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August 2014

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COMMENTS

Should the Cubs Pass on Signing an Ace this Off-Season?

Written by , Posted in General

Last week I asked you all to ask me anything. I think that post went really well, so I think we’ll make that a semi-regular feature here on the site. So as to not get stale, we’ll probably run it once a month or every other week. Something to that effect.

I was intrigued by one of the questions and I wanted to give it a little more depth than I did in the comment section. Bryan asked:

Would you rather the Cubs have a starting rotation of one #1, one #3, and 3 #5s, or five #3’s?

I went with my gut reaction when I answered the question and as I reflected on it that day, I was paranoid that it went against all that I had done in terms of research on the topic recently for ESPN.

You’ll remember that I did a study on what defined each slot in the rotation. Looking at the numbers, we found that the average WAR produced by each spot in the rotation was:

#1 – 6.0

# 2 – 3.9

# 3 – 2.8

# 4 – 1.8

# 5 – 0.2

So, the simple answer to Bryan’s question would be to map it out. If we add the WAR for his two proposed rotations, whichever one is higher from a combined total would be the better option.

Option 1 (Mixed Rotation) – Total WAR = 9.4

Option 2 (All # 3 starters) – Total WAR = 14

So, not only is it option two, but it’s really not even close. With that said, would the Cubs be better off trying a non-traditional route as they seek to build around the plethora of young bats that are on the verge of breaking into the Majors? Perhaps the strategy shouldn’t be to invest this offseason in an ace, but rather to stock up on a two or three second and third tier type guys to fill out the rotation around what we have already?

I ran a list of what a “number three” starter would have looked like over the last four seasons to get an idea what we’re talking about. Using the Baseball Reference Play Index, I searched for pitchers who qualified for the ERA title and posted a WAR between 2.5 and 3.0 from 2010 – 2013. It yielded 34 results. What those results told me was that a pitcher in this category typically looks like the following:

12 – 10 record with an ERA of 3.58 over approximately 198 innings pitched. In 2013, the pitchers that fell in that category were Gio Gonzalez, Mike Leake, Jon Lester, Ervin Santana, Patrick Corbin, John Lackey, David Price, Ubaldo Jimenez, and Andy Pettitte. As you can see, there are some guys that may have had a down year, but other guys that aren’t really considered aces, like Corbin or Lackey.

So far this season, Jake Arrieta has posted a WAR of 3.9, so even if we pencil him in with a regression, we can expect at least a WAR of  3 from him. Kyle Hendricks has posted a WAR of 2.3 so far. Let’s assume he doesn’t get to three next year, but can be around 2.5, knowing that Arrieta can make up for him. That gives us two of the five we’ll need.

Looking at the internal candidates for the rotation next year, we’ve got Travis Wood, Dan Straily, Jacob Turner, and Edwin Jackson. I think it’s safe to say that we can rule out Jackson as being able to produce what we need, and I’d venture a guess that we can get 2.5 WAR out of one of Wood, Turner or Straily. That would mean we need two guys off the free agent or trade market to give us a rotation of at least five number three starters. That’s entirely doable. Chris Neitzel took a look recently at the market this 0ff-season. I think we can find our guys there and it doesn’t have to include someone like Lester (though I really want him), and given the nature of pitcher injuries these days, I think that may be the best route to go.

  • Darlin_Starlin

    Interesting. What do you think of Castillo? Is he in the long term plans or are his days numbered?

    • Joe Aiello

      I don’t know that I would say Wellington Castillo is in the long term plans, but definitely the short term.

      • Noah_I

        Yeah, I think the idea of Castillo being a top 10 starting catcher in the Majors is probably never going to happen, but I wouldn’t be surprised to just see the Cubs try to ride him as a 100 game per season starter for another couple of seasons. Unfortunately, the Cubs are still at least a couple of years away from legitimate in system catching help. If the Cubs try to work with Schwarber enough that he can catch in the Majors, I’m guessing he’s not ready until 2017. Caratini probably won’t be ready until at least then either (he’ll be in Daytona next season).

  • Darlin_Starlin

    Interesting. What do you think of Castillo? Is he in the long term plans or are his days numbered?

    • Joe Aiello

      I don’t know that I would say Wellington Castillo is in the long term plans, but definitely the short term.

