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The Rest of the Way: The Pitchers

Last week, I took a little liberty with statistical definitions and imagined what each member of the Cubs offense would slash the rest of the way if, at the end of the season, they were to hit their PECOTA projections and career averages.

What did we learn from that exercise? For one, despite the name of the piece (“The Great Regression”), that’s not how regression works. But we also learned that the current Cubs offense is generating runs despite some serious under-performance from Jorge Soler and Jason Heyward.

Now I want to apply that same lens to the pitching. No regression or faux-regression here—as you’ll see in the table below, this exercise reveals a pitching corps that has absolutely dominated the league (first in ERA, second in FIP to the New York Mets) thanks to some individual performances that have surpassed all expectations.

Does that mean we should expect a regression? I won’t go down that rabbit hole again. What I do feel comfortable saying about the numbers below is this: while this over performance is nice, a team cannot and should not expect such a trend to continue. The Cubs should ride this wave as long as they can, but they should be ready for the eventual decline of some of these players. The trick is trying to tease out who that will be before it happens—it’s your classic game of hot potato.

With that, here’s the table. And for those that didn’t read the first piece, here’s a bit more on the methodology: the table below shows the ERA and FIP each pitcher would have to post the rest of the way (the data below includes performance through Monday night’s game) in order to hit their pre-season PECOTA projection and their overall career averages. Then I’ve averaged those numbers out in a third column, aptly labeled “Average.”

Jake Arrieta 3.98 3.86 4.61 4.44 4.30 4.15
Jon Lester 4.04 3.99 4.50 4.40 4.27 4.20
John Lackey 4.83 4.73 5.05 4.93 4.94 4.83
Jason Hammel 4.80 4.67 5.72 5.23 5.26 4.95
Kyle Hendricks 4.59 4.50 4.43 4.09 4.51 4.30
Hector Rondon 4.53 4.35 3.54 3.74 4.04 4.05
Adam Warren 4.75 4.63 4.35 4.78 4.55 4.71
Clayton Richard 5.53 5.56 5.44 5.41 5.49 5.49
Justin Grimm 4.66 4.49 5.97 4.64 5.32 4.57
Kyle Hendricks 4.59 4.50 4.43 4.09 4.51 4.30
Neil Ramirez 4.53 4.36 2.76 3.53 3.65 3.95
Pedro Strop 4.34 4.29 4.24 4.02 4.29 4.16
Travis Wood 4.97 4.93 5.28 5.14 5.13 5.04
Trevor Cahill 5.42 5.45 5.32 5.33 5.37 5.39

The offensive side of this exercise showed a lot of over performers and a couple of underperformers. On the pitching side, we see a whole bunch of mediocrity headed the Cubs way the rest of the way, no matter how you slice the numbers.

Let’s start with ace Jake Arrieta. While you might be tempted to look at the numbers above and think to yourself, “Maybe he’s just having a bizarro-version of 2015, where he was good in the first half and amazeballs in the second.” Unfortunately that doesn’t hold water. Arrieta wasn’t just “good” in the first half of 2015—he posted a 2.66 ERA that would be a far cry from the numbers in the table above. In short, Arrieta would be pitching more like a mediocre number-3 starter than the ace of a World Series favorite team.

Jason Hammel’s up next. The big question with Hammel is whether or not he can keep it together for a whole season. His second-half collapse in 2015 is going to reinforce the rest-of-the-way numbers my projections show, so Hammel has to prove he can get stay healthy without going through stretches where he’s getting absolutely crushed. Can he do it? Time will tell, but history isn’t on his side.

Let’s talk about Travis Wood for a minute. I’m going to channel my inner Matt Trueblood in the spirit of coming up with out-of-the-box thinking that might not be very popular. If you’re looking for a player to sell high on right now to include in a deal that can help make this team better, Wood is someone that might be worth looking at. He just threw those four perfect innings a few days ago, so your first instinct is probably to say this idea is crazy, especially since Joe Maddon has been so high on Wood since slotting him into the bullpen last year. The other lefty/long reliever, Clayton Richard, is pitching so poorly that this idea loses some merit, but that’s why it’s radical and different and not obvious. But if you could package him in a deal for a Sonny Gray or a Danny Salazar, then why not take a look?

A word about the bullpen in general. As the guys covered in the podcast, if the Cubs are going to make a move to set them up for the playoffs, at the top of the list lies a reliever that can dominates left-handed hitters. Take a close look at the lefties in the table—things don’t look good. While a lefty reliever would make sense according to the numbers above, the entirety of the bullpen looks like it will need some help. Here’s the thing about relievers though: there is so much volatility that some of this is to be expected. Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer knew this going into the season, and that’s why there is so much depth at Triple-A. While names like Spencer Patton, Armando Rivero, and Gerardo Concepcion don’t mean much to Cubs fans right now, wait until a few games in a row get blown up and you need someone that can get an out.

Like a reader pointed out in last week’s piece, I’m playing with numbers and am not saying that the performances above are predictive. It’s just another way to look at how well the entire team is playing all at once, which is rare and should be appreciated. It won’t last forever, and that’s OK.

Lead photo courtesy David Banks—USA Today Sports.

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