with the thought I started with, even a couple of the four inning outings weren’t as disastrous as they probably felt in hindsight. Most of these games were in reach even with a few struggles here and there and there were an inordinate amount of unearned runs this week.

I would kind of love it if the bottom of our rotation could find a way to go more than four innings from here on out, though. I imagine the bullpen wouldn’t complain about that either.