There are crushes, there are man-crushes, there are bro-mances, heck, I even have my advanced stat man-crush, Ben Zobrist! But I am going to add a new kind of crush to the list. A rotation crush! See, I was pouring over pitching stats, preparing for upcoming fantasy drafts, as I am want to do and came across the Chicago Cubs starting rotation and well, woah, mama! After just a quick glance I realized that, yes, I now had starting rotation crush!
Yep, the Cub rotation has me all starry-eyed. I may even plaster my bedroom walls with their pictures, posters and other assorted memorabilia,. Okay, I probably won’t go to that much of an extreme. Probably. But, that is neither here nor there. The Cub rotation is my kind of rotation. Seems, like it has been a tad bit under the radar, but the Cubbies, in general, are actually well on their way to building themselves back up and into the real of respectability and it starts with their starting pitching. Garza, Jackson, Baker, Samardzija, Villanueva, Wood. Okay it does not sound overly intimidating or like a legitimate law firm, sure. Also, it’s not the Brave rotations of the 90s or the A’s of the early 2000′s. It’s not even the Phillies ace rotation of a couple seasons ago, for that matter. They are probably not going to adorn the cover of Sports Illustrated with a clever and catchy cpation next to them, any time soon, okay. But they are, unbeknownst to many, quite solid. I am not saying any of these picthers are gonna be winning the Cy Young Award in 2013, but in their starting picthing, the Cubs have a solid building block. Peruse these numbers from 2012 (2011 for Scott Baker since he missed all of 2012)
Matt Garza: 3.59 xFIP, 3.60 SIERA, 1.18 WHIP, 8.33 K/9
Jeff Samardzija: 3.38 xFIP, 3.40 SIERA, 1.22 WHIP, 9.27 K/9
Edwin Jackson: 3.79 xFIP, 3.75 SIERA, 1.22 WHIP, 7.97 K/9
Scott Baker: 3.61 xFIP, 3.44 SIERA, 1.17 WHIP, 8.22 K/9
Carlos Villanueva: 4.09 xFIP, 3.72 SIERA, 1.27 WHIP, 8.76 K/9
Travis Wood: 4.62 xFIP, 4.41 SIERA, 1.20 WHIP, 6.87 K/9
Well, I think you can quickly see why my inaugural rotation crush is for the 2013 Cubs. The advanced stas are very consistently above average for the most part. Sure, Wood is a bit of an outlier, but Travis Wood is just a pitcher I like. One of those pitchers I just like for no statistical or gut reason whatsoever. I have a similar unexplained affinity for Chris Volstad, but I am veering a bit off course, here. Back to the rotation crush. My guess is that Wood ends up coming out of the bullpen for the Cubbies, anyway, but who knows what could happen in Spring Training? Alright, focus. Roatation crush. Looking at these advanced stats, you have to feel the Cubs are going to be in a lot of their games and will not need to tax their bullpen all that much. Each one of these pitchers (okay, with the exception of Villanueva) have been high on my list for quite some time and are now all in one glorious rotation in Chicago! Again, though, let’s not start throwing these guys Cy Young votes just yet. While I can barely contain my excitement about this rotation, there are certainly some question marks hovering above it.
First off, you have Scott Baker. Now, I have liked Scotty Baker for awhile and I do like the move to the National League. The change of scenery should certainly do him well, even if he is moving to a more hitter friendly park. The concern though is that he did miss all of 2012 recovering from Tommy John surgery. Missing a season of baseball, for any reason, especially an injury and super especially (yes I said super especially, deal with it) for an arm or shoulder injury, will make things somewhat difficult. At some point Baker should be at, or at least close to, his former self, but there is no telling when that may be. Word is he will be ready for the start of the regular season and early projections make it seem like most baseball prognosticators think he will be up on the bump looking like he has not skipped a beat. There is no guarantee on what Baker will provide, but it is definitely worth whatever small risk there is, for the Cubbies. But Baker, of course, is not the only question mark in this rotation.
“The Shark” , Jeff Samardzija had a very, very good season in 2012. There were a few bumps along the way, *cough* June *cough*, but he still finished the season with some very respectable numbers. Plus, you have to love a 44.6 ground ball rate coupled with a K/9 over nine! Trust me, you have to! That’s not a ton of fly balls, which is great if, like “the Shark”, you pitch a lot of games at Wrigley Field. The one main concern/question around Samardzija, is whether or not he can duplicate his 2012 numbers in 2013. Looking at the numbers, themselves, nothing really points to a regression in 2013. In fact, if anything, they point to a bit of an improvement. So what’s the problem? Well, if you buy into this sort of thing, it could be his inning total from 2012. His innings thrown in 2012 were the most he has thrown in any season of professional baseball. In fact, it almost double his 2011 innnings thrown, back when he was coming out of the bullpen. But hey, the numbers point to some improvement, so maybe the innnings thing will counter act the expected improvement and he will duplicate those 2012 numbers, in 2013. Did that make sense? No? Yeah, it seemed to make more sense in my head. Personally, I think Shark will be fine in 2013, but I could see that increased innings thing being a mild concern to some. Of course numbers and projections are great, but they are not the end all, be all. They cannot always tell the whole story, per se.
Any baseball fan who follows stats, especially advanced stats, knows that while these stats can be helpful and show patterns, point to regressions, etcetera, etcetera, and should help us predict future performance, this is not always the case. When you look at this Cub rotation and see those xFIP and SIERA numbers, it looks all fine and dandy, peachy keen. For whatever reason though, we know it is highly unlikely that each of these pitchers will have an ERA matching, or even close to, their xFIPs or SIERAs. At the very least you have to like your odds if you are Theo Epstein and company over there in the Cubs front office. I know I sure do! When you have a fifth starter with the potential to strike out close to nine batters per nine innings, well everything else should be cream cheese. So congratulations to the 2013 Chicago Cubs starting picthers for becoming my very first rotation crush! You should feel greatly honored. Well, enough out of me, I have to go track down a life-sized Jeff Samardzija cardboard cutout.