The Cubs’ first four starters could all put together solid seasons this year. At least that’s the hope. Yu Darvish, Kyle Hendricks, Jon Lester and Jose Quintana have all had major-league success and if healthy, could be one of the better top fours in the National League.
Who’s going to take that fifth spot? Here are some of the candidates.
I’m listing Alzolay first not necessarily because I think he’s the best candidate, but because Mark Gonzalez of the Tribune wrote this long article about him which indicates that Alzolay has spent the winter at the Cubs’ facilities in Mesa working on a changeup:
“I think my pitch is going to be the changeup,” Alzolay said. “I’ve been working a lot on it. The breaking ball is my put-away pitch. I think those two pitches are going to make a huge difference this year.”
Alzolay limited major-league opponents to an .091 batting average on changeups but threw only 28 of 47 changeups for strikes, according to Fangraphs.
“Sometimes I will lose the feeling of my changeup,” Alzolay said. “Now I’m more consistent throwing down in the zone, down and away.”
Opponents batted .385 (10-for-26) off Alzolay’s fastball, which averaged 94.3 mph, according to Fangraphs. But Alzolay believes a sharper changeup will enhance the effectiveness of his fastball and curveball.
If that’s true and Alzolay can throw an effective changeup, that makes him a much more attractive candidate for the rotation.
It’s been said that Alzolay, who has never pitched more than 120 innings in a professional season, might have to have his innings limited in 2020. That brings me to candidate No. 2.
Many think Chatwood should be given this spot simply because he had a better season in 2019 than 2018. He’s being paid $13 million this season in the final year of a three-year deal, but the money shouldn’t dictate the roster position.
It appears to me that Chatwood’s success in 2019 was at least partly due to his NOT being full-time in the rotation. He had several very good relief appearances and dialed up his fastball to as high as 98 miles per hour in some of those outings. He might be better off being a swingman-type, filling in for Alzolay for the occasional start and being the guy who can come in and give multiple innings if one of the other starters gets knocked around early.
The hybrid starter/relief role made Chatwood a 1.4 bWAR pitcher in 2019, as opposed to the 0 bWAR guy he was in 2018. Stick with what’s working, I think.
“Millsy” pitched effectively in limited MLB duty (nine appearances, four starts) in 2019. Throughout his brief major-league career (19 appearances, six starts) he’s put together a very good K rate (10.8 per nine innings) and pretty good walk rate (3.6 per nine) despite having a Kyle Hendricks-like fastball. If he could develop a Hendricks-type changeup, he could be a very good MLB pitcher.
Problem: Mills is out of options. One possible choice for the Cubs would be to slot him in as the fifth starter, give Chatwood that hybrid role and option Alzolay back to Triple-A Iowa. They’ll have to make some sort of decision on Mills fairly soon in spring training. Perhaps he shows well enough to be traded somewhere.
Those are the top three candidates for the fifth starter role. Others include Colin Rea and Jharel Cotton, both of whom have options remaining.
Who should be the Cubs’ fifth starter?
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