Chicago Cubs: How the Cubs' New-Look Rotation Compares to 2012 Opening Day Staff

Jared DwyerCorrespondent IIIJanuary 18, 2013

July 23, 2012; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Chicago Cubs pitcher Ryan Dempster (46) congratulates starting pitcher Jeff Samardzija (29) on defeating the Pittsburgh Pirates during the ninth inning at PNC Park. The Chicago Cubs won 2-0. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

In an article published last week, I briefly predicted and projected the five pitchers believed to comprise the 2013 Cubs’ Opening Day starting rotation. But I did not do a full comparison between the Opening Day rotations of 2012 and 2013.

The article briefly stated that the 2013 Opening Day rotation did not look as formidable as that of 2012's. That proclamation was made based on practice, rather than on theory.

For over half of the of 2012 season, the Cubs had a Cy Young contender on their staff to go along with proven veteran, Matt Garza, and up-and-comer, Jeff Samardzija. Not to mention Paul Maholm who, although streaky, was a solid starter before being dealt to Atlanta. (And let us not forget—although maybe we should—Chris Volstad and his .200 win percentage and plus-6.00 ERA in 2012).

But most of those starters are gone and one is most likely on the way out; the 2013 starting rotation, as predicted in Projecting the Cubs’ 5 Man Rotation for 2013, will have more alterations than a wedding dress.

Jeff Samardzija will be the No. 1, which should come as no surprise. The No. 2 spot, however, may be a bolt from the blue—then again, maybe not.

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I had previously mentioned in past articles my hope that the Cubs would decide to keep Matt Garza rather than trading him away before the start of the season. But all signs point to that not happening.

Therefore, the 2013 Opening Day No. 2–by default–is Edwin Jackson; followed by Travis Wood, Scott Baker and Scott Feldman to round out the Cubs’ Opening Day starting rotation.

It would be an amazing feat for Jeff Samardzija to pitch as well in 2013 as Ryan Dempster did for the Cubs in 2012.

Prior to being traded to the Texas Rangers, Ryan Dempster had a record of only 5-5 out of 16 starts with a 2.25 ERA and an opponents' batting average of .210. However, if you remember, in his first nine starts he had only three decisions; all losses.

But, he was able to maintain a sub-2.00 ERA through his first six starts of the season, and never eclipsed a 3.00 ERA with the Cubs in 2012–the closest he came was a 2.90 ERA after his ninth start, in which he gave up his highest total of earned runs with the Cubs last season, six.

After that game on May 30 against the San Diego Padres he went on to pitch five games–totaling 33 innings pitched–without giving up a run, earned or otherwise, lowering his ERA to 1.86.

It is not too far-fetched to believe Jeff Samardzija will one day be able to pitch that well on a regular basis, but the likelihood of that occurring in 2013–in only his second season as a full-time starter–does not seem high; or at least not for the entire season. (We all know, though, that with baseball, logic can often be thrown out the window).

For that reason, in the battle of No. 1’s, the edge would have to go to Ryan Dempster and 2012.

The No. 2’s could be a push; it all depends on how well Edwin Jackson pitches at Wrigley Field.

When Edwin Jackson is on, he is on. When Matt Garza is on, he is on. But when either are off, boy, are they off.

In 2012 Matt Garza pitched just about as well as he had in 2011, albeit in an abbreviated season.  Regardless of missing almost half of the season, if you look as his numbers through roughly the same time period in 2011 (July 19) as 2012 (July 21), you will notice how similar they are.

If you look even closer, however, you will see that in 2012 he started the season off better than 2011 and was able to pitch with more consistency than the previous year. But even still, some numbers were up from 2011 and some were down. 

Comparing his statistics in 2012 up to the time of his injury (July 21) to those in 2011 through the comparable date (July 19), Matt Garza showed he can finish a season strong by lowering his ERA by almost one-half run from July 19 to the end of the season. 

Looking at his 2011 statistics from his first start to his July 19 start, Garza was projected to have season totals of 206 innings, 197 hits and 87 earned runs. But after the July 19 start he pitched well enough to bring his actual season totals of hits and earned runs down to 186 and 73 respectively, by pitching only eight fewer actual innings (198).

Garza's strong finish to 2011 was able to transfer over into a fine start to the 2012 season.

The variable in this equation, though, is if Edwin Jackson can pitch to his normal career averages at home this season. If Jackson can do that then a comparison between Jackson and Garza could be quite close. 

