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A look at the Cubs’ second-half starting pitching

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... as we head into the final 22 games

Yu Darvish pitches against the Mets at the end of August
Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images

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.

The league

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

Team W L G IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP LOB% GB% HR/FB ERA FIP xFIP WAR
Team W L G IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP LOB% GB% HR/FB ERA FIP xFIP WAR
Nationals 54 32 140 812.0 9.63 2.88 1.09 .292 76.2% 45.0% 13.0% 3.60 3.71 3.99 19.1
Dodgers 55 30 143 811.1 9.36 1.99 1.15 .276 76.8% 45.7% 14.3% 3.16 3.55 3.66 17.8
Mets 45 39 140 807.2 9.09 2.70 1.16 .300 73.0% 44.3% 13.1% 3.94 3.84 4.12 16.4
Reds 44 45 142 774.2 9.72 3.06 1.37 .293 74.9% 44.7% 16.8% 4.09 4.18 4.01 13.3
Cubs 47 40 140 780.1 8.77 2.69 1.31 .299 74.5% 43.9% 15.1% 4.04 4.21 4.23 12.5
Braves 52 36 142 771.0 8.19 3.21 1.11 .305 73.1% 46.5% 14.0% 4.14 4.22 4.38 10.9
Diamondbacks 51 44 141 760.0 8.63 2.89 1.36 .296 73.1% 41.8% 14.7% 4.35 4.32 4.40 10.5
Padres 38 49 140 715.2 8.45 2.64 1.41 .290 70.6% 41.9% 14.4% 4.55 4.37 4.51 9.2
Cardinals 47 45 141 763.1 8.06 3.21 1.30 .289 75.9% 47.6% 16.5% 3.96 4.51 4.38 9.1
Pirates 34 51 141 712.0 8.28 3.06 1.50 .313 67.4% 40.0% 14.7% 5.22 4.72 4.81 8.0
Phillies 44 42 140 765.1 8.16 3.09 1.59 .295 74.3% 43.2% 17.5% 4.59 4.87 4.59 7.2
Rockies 39 57 142 748.0 7.60 3.37 1.70 .319 66.1% 48.1% 20.5% 6.00 5.19 4.57 6.9
Brewers 39 38 140 693.2 8.39 3.28 1.52 .301 73.3% 39.8% 15.7% 4.64 4.75 4.70 6.8
Marlins 32 64 140 770.2 8.27 3.53 1.44 .269 71.1% 39.2% 14.1% 4.60 4.81 5.00 6.8
Giants 34 57 141 740.0 8.08 2.98 1.65 .294 70.6% 39.2% 16.6% 4.86 4.92 4.74 3.5
Select pitching stats Fangraphs

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

Team W L G IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP LOB% GB% HR/FB ERA FIP xFIP WAR
Team W L G IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP LOB% GB% HR/FB ERA FIP xFIP WAR
Mets 21 9 50 300 8.85 2.43 0.87 .295 77.3% 44.9% 10.8% 3.09 3.37 3.90 7.7
Dodgers 17 14 51 275.1 10.07 2.42 1.14 .288 74.9% 44.0% 14.1% 3.37 3.57 3.71 5.9
Nationals 20 8 51 284 8.97 3.20 1.11 .292 77.7% 46.0% 13.3% 3.71 3.96 4.22 5.8
Cardinals 21 13 53 291.1 8.46 3.06 0.96 .277 78.1% 46.9% 12.2% 3.37 3.95 4.31 5.5
Braves 22 11 51 293.1 8.59 3.01 1.01 .308 77.7% 45.8% 13.4% 3.47 3.87 4.09 5.4
Cubs 17 12 50 274.2 9.24 2.23 1.41 .309 77.1% 41.1% 15.8% 4.06 4.13 4.08 4.5
Reds 18 18 55 299.1 9.62 2.86 1.62 .304 69.8% 43.8% 19.2% 4.87 4.46 3.99 4.4
Phillies 11 12 50 262 8.35 3.09 1.34 .300 70.5% 43.5% 15.4% 4.64 4.48 4.48 3.5
Padres 13 16 50 245 9.11 3.20 1.47 .299 70.1% 39.9% 14.8% 4.89 4.47 4.55 3.1
Diamondbacks 19 14 50 262.2 8.67 2.95 1.68 .302 73.4% 43.4% 18.5% 4.73 4.81 4.40 2.3
Pirates 11 23 52 260 8.17 2.87 1.73 .320 64.4% 39.0% 16.0% 5.78 5.04 4.93 2.1
Giants 12 18 52 280 7.84 2.44 1.64 .288 72.3% 38.7% 15.7% 4.66 4.77 4.71 1.8
Brewers 12 12 49 239.2 7.74 3.53 1.61 .263 74.8% 39.7% 15.5% 4.32 5.10 5.08 1.4
Rockies 10 25 53 261.1 6.92 3.51 1.89 .321 62.5% 48.9% 22.3% 6.82 5.66 4.81 1.3
Marlins 8 26 52 279.1 8.38 3.93 1.93 .255 65.9% 34.9% 16.8% 5.80 5.73 5.50 -0.1
Select pitching stats Fangraphs

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.

Individual players

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

Name W L G IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP LOB% GB% HR/FB ERA FIP xFIP WAR
Name W L G IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP LOB% GB% HR/FB ERA FIP xFIP WAR
Jose Quintana 7 1 10 56.1 9.27 2.08 1.12 .291 73.4% 43.5% 13.0% 3.67 3.52 3.81 1.3
Yu Darvish 3 2 9 55.1 11.71 0.49 1.79 .244 89.3% 43.6% 22.0% 2.93 3.63 2.85 1.1
Kyle Hendricks 2 2 10 58.2 7.21 1.69 1.38 .235 83.0% 38.3% 13.8% 3.22 4.37 4.59 0.8
Jon Lester 4 3 10 56 8.68 3.54 1.29 .370 74.0% 39.3% 14.5% 4.98 4.37 4.48 0.8
Tyler Chatwood 0 1 2 7.2 14.09 5.87 0.00 .389 84.6% 27.8% 0.0% 2.35 2.43 3.47 0.3
Alec Mills 0 0 2 10.1 9.58 1.74 0.87 .393 78.3% 51.7% 14.3% 4.35 4.08 4.18 0.2
Cole Hamels 1 3 7 30.1 8.31 3.56 2.08 .392 70.3% 41.0% 18.4% 7.12 5.75 5.25 0.0
Select pitching stats Fangraphs

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.

Take aways

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.