Jed Hoyer didn’t lay out every specific need on a roster more riddled with holes than a country stop sign, but the one area he was explicit about addressing was the lack of power arms. That’s not just a recent concern either, as the Cubs have ranked at or near the bottom of the league in terms of average fastball velocity for starters.
“You need power pitching,” Hoyer said. “You need power arms to win in today’s game. You need to be able to miss bats. The makeup of our staff this year was too contact-oriented, so to speak, and that’s something that needs to change.”
So they went out and claimed Wade Miley and his 90.1 mph heater off waivers, then made a splash with Marcus Stroman, whose 93 mph fastball actually does look blazing compared to his predecessors. Performance aside, this doesn’t represent any change from a rotation that depended upon Trevor Williams and Jake Arrieta for much of the season.
A from the sounds of it, Hoyer and his front office probably won’t be prioritizing any further additions to the rotation unless something falls in their lap. Sahadev Sharma wrote about Carlos Rodón in particular, saying the lefty is “just not a priority” and that the Cubs “likely aren’t going to take that risk right now if it doesn’t come at a solid value.”
We can apply that same logic to Yusei Kikuchi, who figures to have at least two or three other teams targeting him as one of the few remaining hard throwers on the market. Danny Duffy seemed like the type of pitcher the Cubs would target because he’s older and wouldn’t command much in terms of either time or money, but flexor tendon surgery and a likely move to the bullpen should rule him out. Of course, they could still used some more flamethrowers to support the starters.
If the Cubs are going to add a hard thrower to the rotation at this point, it’s probably going to have to come via trade. Options we’ve discussed here include a pricier prospect haul for Frankie Montas of the A’s or a willingness to take on Mike Moustakas for two years to pry Tyler Mahle loose from the Reds. I don’t see either as particularly likely, though I don’t think the Cubs are averse to either concept as a general rule.
Speaking of which, a lot of folks out there seem to be clinging a bit too strenuously to the idea that the Cubs either will or should avoid trading away prospects at all costs. With full understanding that the front office is doing everything in its power to build the system back up, the whole purpose of doing that is to have the kind of flexibility that allows for trades that benefit the big league team.
“The goal of the farm system is to get your players to the big league level so that they can win a world championship and take some of your prospects and trade them for big league players so you can win championships,” Theo Epstein said in 2017.
Again, I don’t believe there’s much of a chance that the Cubs will pull off a big trade once the lockout ends, I just want to make sure folks understand that it’s not simply because they’re stockpiling prospects in the hopes that they’ll all end up in Chicago. Now that that’s out of the way, let’s pivot back to the whole power-pitching thing before wrapping this up.
Despite not really addressing their anemic velo numbers or actual strikeout totals, the Cubs did make what should be marked improvements in both swinging-strike percentage and contact profile. While the combination of Miley and Stroman is almost identical to last year’s big rotation additions when it comes to strikeout percentage and is actually lower in terms of K/9, they generate more whiffs and grounders.
Avg SP – 10.9% SwStr, 22.6% K, 8.62 K/9, 42.7% GB
Arrieta – 7.1% SwStr, 17.7% K, 7.57 K/9, 43.4% GB
Williams – 10.1% SwStr, 22.2% K, 8.9 K/9, 45.6% GB
Miley – 10.1% SwStr, 18.1% K, 6.9 K/9, 49.4% GB
Stroman – 11.6% SwStr, 21.6% K, 7.94 K/9, 50.8% GB
So Hoyer did kinda-sorta make good on the part about missing bats, though the new duo still nets out to league average in that metric. The real key now will be improving the defense behind those pitchers to ensure those additional grounders don’t end up as sacrifices to the BABIP gods. Which brings us around to shortstop, a topic I’ll not broach further here for fear of increasing the piece to undesirable lengths.
Also, I’ve written about it a few times already and I’m operating under the assumption that every person who reads this has already consumed every ounce of my prior content. Right?