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Alec Mills, your spot in the Cubs rotation is ready

Mills has more than earned another shot

Alec Mills takes the mound against the Phillies before the All Star Break
David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

We’ve already talked about the Cubs’ recent struggles and we are all well aware their 11 game skid has resulted in them being sellers at the deadline. Joc Pederson is already a Brave and with a slew of one-year contracts and players on the last year of their deals on the roster more moves are certainly incoming. However, one move that should happen imminently that doesn’t involve a trade is moving Alec Mills from the bullpen to the rotation.

The Cubs rotation has not been a team strength in 2021. In fact, that may be an understatement. The Cubs rank last in MLB among starting pitching by fWAR (yes, dead last). It doesn’t get that much better when you look at other categories, they are in the bottom third of just about everything:

Cubs Starting Pitching League Ranks

Category Rank
Category Rank
fWAR 30th
ERA 23rd
FIP 29th
xFIP 24th
K/9 27th
Select Categories FanGraphs

They are also in the bottom third of the league in terms of innings pitched by their starters with only 442 over 90 games started. That is less than 5 IP per start this season.

Which brings me to Alec Mills, who was in the Cubs rotation at the end of 2019 and through the pandemic-shortened 2020 season. Due to injuries Mills was called on to start five games heading into the All-Star break. Let’s take a look at how he did in those games:

Alec Mills Games Started

Date IP H R ER K
Date IP H R ER K
6/15 4.1 5 3 3 6
6/20 5 6 0 0 3
6/26 4 8 2 2 2
7/2 5.2 2 2 2 9
7/7 5.2 5 3 3 5
Box Scores FanGraphs

I posted a celebration of Mills’ last start on Twitter and a follower rightly teased me for getting fired up about three earned runs over 5⅔ innings with five strikeouts, but all of these things are relative. That start might not have been anything to write home about in 2016, but frankly it’s much better than the average start the Cubs are getting from their starters in 2021. Let’s look at Mills’ 2021 stats as a starter compared to the Cubs aggregate starting pitching numbers:

Mills Compared to Cubs Starters

Player/Team IP GS K/9 BB/9 HR/9 ERA FIP xFIP
Player/Team IP GS K/9 BB/9 HR/9 ERA FIP xFIP
Mills 28.2 6 7.85 1.88 0.63 3.77 3.16 3.12
Cubs 442 90 7.64 3.35 1.55 4.72 4.99 4.50
Select Stats FanGraphs

In pretty much every category except innings per start Mills is better than the aggregate core of pitchers the Cubs have run out this season. Now, clearly some nuance is missing by aggregating those numbers. I’m obviously not making an argument that Mills should replace Kyle Hendricks, Adbert Alzolay, or Zach Davies in the short term. However, I think it’s pretty clear Mills is currently the fourth-best starter on the Cubs and the battle for the fifth spot in the rotation for the second half should be a battle between Trevor Williams and Jake Arrieta for now.