The big news of the week was the blockbuster trade of Jason Hammel and Jeff Samardzija to the Oakland A's for some prospects, including another freakin' shortstop. I'm pretty sure it was Addison Reed. Seriously, where will all these guys play?! You can only have one shortstop!
Okay, I'm done pretending to be a moron. I do it well enough without pretending. The trade itself was a fantastic deal, adding more to the stockpile of batters the Cubs now have roaming the top portion of the minor leagues. The Cubs front office has now set themselves up with a strong “first wave” of players coming from the minors to the majors in 2015.
And while we get excited about infusing hitters like Bryant, Baez, Russell, and Alcantara into the lineup, there has been a lot to be excited about on the field in Chicago as well. Over the last month or so, the Cubs are 15-13 and have played pretty decent baseball. Some have even used the phrase “turning the corner.”
If they really are turning the corner in this rebuild, then it would be important to document exactly how they've gone from constant suckage to semi-frequent winning. Like, who has been hitting well the last month? Who has pitched well? And so on. So, I looked up those stats and found some interesting numbers that I thought I would share. First, a few hitters that have done well the last month:
Starlin Castro- .327/.378/.545, 4 homers
Anthony Rizzo- .273/.344/.509, 6 homers
Justin Ruggiano- .314/.364/.529, 3 homers
Outside of those three, no one else really has hit all that well. The next highest OBP from any regular batter on the roster was John Baker at .321. Yuck. So, let's check out the starting pitchers and how they fared over that time:
Arrieta- 5 GS, 11.94 K/9, 0.78 BB/9, 0.78 ERA, 1.09 FIP
Hammel- 6 GS, 10.13 K/9, 1.93 BB/9, 3.38 ERA, 3.33 FIP
Samardzija- 5 GS, 10.80 K/9, 2.40 BB/9, 3.60 ERA, 3.11 FIP
Wood- 5 GS, 5.76 K/9, 5.16 BB/9, 3.64 ERA, 4.53 FIP
Jackson- 5 GS, 7.67 K/9, 4.67 BB/9, 6.00 ERA, 4.89 FIP
Well, that looks about right. Arrieta has been a huge part of the positive changes that have been made. Every time he goes out there, the Cubs have a strong chance of winning the game. In fact, partly sunny with a decent chance for a no-hitter would be an accurate forecast for his starts.
Hammel and Samardzija are now gone, obviously (MORE SHORTSTOPS FOR EVERYONE), but both had similar numbers and pitched well during this push toward respectable baseball.
Replacing them in the rotation will be difficult, but in the long run I trust that Theo and Jed can find a guy to replace Hammel (maybe Hammel himself). They may have to pony up some cash for a guy like Jon Lester to replace Shark.
Wood's peripheral numbers are terrible, but his ERA was just 0.04 higher than Samardzija over the last 30 days. If there were ever a perfect example of why ERA isn't a great measure of pitchers, this may be it. Jackson did his typical thing: his numbers across the board are mediocre except the ERA, which is awful.
So what does it all mean, man? A small sample like this shouldn't tell you a ton about the state of the roster moving forward, but in this example it kind of does. There are three guys that hit well, and two of them (Castro and Rizzo) are your two cornerstones going forward. That's really good. You need those guys to hit. Just about any other position player doesn't really matter for the ultimate plan (except maybe Welington Castillo).
As far as the pitching goes, these stats confirm what we thought: Arrieta is amazing, and what we have left after him is mediocre at best after the Fourth of July fireworks. It's likely that some formation of Tsuyoshi Wada, Dallas Beeler, Kyle Hendricks, and Chris Rusin fill those two rotation spots the rest of the season.
I guess what I'm trying to tell you is that winning, plus having the guys that are actually good play well, equals turning the corner as a team. To a degree, at least. Think about it this way: if the Cubs were winning but Rizzo and Castro were playing poorly and the offense was being led by Luis Valbuana, Nate Schierholtz, and Ryan Sweeney, would the win/loss record matter at all?
But to the other degree, they still don't have enough good players on the roster. I can't stress enough how big this off-season will be for the future of the franchise (no pressure, guys). The Cubs need to start assembling the supporting cast NOW. Otherwise, they will likely be frustrating early on in 2015, only to begin playing well as the playoffs fall out of reach.
Jon Lester, James Shields, Max Scherzer, and Justin Masterson are all free agents. A trade for a hitter or two could help transition that first wave of guys into the majors. Maybe then it won't take until they are already out of the playoff race to start winning. Do I dare suggest playoff contention in 2015?
Now that would be truly turning the corner.
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