The Chicago Cubs’ starting pitching has taken a nosedive this year after last year’s league-leading season. What’s to blame for the struggles?
Things aren’t going well for this year’s Chicago Cubs. Currently in fourth place in the NL Central, the team has managed to stay in the race. All this, despite significant drop-offs from numerous players.
The most drastic fall off from last year’s team however has definitely been the starting pitching.
After 37 games last year, the team was 27-10 and the starting staff was easily the league’s best. Boasting a combined 2.34 ERA while comfortably leading MLB in all three slash lines against (AVG, OBP and SLG), they were a force to be reckoned with.
Compared to the rest of the league, the staff ranks in the midst of opponents. When compared to 2016 it’s like a different staff. They’ve given up 38 more hits, 38 more earned runs and 13 more home runs while ranking in the middle-of-the pack in several categories.
Velocity drops are troubling
Arrieta’s is more concerning since Hendricks doesn’t rely on velocity to get outs. The big righty’s usage rate certainly is a factor to the decreased velocity, as pitching deep into the postseason the last couple seasons will do that to an arm.
Nonetheless, it’s an alarming trend. Prior to Eddie Butler‘s start, no Cubs starter had thrown a pitch 95+ mph – not surprisingly they were the last team to accomplish the feat. They’re second-to-last in the league in average FB velocity at 92.2 mph – last year they were 17th.
Of course there are certain things a pitcher can’t completely control. Last year’s staff benefited all season long from one of the best defenses in history in terms of preventing base hits. That squad’s BABIP (batting average on balls in play) was an unheard of .252.
What’s this year’s? .322, which is the worst in baseball. Quite the difference, and by looking at the change in BABIP every other team had it gets even more unbelievable:
As the data shows, the Cubs easily had the most dramatic change in BABIP. Now of course there was no way that .252 mark was going to be repeated, as BABIP tends to grow or regress back to or near the league average once an outlier develops. However, the change is so stark it has to be mentioned.
So what’s the deal? Are the Cubs’ pitching struggles the result of poor performance or dumb luck? It’s probably a combination of both, but it doesn’t take a sabermetric fanatic to realize that the starting pitching needs to better.
Once their greatest strength, the Cubs’ starting pitching has become their Achilles heel. If they don’t right the ship soon, it could be a long summer.