However, if Edwin Jackson pitches his career Wrigley Field averages at home, then Matt Garza wins this comparison far and away. In three career starts at Wrigley Field, Jackson is 1-2 with a 7.94 ERA surrendering 15 runs in 17 IP. 

There is something that needs to be said concerning Edwin Jackson and Wrigley Field, however. In his three Wrigley starts, his battery mates have included John Hester (ARI), A.J. Pierzynski (CHW), and Yadier Molina (STL). 

And in those starts his worst performance at Wrigley Field came when Hester was his catcher–4 IP, 11 hits and 8 ER. But as the quality of batterymate improved–Hester to Pierzynski to Molina–so did the quality of Jackson’s starts at Wrigley Field.

Therefore, what could be the key to Jackson’s Wrigley Field outings is Welington Castillo’s pitch calling and overall performance behind the plate.

That being said, it seems too much responsibility to place on the shoulders of a young, still-developing catcher, for Edwin Jackson to pitch better in 2013 than Matt Garza did in 2012. This one goes to 2012.

The evaluation of the No. 3's is also close; just not as close as Jackson and Garza.

Sure Travis Wood showed major improvement from his first start with the Cubs to his strong finish to the 2012 season. But he will not perform as well in 2013 as Jeff Samardzija did in 2012.

He will indeed pitch more innings in 2013 than Samardzija did in 2012, but as far as quality is concerned, Wood just doesn’t measure up; hence Samardzija being the Cubs’ unquestioned No. 1 and Wood being a No. 3.

Chalk this one up to 2012 as well.

Now, on to the No. 4’s: Scott Baker and Paul Maholm.

As stated earlier, Paul Maholm was a streaky pitcher when he was with the Cubs in 2012. The club lost his first two starts, then won his next four, then lost five, won one, lost two, then won six–not counting a team win on July 8 vs. the Mets when Maholm pitched one inning in relief of Dempster. 

Regardless, Paul Maholm was a solid pitcher for the club last season.

Scott Baker, however, missed last season due to Tommy John surgery. He was a decent pitcher with the Minnesota Twins, 2008 being his best season and posted a 3.14 ERA in 2011, but has only two seasons where he made more than 20 starts and had a sub-4.00 ERA.

Baker is a good pitcher, nothing spectacular, but neither is Paul Maholm. The hang up here is Scott Baker’s innings will be limited regardless of how he pitches coming off of TJ surgery.

He could be better in 2013 for the Cubs than Maholm was in 2012, but it is difficult to predict due to the Tommy John surgery. That is why a slight edge is given here to Paul Maholm and 2012.

The No. 5’s: This is an easy one. Chris Volstad representing the 2012 staff and…it really doesn’t matter who is put in here to represent the 2013 Opening Day rotation. Nobody, and I do mean nobody could possibly pitch worse for the Cubs in 2013 than Volstad did in 2012.

But for the sake of finality, Scott Feldman stands in as the 2013 Chicago Cubs’ Opening Day No. 5 starter giving the 2013 staff its first and only hands-down victory over their 2012 opposite.

The 2012 Opening Day starting rotation may have earned what seems like a sounding victory over their 2013 counterpart by a 4-1 margin, but most of the comparisons were close–almost too close to call in some cases–there are many variables that could flip the script, if you will.

The 2013 bullpen will be improved over the 2012 edition. This will lead the bullpen to better get the starters out of jams. Instead of coming on in relief in the sixth or seventh inning and giving up a double to left-center raising the starter’s ERA, the new look bullpen will hopefully be able to close the inning stranding those runners and leaving the starter’s ERA where it was when he got the hook.

And if the lineup can produce more runs than in 2012–and it would be almost impossible not to–the pitchers will be able to pitch more loosely; without the weighted belief that one bad pitch or inning can cost them the game. It will give them more confidence, and they will pitch better.

It is possible that the Cubs’ 2013 Opening Day starting staff could outperform their 2012 counterparts, but comparing one to one, two to two and so on, right now the edge would have to be given to the pitchers that comprised the Cubs’ 2012 Opening Day rotation–regardless of the presence\absence of Chris Volstad.

**Note:  The preceding article was comparing only those pitchers that made up the rotation set as of Opening Day 2012 and my predicted 2013 Opening Day rotation.


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