ESPN estimates the Cubs have the fourth best rotation in baseball
(Photo by Stephen Green)
Yes, we’re still three months out from the Cubs’ home opener, and there are a few pieces that could be added by clubs through free agency or with a preseason deal. At the same time, organizations’ 2016 rosters are looking more and more complete by the day, which allows for some speculation to take place.
On Monday, Buster Olney and ESPN kicked off their annual team unit rankings, beginning with the top 10 rotations in baseball. The Cubs came in fourth on the list, with an estimated—if not unsurprising—rotation of 2015 Cy Young Award winner Jake Arrieta, Jon Lester, John Lackey, Kyle Hendricks and Jason Hammel.
Arrieta was baseball’s best pitcher for the last three months of the 2015 regular season, before he seemed to finally tire in the postseason. While Lester did not conquer his throwing issues to bases, he and catcher David Ross seemed to figure out a way to mitigate the effect of that problem. And before you assign regression to the 37-year-old Lackey, keep in mind that he has had freakish consistency with his average fastball velocity.
Anyone surprised with how high the Cubs were ranked might want to think again. According to fangraphs.com, Cubs starters led baseball with a 19.2 fWAR, and had a 1.11 WHIP and a .230 opponent batting average—also tops in the game. Their 3.36 ERA was good for third in the bigs. Adding to their case, the Cubs signed Lackey and his 3.6 WAR from 2015 this offseason and did not lose any major personnel from last year’s rotation. They also retained swingmen Trevor Cahill, Clayton Richard and Travis Wood. With a strong front three and added depth at the back end to account for injuries or underperformance, the Cubs could easily replicate their 2015 on the bump.