Chicago Cubs: Does Alec Mills have a long-term role in the staff?

2021 marked Chicago Cubs pitcher Alec Mills’ first full season in Major League Baseball. He has made 30 appearances, including 18 starts, working to a 4.83 ERA.  He’s been a mixed bag of results this year, and like most of the team, his future has question marks.

Mills has pitched 110 innings this year, which is by far a career-high. For that matter, everything he has done this year has set new career-highs, and his latest results could be the result of end-of-season fatigue, having never pitched this deep into a season.

There are a lot of open spots on next year’s roster. Kyle Hendricks, as of right now, is the only guaranteed starter – and even he hasn’t looked like himself lately. Justin Steele has looked good enough that he will likely have a spot, as well. That leaves Adbert Alzolay, Keegan Thompson, Alec Mills, and hopefully some free agents to compete for the other three spots in the rotation. It’s sort of a good problem to have, but also an actual problem because teams would like to have rotations set in stone going into offseasons and give them a leg up in free agent acquisitions.

Mills has past success as a starter – mainly the no-hitter and hanging around for all twelve starts in the shortened 2020 season where he had a 4.48 ERA which is fine for a fifth starter. This season, the right-hander has been better as a starter, with a 4.48 ERA in 18 starts, so he’s consistent if nothing else. As a reliever, it’s been a little uglier with a 6.41 ERA in 12 appearances, but the bulk of that only came in a few outings, so it hasn’t been all bad.

Chicago Cubs: Should Alec Mills be in the rotation or the bullpen?

Mills might be more valuable as a two or three-inning reliever, given his numbers the first time through the order: a .235/.253/.333 for a .586 OPS. The second time through, hitters improve to an .843 OPS and the third time through, a 1.001 OPS. That’s not exactly encouraging for a starting pitcher, and some of his outings show just that, like Tuesday night against the Twins.

Mills certainly should not have a guaranteed rotation spot in 2022. Depending on what the Cubs add, whether it be through trade or free agency – or if, forbid, they do nothing at all, he should have to earn his spot like everybody else in the organization.

One thing he needs to work on to take the next step is a common theme among some other Cubs pitchers – success vs left-handed hitters, or lack thereof. Currently, lefties are slashing .320/.390/.530 against Mills, while right-handed hitters are slashing just .264/.303/.374. If Mills can get better against left-handed hitters he would be much more effective. The problem is that his stuff just might not be conducive to setting down lefties.

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Mills will be on the Opening Day roster next year. It’s just a matter of where he would have more success: in the starting rotation or coming out of the pen as a multi-inning reliever.