With 22 days remaining until the deadline, trades are beginning to happen around major league baseball. Yesterday, the Red Sox made a move for reliever Brad Ziegler from Arizona to bolster their pen in the wake of the injury to closer Craig Kimbrel. This series of articles is going to look at the Cubs to see what pieces could help the team and then look at the American and National League teams to see what pieces are out there that would fit those needs.
Coming into play today, the Cubs still maintain a large eight game lead in the division and are one game back for home field advantage for the NL playoffs. The offense has scored the second most runs in baseball and the pitching staff has allowed the fewest runs. Breaking that down a bit further, the starters have easily allowed the fewest runs in baseball, but the bullpen comes in 12th in preventing runs. So, at a high level, the pen would be the first area that needs some reinforcements. But we can take a deeper look than that.
In the first article, I looked at the position players to see what was needed there.
This time we will take a look at the pitching and we'll find there are a lot more needs to address.
Starting Pitching - 1st in ERA (by nearly a half run!); 5th in FIP; 4th in xFIP; 4th in WAR
Let's get this out of the way first: the pitching has been dreadful the past couple weeks. The most reliable starter has been Kyle Hendricks, but even he has not been going very deep into his games. Arrieta, Lester, Hammel and Lackey have all had their worst starts of the past couple years in the past two weeks; some of those starts have been the worst of their careers! While there is some remote possibility that this is the "new normal" for these guys due to injury or sudden performance regression, it is not likely.
What is much more likely is that the staff was overperforming their peripherals for quite some time and that they are more likely to be the 4th or 5th best staff in baseball than the one allowing almost half a run less per game than any other team. That is still a really good pitching staff and one that the team could roll the dice with going forward. Also, short of time on the DL, Arrieta, Lester and Lackey will be given very long leashes to work out any issues they have while remaining in the rotation.
Which only leaves two spots in the rotation to put a new starter. Those are the spots manned by Hendricks and Jason Hammel. Every indication is that the front office loves Kyle Hendricks and that his spot in the rotation is nearly as safe as the top three spots. So acquiring a new starter would mean moving Hammel to the pen. Let's take a deeper look at Hammel.
Last year saw Hammel put up a career best strikeout rate and nearly a best in walk rate. But even with his excellent command of the strikezone in 2015, the Cubs could not trust Hammel down the stretch. He suffered a leg injury in July and was not the same pitcher when he came back. His walk rate nearly doubled in the second half and he started giving up home runs at an alarming rate. He had significant troubles going deep into games and was visibly frustrated when being removed early from many games.
In 2016, every aspect of Hammel's performance has been worse than 2015 except for ERA. He isn't commanding the strike zone as well (his K-BB% has changed from 18.6% to 12.4%). He is giving up more home runs. His FIP (fielding independent pitching) has gone from 3.68 to 4.55. In short, he is due for yet more correction to his ERA if he cannot get his peripherals back in line.
There is also the lack of durability Hammel has shown throughout his career. He has never reached 178 IP in a year. Throughout his career, his command diminishes throughout the year and his performance degrades. Since his performance so far this year has been much worse than last year, if he continues the pattern of wearing down in the second half he could be a big liability in the rotation going forward.
This is a spot that could definitely be upgraded.
As for rotation depth, the Cubs have a significant number of players who could step into the rotation. But they do not have anyone who could be a difference maker there, with the possible exception of Adam Warren. But Warren has had his own issues this year with commanding the strike zone. And the Cubs would very likely want to keep Warren as a sixth starter available in case of injury. Trevor Cahill and Clayton Richard also represent options for the Cubs that could be stretched out and used in emergency roles in the rotation. There is very little talent available in the upper minors that could be trusted with games down the stretch.
Relief Pitching - 19th in ERA; 20th in FIP; 17th in xFIP; 24th in WAR
So...that's bad. There is definitely room to improve the pen. But there is good news: Rondon and Strop are both really good, despite a few recent results. Carl Edwards, Jr has very good stuff and should be able to contribute. There is some hope for Justin Grimm. The long relievers should be just fine with Warren eventually returning to the pen to go along with Cahill. But there is a definite lack of quality left handed options. Travis Wood has not been able to repeat his performance as a reliever from 2015. Clayton Richard has been awful. And there is a definite need for a third shut down reliever now that Grimm has taken a step back.
This does not come as a surprise to anyone that has been paying attention this year. The Cubs need both another impact reliever and would also benefit from an additional lefty in the pen. If there is starting quality pitching available, the Cubs would have to take a look at that, as well.
In the next segment, we'll start going team by team to look at players that may be available to fill the needs for the Cubs.