The first four spots in the Cubs rotation are pretty well locked down.
Kyle Hendricks will start on Opening Day (although that has not yet been officially announced). Marcus Stroman will follow, and then likely Wade Miley after that, though Miley has yet to throw in a spring game. The fourth spot is almost certainly going to Alec Mills.
Two lefthanders will vie for the No. 5 spot. Only one of them has thrown in a game so far. That’s Justin Steele, who had a good two-inning outing against the Padres Saturday and who will take the mound today in Tempe against the Angels.
Steele made 20 appearances last year for the Cubs in his debut MLB season. Nine of those were starts. He had more success in relief (2.03 ERA, 1.050 WHIP, 14.2 strikeouts per nine innings) than as a starter (4.95 ERA, 1.443 WHIP, 7.8 strikeouts per nine innings). And yet, I recall two very good starts in September, one against the Twins, the other against the Pirates, that hinted that Steele could become a very good MLB starting pitcher.
Smyly, who also hasn’t thrown in a spring game yet, was also better in relief in 2021 (six games, 1.64 ERA, 1.273 WHIP) than as a starter (23 starts, 4.75 ERA, 1.383 WHIP). Throughout his career he’s also been better in relief (83 games, 3.32 ERA, 1.190 WHIP) than as a starter (134 starts, 4.32 ERA, 1.290 WHIP).
Smyly turns 33 in June. I think he is better suited to the relief/swingman role. Here is his pitch arsenal from last year:
Here is Steele’s:
The fact that Steele has a good slider and can also occasionally go to a changeup would probably serve better in the rotation. Smyly is a three-pitch pitcher; that kind of pitch selection works better in relief, I think. At 26, Steele still has upside. Smyly turns 33 in June and is still an effective MLB pitcher, but at this stage of his career might not be suited to go out every fifth day.
So, there’s my choice: Justin Steele for fifth starter. Who do you choose?
The Cubs’ fifth starter should be...
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