After an eventful offseason, the Chicago Cubs will have to improvise with their starting rotation. Chicago lost three starters to free agency, including star veteran Jon Lester. They also traded away their ace Yu Darvish to the San Diego Padres. This has left some significant questions marks surrounding the rotation. Their starting pitching was a strength last season, but it’s going to be tough to replicate that kind of production. However, all is not lost because the Cubs did find some quality arms prior to Spring Training. Here is a look at the Chicago Cubs starting rotation options for the 2021 season.
Chicago Cubs Starting Rotation Overview
1. Kyle Hendricks
Kyle Hendricks aka “The Professor” will find himself at the top of the rotation yet again. Hendricks is the only pitcher locked into their starting spot. Chicago knows exactly what they’ll get with Hendricks. He has been their most consistent starter for the last five seasons. Hendricks is an anomaly in today’s league because of his pitching technique. Many of the star pitchers rely on their velocity. Hendricks is all about location. He tries to invoke soft contact out of opposing batters, rather than striking them out with overpowering pitches.
Last season, Hendricks was sneaky good, but overshadowed by his counterpart, the aforementioned Yu Darvish. He had the best SO/BB ratio in the NL, only walking 8 batters all season long. He finished with a 2.88 ERA and was 9th overall in National League Cy Young Award voting. Chicago will need more of that considering the uncertainty involving the remainder of the rotation.
2. Jake Arrieta
The Cubs previous Cy Young-winner is returning to Wrigley Field. Jake Arrieta was in the prime of his career in his first stint with the Cubs. He was one of the most crucial players in their playoff runs. Many people credit Jon Lester with transforming the team’s pitching staff into an elite unit. However, Arrieta was arguably the best pitcher on the roster for several seasons. He developed and thrived in the Cubs’ system. In his career with Chicago, he has a record of 68-31 with a 2.73 ERA.
Fans will remember Arrieta for the two no-hitters that he threw as a Cub along with the countless other special performances that he had on the mound. He took advantage of the opportunities that he was granted from those outings when he secured a massive deal with the Philadelphia Phillies. Unfortunately for them, he didn’t even reach half the production he had with Chicago. It turned out to be a failed free agency signing, in large part due to injuries. Now that he is back with the Cubs, they hope to rekindle some of his past success. Don’t expect him to be playing like his old self, but he could be a serviceable starter — that is if he remains healthy.
3. Zach Davies
Zach Davies was sent to Chicago along with four prospects for Yu Darvish and Victor Caratini. The 28-year-old spent his first five seasons with the Milwaukee Brewers. He was only with the Padres for one season. Davies can be compared to his new teammate Kyle Hendricks because of their similar play styles. Their combined focus on control over velocity will make this a unique pitching staff. With the two of them in the same rotation, the Cubs will have one of the lowest averages for pitch velocity in the league which won’t necessarily be a bad thing.Chicago will just have to be efficient defensively when the ball gets put into play. There won’t be many strikeouts.
When asked about the Cubs’ lack of pitching velocity, team president Jed Hoyer said this: “I think we have a staff of really good major league pitchers that have kind of bucked the trend and been able to pitch with pitchability and using multiple weapons.” Hoyer doesn’t think it’ll be a problem and it certainly wasn’t for Davies last year. He had a 2.73 ERA last season, which was the best of his career. He’ll be playing out the final year of his contract in 2021. Chicago will be looking to get some good production out of him, prior to making any decisions regarding his future with the ball club.
4. Alec Mills
Alec Mills was one of the biggest surprises for Chicago last season. He stepped up in a big way. When it looked like the pitching staff would be problematic due to multiple untimely injuries, Mills provided the team with consistent starts. Chicago had him coming out of the bullpen. Now he is competing for a starting role again this season.
Mills has a respectable 4.14 career ERA. For the most part, his stats don’t jump off the page, but it’s clear that he is steadily improving. It will be interesting to see how he does in a full season because he has only started 12 games for the Cubs. They took a chance on him when they acquired him from the Kansas City Royals. His performance in 2021 will determine whether Chicago found a diamond in the rough. Either way, he has already made his mark in the team’s history books, after his impressive no-hitter against the Brewers in 2020.
5. Adbert Alzolay
Many teams might be looking to start the season with a six-man rotation and Chicago looks to be one of them. There is no clear choice for the fifth starting spot. Adbert Alzolay has been an in-between player recently. Spending time in the minors with occasional call-ups to the Cubs. At times, he looks ready to start at an MLB level, but he hasn’t always been consistent enough to solidify himself on the roster.
Alzolay could have a breakout season, if he earns a starting spot. He has strikeout stuff which this rotation desperately needs. Sometimes he lacks control. His pitches can get a bit wild. In limited appearances for Chicago, he has slowly started to clean up his mistakes. He seems primed to crack the rotation this season. The 26-year-old has been close for awhile now, he just needs more opportunities to prove himself.
6. Trevor Williams
Trevor Williams could round out the six-man rotation. Chicago signed him to a one-year, $2.5 million contract in the offseason. Williams was with the Pittsburgh Pirates for five seasons. He has much more experience than Alzolay, who may be his biggest competition on the Spring Training pitching staff. Williams has a 31-37 MLB record with 4.56 ERA in 94 starts. Pittsburgh had high hopes for him, but he never quite reached his full potential.
It was a good signing for the Cubs. Williams added depth to the roster and is working to improve the pitches in his repertoire. His best season by far was in 2018. He recorded 126 strikeouts and had a 3.11 ERA in 31 starts. He failed to build off that season, but showed that he has potential to be a solid starter. He’s not a bad option at the fifth or sixth spot in the rotation. If Chicago can maximize his potential, Williams could be a steal on such a cheap contract.
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