It might be hard to believe—although it shouldn’t be—but the Cubs’ 2013 Opening Day starting rotation will be worse than in previous years.
Last season saw the Cubs begin the season with Ryan Dempster, Matt Garza, Jeff Samardzija, Paul Maholm, and Chris Volstad. That is a fairly formidable first four.
But the 2013 Opening Day starting rotation will feature only one holdover from that of 2012.
The Chicago Cubs seem hell-bent on trading away Matt Garza. Why else would they give updates in 30-second intervals about his offseason progression?
The only reason he is still with the club now is because he has yet to fully recover from injuring his throwing arm shortly before last season's trade deadline.
Therefore, considering the Cubs’ seemingly incessant shopping of Matt Garza, he should not be presumed to feature in the club’s Opening Day starting rotation.
Jeff Samardzija will begin the season as the club’s No. 1 starter and if he should improve throughout the year as he did in 2012, he will end the season as the team’s definitive No. 1 and one of the N.L.’s best.
The slightly overpriced Edwin Jackson will begin the season as the No. 2; if for no other reason than by default. Leaving Travis Wood to be placed where his 2012 performance merited, as a three or four guy—in this case the No. 3.
Scott Baker, although coming off Tommy John surgery, will most likely begin the season as the No. 5 starter, but could move up to the No. 4 as he begins to put innings on his repaired right elbow.
When he was signed in mid-November, Theo Epstein believed Baker would be ready by Opening Day.
"If things go perfectly, he'll be stretched out to five or six innings for that first week of the season."
Part of this was due to the rehab schedule Scott Baker had set and has been successfully following.
“Baker was already beginning to throw and said his plan is to use the Spring Training starts as part of his rehab process.”
Knowing that, it would seem likely Scott Baker will begin the season as the traditional five-starter since the club plans to strictly limit his innings in the early going. However, he could feature as the No. 4 if the club begins the season with a four-man rotation.
The No. 4 starter is still a question. Could it be Scott Feldman or Carlos Villanueva, or somebody else? If it is somebody else, then who could that be?
Carlos Villanueva looks to be destined for the bullpen as a long-relief type of guy, but he could land the last remaining spot in the starting rotation—at the very least he could become the Cubs' "spot-starter" filling in to give Scott Baker an extra day between starts and subbing in for an injured pitcher or if a rotation guy has a string of bad starts.
Villanueva had two stints as a starter with the Toronto Blue Jays in 2011 and 2012. On both occasions he pitched well early on, but in 2011 he was dropped back into the bullpen after a handful of rough starts and in 2012 he pitched very inconsistently as a starter.
Jack Moore, of FanGraphs.com, examined Carlos Villanueva’s future prospects as a Cubs starter and offered a theory as to why Villanueva struggled late after pitching well early in his two previous stints as a starter.
One point Jack Moore brought up that is worrisome is Villanueva’s inconsistency with his best pitch, the changeup.
He highlighted that as the season progressed his changeup became less reliable as an out-pitch and more vulnerable as it would tend to “float” in the strike zone rather than “drop”. This could be eliminated or diminished with improved conditioning by the Cubs giving him similar offseason treatment they gave Jeff Samardzija last year.
Even still, Mr. Moore brought up a point that Carlos Villanueva could become a “swing-man” in the Cubs pitching staff—starting and relieving. However, if the Cubs see him as a legitimate starting option then any notion of having Carlos Villanueva as a “swing-man” should be shelved; at least in the early part of the season.
However, after all that, Jed Hoyer had stated the team signed Scott Feldman to be a starter.
So, there you have it: Jeff Samardzija, Edwin Jackson, Travis Wood, and Scotts Feldman and Baker make up the 2013 Chicago Cubs’ Opening Day starting rotation.
Yet, projecting how each pitcher will perform throughout the 2013 season will not be as simple.
To a reason as to why, we must look at the Chicago Cubs’ bullpen’s inability to hold a lead or close out a game in 2012.
It is safe to say Jeff Samardzija, Ryan Dempster, and Matt Garza pitched much better than their records showed. That is why this projecting of the Cubs’ 2013 Opening Day starting rotation will not include wins and losses.
The following projected stats were formulated by factoring certain previous averages and ratios, infused with a sprinkle of speculation.
First up, Jeff Samardzija. You should expect to see “The Shark” pitch 207 or so innings –but no more than 215—racking up 224 strike outs with a 3.62 ERA in 32 starts.
Next, we have the Cubs’ prize free agent, Edwin Jackson. In his first season with the Cubs, we should expect to see Jackson throw between 195 and 200 innings, with 159 strikeouts and a 4.08 ERA in 32 starts.
One possible concern with Jackson that could foul up this projection is his record at Wrigley Field.
In three career starts at Wrigley Field, one in 2010 with the Arizona Diamondbacks, and two in 2011 with the Chicago White Sox and St. Louis Cardinals, Jackson is 1-2 with a 7.94 ERA, giving up 15 earned runs in 17 IP and a 1.412 WHIP.
If he is able to pitch near his career averages at home this season then the projections above should be fairly accurate. But—and this is a Kim Kardashian-sized but—if he pitches at Wrigley the way he had in his previous three starts then we could see his projected IP be about the same, if for nothing else to eat innings, but with fewer strikeouts and a plus-5.00 ERA.
Next up, in the three spot, is Travis Wood. Cubs’ fans should expect to see Travis Wood 190+ innings, amassing 155 strikeouts with a K:BB ratio of nearly three. He will do this in 30 starts with an ERA a pinky-width below 4.00.
Then, as the No. 4 in the five-man rotation, we have Scott Feldman. He’ll make 27 starts, pitching 170 innings with a plus-4.00 ERA.
Lastly, there is Scott Baker. He will pitch the fewest innings of all starters at nearly 160 innings and 150 K’s in 25 starts with a decent ERA of 4.00 coming off of Tommy John surgery.
There is one variable with Baker: His pitch count. If he is able to keep his pitch count low and make it into the sixth inning in his abbreviated early season starts and can continue to do so as the season progresses, then we could see him top out at 180 innings or thereabout.
**Late Note: This projected starting five and their numbers was made before, and without considering, the rumored trade involving the Cubs, Tigers, and Orioles that could see Rick Porcello land in Chicago.