Chicago Cubs: Big arms can come with their share of big risks, too

Noah Syndergaard / Chicago Cubs (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)
Noah Syndergaard / Chicago Cubs (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images) /

After seeing two of the game’s biggest arms hit the shelf due to injuries, it’s worth looking at the Chicago Cubs and their current crop of pitchers.

In the last week alone, Chris Sale of the Boston Red Sox and Noah Syndergaard of the New York Mets have both gone down with elbow injuries. Both prized hurlers will undergo Tommy John surgery, meaning neither will take the mound in 2020 – and stand to lose a sizable portion of the 2021 season, as well.

When healthy, both Sale and Syndergaard are capable of dominating any lineup in the game. Of course, the former played an integral role in helping the Red Sox win the World Series two years ago and spent most of his career anchoring rotations in the American League. Meanwhile, Syndergaard, at just 26 years of age, could still be a huge asset for the Mets in the future.

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Many might argue the Chicago Cubs lack an arm of this caliber. Certainly, they lack that type of power arm. No one in the rotation, with the possible extension of Tyler Chatwood, is going to overpower his way to prominence in 2020. Of course, Chatwood comes with his own questions regarding consistency and control – something elite arms simply don’t carry into the equation.

That being said, Kyle Hendricks comes into the year as the team’s undisputed ace. Since coming onto the scene a half-decade ago, the soft-tossing right-hander has epitomized consistency and control almost every time he toed the rubber.

During the Cubs’ 2016 World Series run, Hendricks finished second in National League Cy Young voting after earning the big league ERA crown. He followed up his regular season dominance with a dazzling showing in October and November, including the pennant-clinching start at Wrigley Field and a masterful Game 7 performance.

But Hendricks has never fit the stereotype of a big league ace. He rarely, if ever cracks 90 MPH, let alone triple digits. He’s not a swing-and-miss guy. In his career, he’s averaged just 7.6 K/9. By comparison, Syndergaard comes into 2020 at 9.7 K/9 and Sale at 11.1 K/9.

So what does it all mean?

After years of failure when it comes to developing homegrown pitchers, it looks like Chicago is finally starting to turn the corner. Headlining the up-and-coming crop of arms is flamethrowing lefty Brailyn Marquez, who after a dominant run last season, rocketed up prospect ranking boards this offseason.

Cubs fans have long bemoaned the lack of that ‘true’ ace – especially since former Cy Young winner Jake Arrieta departed for Philadelphia in free agency and Jon Lester went from a legitimate number one to a solid middle-of-the-rotation veteran presence.

But having those big arms, capable of blowing 100 MPH heaters past opposing hitters while buckling knees with unbelievable breakers the very next pitch, carries significant risk, as well. That’s certainly not a reason to shy away from such talents. After all, pitching does win championships.

Next. Hendricks could become a Cubs all-time great. dark

Possessing such dominant arms, though, is no sure-fire ticket to October. Things happen. Injuries derail guys’ trajectories and teams are left wondering what they might have done differently. As we look toward the next era of Cubs hurlers making their way to Wrigley Field, it’s something to at least keep in the back of our minds, especially given the loss of two of the team’s biggest pitchers.