Cubs News: Fangraphs ZiPS has zero confidence in the pitching staff

(Photo by Justin Berl/Getty Images)
(Photo by Justin Berl/Getty Images) /

To put it mildly, Fangraphs isn’t high on the Chicago Cubs pitching staff.

This year, the National League Central crown felt more like a participation trophy than a real accomplishment. Not because the season was shortened or because there were no fans in the seats. The division was weaker – and the Chicago Cubs did just enough to bring home the honors, despite almost every key position player underperforming.

One major reason the team was able to do so was the strength of its pitching staff. Yu Darvish finished as the runner-up in the National League Cy Young race, Kyle Hendricks was his typically underappreciated, yet effective self and Jeremy Jeffress anchored a bullpen that wound up being a pleasant surprise by year’s end. 

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But already this offseason, Chicago has lost Jon Lester, Jose Quintana, Tyler Chatwood, Jeffress – and others. The rotation has just two proven commodities in Darvish and Hendricks, followed by a whole mess of question marks. With that in mind, it makes perfect sense that Fangraphs’ 2021 ZiPS projections are, as they put it,  “more depressing than the end of a Cormac McCarthy novel.”

Just how bad is it? The projections aren’t high on Quintana (4.76 ERA/4.54 FIP) or Lester (4.96 ERA/4.98 FIP) – yet would rank as the third and fourth-best arms on the roster. Yikes.

Lester could still return, but I suspect Quintana will wind up with a team who views him for what he really is: a durable arm who will eat innings for you all season long. Maybe a team like Boston or New York?

ZiPS is not a fan of Alec Mills (5.12 ERA/5.11 FIP) or Adbert Alzolay (5.10 ERA/5.09 FIP). Given they’re widely regarded as the Cubs’ next-best internal starting options behind Darvish and Hendricks, that’s hardly what I’d consider encouraging. Oh, and no Chicago starter even sniffs 200 innings. The consistently efficient Hendricks is the closest, still falling well short at 166 1/3.

All of this information together paints a pretty bleak picture. Look, we know teams are likely going to need more pitching depth than ever. In recent years, starters working deep into ballgames has grown rarer and rarer. Pair that with the fact these guys are going from making a dozen starts in a 60-game campaign to 30 or so over 162 and you’re going to have fatigue, injuries and the likes play a huge role in the season.

In the bullpen, Kimbrel is projected to be solid, but not stellar (at this point, that’s a big win in the Cubs’ book). But the other guys out there are just… there. They’re arms and they’ll be alright, but this bullpen can’t even be mentioned in the same breath as one worthy of contending for a championship.

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Jed Hoyer has his work cut out for him. His team lacks depth, doesn’t boast a lot of top-tier arms on the cusp and we know the financial limitations he’s working within. But if he doesn’t add to this pitching staff, the battle for the NL Central – as winnable as it is – could fall out of reach in 2021.