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Chicago Cubs: Anderson or Montgomery; who gets the fifth spot?

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Aug 31, 2015; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Dodgers starting pitcher Brett Anderson (35) pitches during the first inning agains the San Francisco Giants at Dodger Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports
Aug 31, 2015; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Dodgers starting pitcher Brett Anderson (35) pitches during the first inning agains the San Francisco Giants at Dodger Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports /
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The Chicago Cubs officially announced the signing of left-hander Anderson to a one-year deal on Thursday. Even after the signing, some still believe Montgomery will be the fifth starter. So, who’s it going to be?

Anderson’s deal is incentive-laden, with the possibility of reaching $10 million if he can pitch deep into the season. As is the case with most incentive-driven deals, the Chicago Cubs find themselves in a low risk/high reward situation.

That, of course, being because of health concerns. After having back surgery, Anderson only managed to make three starts with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2016. The Cubs were quite impressed with what they saw from the lefty recently, but if things don’t work out as planned, Anderson will only be owed $3.5 million.

Mike Montgomery seems to be the favorite thus far, but I wouldn’t be too sure of that just yet. Let’s have a look. All statistics and league averages used come from FanGraphs.

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For the sake of the argument, we’ll assume Anderson stays healthy. In 115 games started over his 8-year career, Anderson has gone 38-43 with a 3.86 ERA. Those are respectable numbers for someone who pitches either in the middle or back-end of the rotation.

Anderson continued

As for his pitching arsenal, Anderson throws a four seam fastball, two seam fastball, slider, changeup and a knuckle curve which he started using after he ditched his traditional curveball in 2015. His average fastball velocity sits right at 92.0 mph. That velocity was closer to 93 mph in the first two years of his career but has since dipped slightly, hitting around 90-91 mph the last few years.

Anderson’s career K/9 is a modest 6.7, but that number has dipped gradually ever year. Not uncommon for a starter, especially one with an extensive injury history. His career ground ball percentage is 58.2%, and refreshingly, that number has risen over the years, which pairs up nicely with his slight decline in strikeout percentage.

The league average for ground balls given up is usually around 44%, and in 2015, when Anderson made a career-high 31 starts, he had a 66.3% ground ball rate. A good sign indeed. Another league average when it comes to WHIP in 2016 was 1.32, and Anderson’s career WHIP is 1.318, so that area checks out just fine. Anderson also has a career 2.4 BB/9 ratio, which is considered to be above average.

Montgomery

Mike Montgomery’s analysis has to be looked at from a slightly different angle for a couple of reasons. The first is that he only has two years of MLB experience, compared to Brett Anderson‘s eight. Secondly, he has spent the majority of his time in the bullpen, both for the Seattle Mariners and the Chicago Cubs.

In his first two years, Montgomery has compiled an 8-11 record to go along with a 3.51 ERA. That’s a pretty solid start to his career. He throws a four-seamer, a cutter, slider, curveball, and changeup. Montgomery’s average fastball velocity is right in line with Anderson’s, sitting at 92.1 mph.

This is where you have to consider where Montgomery’s talents are best utilized. As a starter, his average fastball velocity is about 90.9 mph. In the bullpen? 93.4 mph. That’s a significant enough drop-off to mull over keeping him in the pen. Especially when you consider the fact that the Chicago Cubs have a real lack of left-handers in their bullpen.

Montgomery has a career 7.4 K/9 ratio and recorded an 8.9 K/9 with the Cubs. You could obviously expect this number to drop if he gets used as a regular starter, but those numbers are great nonetheless.

Best curve in the game?

This is in large part due to his curveball, which so far looks like one of the best in the league. He struck out more batters with his curveball than any other pitch. Now, this could be another reason to advocate keeping him in the bullpen. Pitching in relief could be the best way to make sure Montgomery’s curve stays as effective as it has been.

His career ground ball percentage is at 54.7%, but he managed a 58.4% rate in 2016, up from 51.2% in 2015. Again, the bulk of his time has been in the bullpen, but to be fair, many of his relief appearances, especially with the Cubs, lasted multiple innings. This is something the Cubs have been doing more and more of under Joe Maddon. So far Montgomery has seemed to fit quite well in that role.

One thing Montgomery needs to improve is his BB/9 ratio. In his two-year career, his walk rate is at 3.6, which isn’t great, especially since he’s in the bullpen the majority of the time.

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Wrapping it up

One thing to consider is the possibility of a six-man rotation, which Joe Maddon has expressed interest in doing. If that’s the case, then you can expect both Anderson and Montgomery to shape out the rotation. Another consideration is if another starter gets hurt over the course of the season. If that happens, either one provides viable pitching depth.

I would still expect the Cubs to use a five-man rotation for the majority of the season, though. If they go that route, it will likely be a contest between the two during spring training for the last spot. Each has a strong case to make.

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