      • Noah_I

        Yeah, I think the idea of Castillo being a top 10 starting catcher in the Majors is probably never going to happen, but I wouldn’t be surprised to just see the Cubs try to ride him as a 100 game per season starter for another couple of seasons. Unfortunately, the Cubs are still at least a couple of years away from legitimate in system catching help. If the Cubs try to work with Schwarber enough that he can catch in the Majors, I’m guessing he’s not ready until 2017. Caratini probably won’t be ready until at least then either (he’ll be in Daytona next season).

  • Mark_from_Toronto

    Unless the Cubs can find someone to take the remaining Jackson off our hands (not likely), I can see a rotation of Wood, Arrieta, Hendricks, a free agent signing (I’m thinking Hammel or De La Rosa), and unfortunately Jackson. I’m hopeful that maybe Turner or Straily can really turn it around though and at least send Jackson into the bullpen next season.

  • Mark_from_Toronto

    Unless the Cubs can find someone to take the remaining Jackson off our hands (not likely), I can see a rotation of Wood, Arrieta, Hendricks, a free agent signing (I’m thinking Hammel or De La Rosa), and unfortunately Jackson. I’m hopeful that maybe Turner or Straily can really turn it around though and at least send Jackson into the bullpen next season.

  • You should have “Ask Me Anything” with different “me’s”. For example, Ask Noah Anything, Ask Seymour Anything … They’d have to be game of course. But that would keep it very fresh.

    • Joe Aiello

      Good idea

    • Noah_I

      I’d be game for that.

    • Doc Raker

      I would be game for that but then there would not be anymore mysteries of the world since I would answer them all. Other than ‘What is Seymour’s purpose” I don’t think I can be stumped.

    • I’m throwing condiment fingers at all of them.

    • Eddie Von White

      Fresh is best.

    • Seymour Butts

      I’m game. Though for me all questions should be serious. I mean crap like is an Optometrist a real Doctor? Come on people.

    • cap’n realist

      I can see it now. Ask Seymour anything. Followed by 211 questions about sandwich toppings. I actually am saving up an insurance question for the next installment of ask Joe.

  • You should have “Ask Me Anything” with different “me’s”. For example, Ask Noah Anything, Ask Seymour Anything … They’d have to be game of course. But that would keep it very fresh.

    • Joe Aiello

      Good idea

    • Noah_I

      I’d be game for that.

    • Doc Raker

      I would be game for that but then there would not be anymore mysteries of the world since I would answer them all. Other than ‘What is Seymour’s purpose” I don’t think I can be stumped.

    • I’m throwing condiment fingers at all of them.

    • Eddie Von White

      Fresh is best.

    • Seymour Butts

      I’m game. Though for me all questions should be serious. I mean crap like is an Optometrist a real Doctor? Come on people.

    • cap’n realist

      I can see it now. Ask Seymour anything. Followed by 211 questions about sandwich toppings. I actually am saving up an insurance question for the next installment of ask Joe.

  • Doug S.

    I love the 5 #3 approach.

    • Dork

      Seems like Milwaukee is employing this strategy this year. I would not call Lohse Garza Parra or Galliardo and 2 rookies aces.

    • JTBarrett16

      And it would cost the same as 1 ace. 5 60M contracts instead of one 300M contract

      • Michael Rice

        Exactly and it leaves you less vulnerable to your whole season being ruined by one injury.

        It’s easier to replace a three than an ace.

  • Doug S.

    I love the 5 #3 approach.

    • Dork

      Seems like Milwaukee is employing this strategy this year. I would not call Lohse Garza Parra or Galliardo and 2 rookies aces.

    • AC0000000

      And it would cost the same as 1 ace. 5 60M contracts instead of one 300M contract

      • Michael Rice

        Exactly and it leaves you less vulnerable to your whole season being ruined by one injury.

        It’s easier to replace a three than an ace.

  • Dork

    Wada has pitched well, why does he not get the same benefit of the doubt that Hendricks seems to?
    I just reviewed Chris’s list of FA pitchers and beyond the top few the group does not insipre alot of confidence for me. I do not like the idea of the cubs signing Masterson or De la Rossa, but this FO seems to be able to find guys that will work to this 2 WAR level. I have faith that they will be able to do it again.

    • Noah_I

      I think a part of it is age, a part of it is that he’s struggled as he’s gotten into the 6th inning and beyond.

