Yesterday I spent some time looking at the Cubs offense since the trade deadline. Today I wanted to do the same thing with the pitching staff. So this is going to go basically the same way yesterday did: a look at the league, a look at the rotation in the second half, and a look at individual pitchers.
This may surprise you given the constant state of angst over the rotation, but the Cubs have the nint- best rotation by fWAR across MLB...just like they have the ninth-best offense by fWAR across MLB. Wild, right?
At first I thought this might be a case of the N.L. having better pitching than the A.L., but it turns out that the league wide numbers translate to a pretty similar spot in the N.L. only list. The Cubs have had the 5th best starting rotation by fWAR in 2019:
NL Starting Rotations by fWAR 2019
One note with these rankings. They clearly don’t align to team wide success quite the same way that the offensive numbers seemed to. The Reds and Mets are both pretty high in these rankings relative to their overall place in the standings.
Starting pitching in the second half
Yesterday I looked at the offense since the trade deadline, that was mainly to account for the Nicholas Castellanos effect on the offense. For pitchers I looked at the entire second half for two reasons. First, the Cubs didn’t make any big starting pitcher moves at the deadline. Second, I wanted the additional data of a month’s worth of starts for each pitcher. Below are the Cubs’ starting results relative to the rest of the league:
NL 2nd half starting pitching by fWAR
A couple of things jump out at me here. First the Cubs have dropped off relative to their overall ranking. Second a couple of other teams have surged ahead of them, specifically the Cardinals, who have accumulated 5.5 of their 9.1 team fWAR in the second half.
There really isn’t a great way to sugarcoat this next chart, so I’m just going to put it out there and then talk about it. Below are the individual starter performances for the second half:
Cubs pitchers by fWAR in the second half
Jose Quintana and Yu Darvish have been resurgent in the second half of 2019. They have really been anchoring the rotation. Jon Lester and Kyle Hendricks have had some ups and downs, with neither performing at their peak level, but both getting it done.
Cole Hamels has not been the same since returning from the Injured List and he’s been struggling. Both Tyler Chatwood and Alec Mills have been worth more fWAR in spot starts than Hamels has accumulated across seven starts. While his FIP and xFIP indicate that he is pitching better than his 7.12 ERA would suggest, even if he were to pitch closer to the 5.75 ERA his FIP suggests he’d be struggling.
The Cubs rotation has been above average relative to the rest of the NL for 2019, but it’s been a lot of up and down. Unlike 2016 where they had multiple Cy Young contenders this year they don’t have a pitcher in the top ten of the NL. The playoffs are still a long way away but if they started today the Cubs would be facing Max Scherzer with... you tell me? The numbers indicate that start should go to Quintana or Darvish, but I’m not sure anyone would really feel comfortable with that. In a longer series it currently looks like the odd man out would have to be... Hamels, which also doesn’t seem particularly right or comfortable.
Yesterday I looked at the offense and felt a lot of hope for a stretch run. Today I’m looking at the rotation and all I have are a lot of questions and a pretty sizable amount of anxiety.