Comparing Options for 5th Starter
Besides teaching the guys to pitch with a huge diamond ring on their finger, Chris Bosio and company have a 5th starter slot to fill (Wait, you don’t wear the World Series ring during the game? Oh, sorry, I’m new to this). The battle for the final rotation spot begins in just 19 days when pitchers and catchers report to Mesa. Last year’s debate included the likes of Kyle Hendricks, Adam Warren, and Trevor Cahill. In the event they would have gone outside the organization to fill the void, it could have cost a guy like Javy Baez or Jorge Soler. Boy, how times have changed. This year’s front runner seems to be deadline acquisition Mike Montgomery. After losing Tyson Ross to the Texas Rangers, the front office is taking a chance on a different bounce back candidate in Brett Anderson, pending a physical. We have a decent understanding of what Montgomery brings to the table, based on his 38 regular season and 14 postseason innings, but we are still just getting to know him. That’s weird to say about the guy who got the final out of the first Cubs World Series in blah blah blah who cares anymore years, nonetheless he’s still a new guy.
I took a look at some statistics on FanGraphs and while Montgomery suffers from a sample size standpoint, the two pitchers are similar in various areas. Anderson’s arsenal features 51.7% fastballs averaging 91.5mph, 31.3% sliders, 9.3% curveballs, and 7.7% changeups. Montgomery has nearly the same reliance on his fastball at 53.3% (averaging 92.3mph), however, his secondary pitches are all relied upon more evenly. The curveball that Joe Maddon loves so much is thrown 18.6% of the time, his changeup at 15%, and his cutter at 13.1%.
Where I found the similarities to be even more interesting lie in the batted ball category. This includes statistics like ground ball and fly ball rates, opposing hitters push and pull tendencies, and soft vs hard contact. Among these categories, the biggest difference between the two pitchers comes in their Pull%, which differs by 8% (MM: 45.7%, BA: 37.8%). I bring up that stat simply because the 8% difference is the outlier among the rest of the batted ball statistics. The next largest difference is seen in Med%, which is percentage of balls in play hit with medium speed, at 5.4% (MM: 57.4%, BA: 52.0%). The significance of these two statistics only really lies in how Joe Maddon will manage his defensive lineup and positioning. They are significant to my research, because after these two, the rest of the statistics differ by no more than 5%. The table below shows the batted ball statistics, see for yourself the similarities.
One of the main ideologies pioneering the way in this total organization revamp, is the ability to control the strike zone from both a hitting and pitching standpoint. This idea embodies skills like first pitch strikes and staying in the strike zone, among many other much more complex things. Montgomery has the edge on first pitch strikes, but only by 0.07% (MM: 59.3%, BA: 58.6%. For reference, Kyle Hendricks sports a 65.5% first pitch strike rate which is the 17th highest since 2009). Over his career, Anderson has thrown 63% strikes, based on total pitches thrown (simply strikes divided by total pitches, so include swings and misses). Montgomery is at 62%, but with roughly 7900 less pitches thrown in total. Anderson, however, is ahead by quite a bit when it comes to pitches inside the strike zone. His career Zone% is 48.1% which puts him at 41st overall since 2009. Montgomery’s Zone% is 41.9% but again remember, a lot less pitches thrown over a much shorter career to this point.
So what does any of this mean? Based on the statistics I’ve laid here before you, I can see why the cubs are taking a chance on a guy like Brett Anderson, given that they are so high on Mike Montgomery. The Cubs aren’t shy when it comes to giving an older and/or injury prone player a chance to revitalize his career. When it comes to soon to be 29-year-old Anderson, however, the upside of a bounce back is much higher than that of some other candidates the Cubs have invested in over the past couple years. Take a look at each player’s FanGraphs page for yourself, let me know if you find something else interesting between the two.
My prediction is fairly equal innings throughout the season, almost a 5th starter by committee if you will. This is all hoping Anderson can get back to, and retain full or near full health. I would expect to see Montgomery start the season in the starter role predominately, and having them slowly work Anderson back into it. While Anderson’s 162 game average for innings is 193, I would not expect him to get anywhere close to that. His career high is 180.1 in 2015, and when you factor the injury I would hope for somewhere between 140-160 innings. Montgomery has had 190 innings between the past two seasons, putting his average at 147. I would say that is a fair guess for his work load this season. The idea of a six-man rotation is something that comes up in Cubs talk lately, and these two are prime candidates to help the Cubs do just that.
Something interesting to keep an eye on is 22-year-old Cuban pitcher, Hector Mendoza. Recently posted as a free agent, he is expected to sign with a team around his 23rd birthday on March 5th. While Brett Anderson and Mike Montgomery are definitely interesting pieces for the future of the Cubs rotation, they are 27 and (basically) 29, respectively. Mendoza would be the young cost controlled pitcher that many agree is the one missing piece from this Cubs powerhouse. I expect the Cubs, and many other teams, to pursue him aggressively as they won’t have to dip into the talent pool to sign him.