      I’m a big fan of Brandon McCarthy. The analytics community has been saying all season how his peripherals were better than his results in Arizona, and he’s showing that in New York. He’s kind of like Hendricks plus. Induces a lot of ground balls, doesn’t walk anyone, and strikes out a few more hitters than Hendricks.

      • Dork

        Funny, Brandon McCarthy stood out to me on that list too.

      • Noah_I

        Yeah, my dream scenarios are either the Cubs signing Lester and McCarthy, or picking up McCarthy and two other guys at his tier.

    • Joe Aiello

      Wada doesn’t make the list because of his age, like Noah said.

  • Dork

    Wada has pitched well, why does he not get the same benefit of the doubt that Hendricks seems to?
    I just reviewed Chris’s list of FA pitchers and beyond the top few the group does not insipre alot of confidence for me. I do not like the idea of the cubs signing Masterson or De la Rossa, but this FO seems to be able to find guys that will work to this 2 WAR level. I have faith that they will be able to do it again.

    • Noah_I

      I think a part of it is age, a part of it is that he’s struggled as he’s gotten into the 6th inning and beyond.

      I’m a big fan of Brandon McCarthy. The analytics community has been saying all season how his peripherals were better than his results in Arizona, and he’s showing that in New York. He’s kind of like Hendricks plus. Induces a lot of ground balls, doesn’t walk anyone, and strikes out a few more hitters than Hendricks.

      • Dork

        Funny, Brandon McCarthy stood out to me on that list too.

      • Noah_I

        Yeah, my dream scenarios are either the Cubs signing Lester and McCarthy, or picking up McCarthy and two other guys at his tier.

    • Joe Aiello

      Wada doesn’t make the list because of his age, like Noah said.

  • Dork

    I am not sure it matters, and maybe it is bad for the cubs in draft position and slot money (which I personally can’t root for), but the way the two Chicago teams are going the cubs just might pass up the sox for the better record. The cubs are 10-8 in August and the sox are 6-11 with the worst run differential in the majors at -53 over that stretch.

    • Noah_I

      The Sox got off to a relatively good start this season based more on a handful of players having unsustainably hot starts than Abreu’s legitimate dominance or Chris Sale’s awesomeness. Alexei had a .396 wOBA and 152 wRC+ in April, hasn’t been above a .338 wOBA and 112 wRC+ since, and was as low as a .255 wOBA and 54 wRC+ in June. Tyler Flowers was similarly awesome in April, bad in May, and utterly awful in June before leveling off to about league average offense since.

      The Cubs definitely could pass up the White Sox this season.

      Regarding the Cubs’ draft position, I’m not concerned as long as the Cubs have one of the top 11 picks (10 worst records in baseball), which would all be protected from being free agent compensation. The Cubs currently have the 6th worst record in baseball, so they’d have to pass Minnesota (1/2 game back), Boston (1 game back), the Mets (3 games back), and the White Sox and Padres (3.5 games back each). It’s hard to gain 3-4 games on that many teams this late in the season.

      • Dork

        One other interesting difference between the Cubs and Sox is watching the development plan for Carlos Rodon, Jumping him from high A to AAA, already even though his walks per 9 were at 4.66 at high A (very small sample size). I would not be surprised to see him called up in Sept even if not this is still agressive. Would they be thinking he could get better coaching at AAA. The cubs have been very carful with pitchers especially college pitches that have already logged alot of innings this year.

      • Noah_I

        In my opinion, bringing Rodon up after pitching a full college season at this point would be pretty dumb on the White Sox’s part. There’s absolutely no reason for them to not at least keep him down until mid-April and get the extra year of service time. Especially if all they would do with Rodon is put him in the pen to try to win an extra game or two in September when the White Sox are out of it.

        In other words, if Kenny was still in charge, I’d near guarantee Rodon would be up. With Hahn in charge, I doubt it.

      • Dusty Baylor

        I agree Noah. It’s been a long season…He’s only pitching a few games at each level…and not every highly drafted pitcher is Chris Sale. I don’t get what they’re doing with him.

  • Dork

    I am not sure it matters, and maybe it is bad for the cubs in draft position and slot money (which I personally can’t root for), but the way the two Chicago teams are going the cubs just might pass up the sox for the better record. The cubs are 10-8 in August and the sox are 6-11 with the worst run differential in the majors at -53 over that stretch.

