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