A lot of things are going to look different when the Cubs take the field on the North Side of Chicago in 2021, and one of the places this will be most evident is the Cubs starting rotation. In the shortened 2020 season the Cubs had eight different pitchers start nine-inning games (Tyson Miller threw two innings to open Game 2 of a seven-inning doubleheader in August and so gets an asterisk). Incredibly, four of those pitchers are no longer on the team. Let’s take a look at how each of those pitchers fared during the shortened season.
I feel like all I’ve done over the last week is write about how big of an impact Darvish had on the 2020 Cubs and how impossible he will be to replace. Darvish threw 76 innings across 12 games for a 2.01 ERA that only slightly over-performed his minuscule 2.23 FIP. This one-hit, 11-strikeout game against the Brewers in August was indicative of his dominance in 2020 [VIDEO].
Despite our friends over at Pinstripe Alley wishing the Cubs would trade them Kyle Hendricks, the Cubs Opening Day starter is not on the trading block (to my knowledge). Hendricks threw 81⅓ innings in 2020, more than any other Cubs starter, and will get a well-deserved chance to be the squads indisputable ace in 2021. His 2.88 ERA over-performed his 3.55 FIP considerably in 2020, but that’s practically systemic with Hendricks at this point. FIP doesn’t appreciate that Hendricks pitches to contact so much. I’m more interested in the fact that his BB/9 absolutely plummeted to 0.89. Let’s take a look at the time he struck out 10 Twins over 8 innings in September [VIDEO].
By Fangraphs WAR the third most valuable starting pitcher for the Cubs in 2020 was Adbert Alzolay. I mean, don’t get me wrong, it’s a pretty big drop off from Hendricks’ 1.9 WAR to Alzolay’s 0.5 WAR, but for a farm system that has struggled to develop starting pitching, Alzolay’s 2020 offers some reasons for optimism. He still walks way too many batters (14.9 percent to Hendricks’ 2.5 percent or Darvish’s 4.7 percent) but the stuff plays and his K/9 of 12.23 is impressive. He threw 21⅓ innings for an ERA of 2.95 off a FIP of 3.05 in 2020. His best start was his first start against the Cardinals where he threw five innings of shutout baseball while striking out six [VIDEO].
Oh, what a wild ride the Tyler Chatwood era was for Cubs fans. The stuff is absolutely electric when its under control but the control issues for Chatwood were so pronounced early in his tenure with the Cubs that he wound up spending most of 2019 in the bullpen. It really looked like he had figured it out in 2020 only to be sidelined by a forearm strain at the end of August. He only threw 18⅔ innings for the Cubs in 2020, but the first 12⅔ of those were truly impressive outings, like this start against the Pirates on August 1 [VIDEO].
While Jon Lester is obviously nearing the end of an outstanding career the Cubs would do well to bring him back for one year so fans can give him the sendoff he deserves. In fact, he’s the only pitcher who is currently a free agent on this list I think the Cubs should bring back. He was worth slightly more WAR than Mills in 2020, but his leadership and presence could be huge for guys like Alzolay who will likely be starting for the first time. He threw 61 innings for a career high ERA of 5.16 in 2020. By far his best outing was this game against the Brewers in September [VIDEO].
I love absolutely everything about the Alec Mills story, in fact I highly recommend you check out this interview that dropped today. Additionally I am thrilled he’ll be a Cub until at least 2026. That said, the pitcher who tossed an unlikely no-hitter in 2020 reverted back to his mean a bit at times in 2020. His 4.48 ERA is probably closer to reality than the 2.75 number he put up in 2019. He probably slots into the rotation after new Cub Zach Davies and maybe behind Alzolay if Adbert can get the walks under control. Let’s take another look at Mills’ no-hitter because as Len Kasper said, no-hitters never get old [VIDEO].
It’s going to be a painful few years watching Eloy Jiménez and Dylan Cease on the South Side of Chicago. They were sent there for Quintana who was supposed to solidify the Cubs rotation through 2020, but rarely put together the numbers fans anticipated from the lefthander. Quintana made one start for the Cubs in 2020 in which he only threw two innings. He’s only 31 years old (he turns 32 in a month) and should find other teams interested in his talents for 2021.
Rea made two starts for the Cubs in 2020, one of which was Game 2 of a seven-inning doubleheader. He should figure into the 2020 rotation or bullpen conversation, but his 5.79 ERA over 14 innings doesn’t exactly scream confidence despite his FIP of 4.98 suggesting that should have been closer to 5.
On the eighth Day of Cubsmas my true love gave to me: eight different starting pitchers in 2020, seven incredible Len Kasper calls, six Cubs players with WAR over 1, five strikeouts in an Alec Mills no-hitter, a four game delay in the season due to COVID-19, a three game lead to win the division in 2020, two first round draft picks non-tendered and one World Series ring in the Theo Epstein Era.