OK. Same caveat. Not a journalist, only a fan. Been watching Cubs baseball since I was a kid, and that makes me just as qualified to comment as every other idiot on the message boards and in the comment sections. Again, not going too deep into the analytics…
The basic tenet here is: Did the 2018 Cubs pass the eye test?
Last article dealt with the who/what/why of this analysis. We covered Joe Maddon, Theo Epstein, Jed Hoyer, and the gang. This go-round, we will take a look at the starting pitching staff…
Jon Lester: (My Rating: ++) Without a doubt, the bulldog of our starting pitching, Lester generally set the tone for this crew. Whether it’s in gameday preparation or in post-game quotables, Jon is the leader of the pack here. He had a great season by any standards: low ERA, 18 wins, 30+ starts. Fact of the day: In his Cubs career, Jon Lester has made 32 starts every single season. And when this team needed to stop a cold streak, it seemed that it always fell to Lester… and Lester would deliver more often that not. The signing of Jon Lester just may be the best contract I’ve seen out of the Cubs in my lifetime, not just for the on-field aspect but the off-field as well. This is not hyperbole.
In the early hours of October 3rd, after a crushing loss to the Rockies eliminated the Cubs from 2018 play, Lester offered this gem: “Sometimes you need to get your dick knocked in the dirt to appreciate it. Maybe we needed that.” That, Ladies and Gentlemen, is called a tone-setter… NL Central: You are on notice.
Kyle Hendricks: (My Rating: +) Kyle Hendricks was headed for a “Meh” type of season after the first several weeks. The command was off, the walks were up, and the Cubs were not scoring for him. I think he had a losing record until halfway through the season. He led the team in starts and innings pitched, but had a high (for him) ERA. Not that the numbers were bad per se, but they weren’t Hendricks-like. He either found the missing ingredient or watched his old tape, because he came on strong at the end of the season. The Professor will be 29 at the start of Spring Training, and the Cubs and I expect another good (hopefully great) season from him.
Jose Quintana: (My Rating: Meh) Look! My first Meh! Not slamming Jose, but it felt like an up-and-down season from him. He had a losing record apart from the games against Milwaukee early on, and his first inning troubles were significant. Highest career walk total and lowest strikeout total show that this may just require a tweak. We know he has great stuff, he will be 30 at the start of next season, and he is under contract for 2 more years. His numbers should improve as he finds more of his comfort level. I anticipate a + rating for Jose next year, but I’m hoping for ++.
Tyler Chatwood: (My Rating: –) Look! My first minus! Even Tyler Chatwood would agree: this was not a good season. First, he lost the strike zone. Then he lost his starting job. Then he lost the manager’s trust. All-in-all, a bad season. Or was it? A bloated walk rate led to a bloated WHIP rate and eventually to a 5.30 ERA. In the first month of the season, that walk rate was only a red flag. The Cubs still won the majority of the games he started. After a while, though, that WHIP rate sank the team into some pretty big holes. Count me among the fans who thought his 2017 Coors Field splits were suggestive of success at Wrigley. And I think he has electric stuff. But there’s one problem: he couldn’t throw the ball where he wanted. And he couldn’t repeat a throw. No two pitches looked alike. To my untrained eye, this suggests a mechanical problem, and an off-season decompress and refocus might be enough to get him back to where he wants to be. I am hopeful, but that’s out of necessity: he has two more years under contract.
Yu Darvish: (My Rating: –*) A minus with an asterisk? What the hell? This is strictly due to the small sample size with Darvish. High expectations and dashed hopes led to the lower rating. Yu Darvish was the signing of the off-season. My personal expectations were nothing short of 100 wins and a World Series berth, and I’m sure I am not the only one who thought that. Ineffectiveness and injury shortened his season to 8 starts and 40 innings. Comments sections and message boards lit up the Cubs and Theo Epstein for this “boneheaded signing.” But I don’t buy any of it. Yu Darvish did not fleece the Cubs nor did he forget how to pitch. He is 32 entering next year, and has struck out over 1000 batters in 139 MLB games over 6 seasons. He had another 1250 in Japan. He also has one of the best arsenals in pitching. I anticipate that he will come back healthy and ready to prove his detractors wrong.
Cole Hamels: (My Rating: ++*) Look! Another asterisk! The Cole Hamels trade surprised me on two levels. Not only did we get him for peripheral players and the PTBNL, but the success he had out of the gate was so much of what this team needed. Like the Jose Quintana trade last year, Hamels came in and dropped jaws in his first Cubs start. And then his second. And then his third. The asterisk is a notation for me to remember that this was a small sample size, but it was a very good sample. The Cubs have the decision to make regarding his 2019 option, $20 million for his age 35 season. This is where a creative front office shines. Hopefully, Cole Hamels is in the lineup next season, and maybe the next.
Mike Montgomery: (My Rating: +) At the start of the season, Mike Montgomery was reported to have said that he wanted to be a starting pitcher. The rumor mill instantly churned, and the panic ensued: Was he demanding that role? Would he force a trade? It turns out that Mike Montgomery got his chance to start (due to injuries, unfortunately) and he shined early on in that role. His first 5 starts got him national attention, as I recall, but that level of success was fleeting. He came back to earth and his overall numbers at season’s end were just OK. It was his early work and his commitment to the team came earned him this + rating. He started, he relieved, and he came in for mop-up duty when needed. Basically, whatever Joe asked of him, Monty did. That attitude is an asset that every winning team needs.
Wrap: The starting pitching struggled to start the 2018 season, without a doubt. The Cubs were at .500 every other game for almost the first whole month of the season. The bullpen carried the team through a good portion of the first half until the starters could shoulder the load, thank God.
The one glaring problem for the starters (AND THE STARTERS ALONE) was the ERA in the first innings of ballgames. Our boys in blue were 24th out of 30 teams in that department, giving up 100 first inning runs. While the Cubs led the league in come-from-behind victories in 2018, that was PURELY out of necessity. We trailed after the first inning in damn near half the games we played this year. If that gets addressed, either by scouting or gameday prep or warm-ups, this team will have addressed a major flaw from the season prior.
And that might lead to us not having our dicks knocked into the dirt come October.
Photo: internet stock photo