Chicago Cubs righty Alec Mills has earned his spot in the 2021 team’s rotation.
2021 will be a bit of a changing of the guard for the Chicago Cubs pitching rotation. Jon Lester, Jose Quintana, and Tyler Chatwood are all free agents next year, and the only holdovers guaranteed a spot are Yu Darvish and Kyle Hendricks. However, I think it’s also safe to say that Alec Mills will be joining his fellow righties after years of starting as the team’s swingman.
Mills came into 2020 hoping to build on his success from the previous two seasons–but was once again seen as depth for the team. In the past two years, between starting and coming in out of the bullpen, Mills put up a 3.17 ERA with a FIP at 3.62 and a WHIP at 1.111. Its admittedly a small sample size, but it showed potential.
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When Quintana went down with an injury, it finally allowed Mills to demonstrate that potential on a grander scale. Currently, he sports a 4.14 ERA and a not so appealing 4.94 FIP, but his WHIP is at 1.074, meaning he’s controlling hits and walks quite well. He’s also kept the ball out of the air at a better-than-average rate with only 18.2% of contact resulting in a fly ball.
Of course, there is reason to worry about Mills, and he shouldn’t be why the Cubs avoid spending on the rotation. A look at Mills’s xBA and xSLG shows that he should be getting hit a lot harder and a lot more than what is happening. However, it’s hard to deny just how many times he had stepped up when the team sorely needed pitching help.
What put Mills over the edge though this season was his stellar no-hit performance against the Brewers. This was the first genuinely lengthy start of Mills’s career and showed that on a given day, he could come out and keep the score close for six to seven innings. At the very least, he can be a solid back of the rotation arm that can throw competitive innings every five days and spare the bullpen.
Mills has been Hendricks-like since his debut with the Cubs, and keeping him in the rotation for 2021 should be a no-brainer. If they can go out and get at least one more solid free agent like Marcus Stroman to round out the top half, their rotation could be among the deadliest in baseball next year.