    • Noah_I

      The Sox got off to a relatively good start this season based more on a handful of players having unsustainably hot starts than Abreu’s legitimate dominance or Chris Sale’s awesomeness. Alexei had a .396 wOBA and 152 wRC+ in April, hasn’t been above a .338 wOBA and 112 wRC+ since, and was as low as a .255 wOBA and 54 wRC+ in June. Tyler Flowers was similarly awesome in April, bad in May, and utterly awful in June before leveling off to about league average offense since.

      The Cubs definitely could pass up the White Sox this season.

      Regarding the Cubs’ draft position, I’m not concerned as long as the Cubs have one of the top 11 picks (10 worst records in baseball), which would all be protected from being free agent compensation. The Cubs currently have the 6th worst record in baseball, so they’d have to pass Minnesota (1/2 game back), Boston (1 game back), the Mets (3 games back), and the White Sox and Padres (3.5 games back each). It’s hard to gain 3-4 games on that many teams this late in the season.

      • Dork

        One other interesting difference between the Cubs and Sox is watching the development plan for Carlos Rodon, Jumping him from high A to AAA, already even though his walks per 9 were at 4.66 at high A (very small sample size). I would not be surprised to see him called up in Sept even if not this is still agressive. Would they be thinking he could get better coaching at AAA. The cubs have been very carful with pitchers especially college pitches that have already logged alot of innings this year.

      • Noah_I

        In my opinion, bringing Rodon up after pitching a full college season at this point would be pretty dumb on the White Sox’s part. There’s absolutely no reason for them to not at least keep him down until mid-April and get the extra year of service time. Especially if all they would do with Rodon is put him in the pen to try to win an extra game or two in September when the White Sox are out of it.

        In other words, if Kenny was still in charge, I’d near guarantee Rodon would be up. With Hahn in charge, I doubt it.

      • Dusty Baylor

        I agree Noah. It’s been a long season…He’s only pitching a few games at each level…and not every highly drafted pitcher is Chris Sale. I don’t get what they’re doing with him.

  • Noah_I

    One thing I’m curious of in your pitcher analysis is how much the poor numbers of the number 5 type pitchers are the results of many of them only getting a relatively small number of ineffective starts before never seeing the Majors again or being converted to relievers? Or did you use a minimum innings pitched in your determination?

    • Kizzfastfists

      In his initial article he only used pitchers that qualified for the ERA title. That means around 120 pitchers a year. Then he broke those into 1-5 equally so about 24 pitchers per tier.

      • Joe Aiello

        What he said

  • Noah_I

    One thing I’m curious of in your pitcher analysis is how much the poor numbers of the number 5 type pitchers are the results of many of them only getting a relatively small number of ineffective starts before never seeing the Majors again or being converted to relievers? Or did you use a minimum innings pitched in your determination?

    • Kizzfastfists

      In his initial article he only used pitchers that qualified for the ERA title. That means around 120 pitchers a year. Then he broke those into 1-5 equally so about 24 pitchers per tier.

      • Joe Aiello

        What he said

  • Darlin_Starlin

    Does Wada get a complete game for last nights game?

    • Kizzfastfists

      Yes. However, he does not get a quality start for his complete game shutout.

      • Darlin_Starlin

        Haha so Vogelsong gets a 4 inning CG and a loss?

      • Kizzfastfists

        That would have been the case if the game would have stood. Instead the game continues today.

  • Darlin_Starlin

    Does Wada get a complete game for last nights game?

    • Kizzfastfists

      Yes. However, he does not get a quality start for his complete game shutout.

      • Darlin_Starlin

        Haha so Vogelsong gets a 4 inning CG and a loss?

      • Kizzfastfists

        That would have been the case if the game would have stood. Instead the game continues today.

  • Bryan

    Thanks for the information Joe!

  • Bryan

    Thanks for the information Joe!

  • Michael Rice

    I’ve been saying for a while, our pitching future is not as bad as so many seem to think.

    That is why we can use what we have and wait to see who pans out on offense. Then, if we only need one pitcher, we may be able to put together a mega trade.

  • Michael Rice

    I’ve been saying for a while, our pitching future is not as bad as so many seem to think.

    That is why we can use what we have and wait to see who pans out on offense. Then, if we only need one pitcher, we may be able to put together a mega trade.