Chicago Cubs will go down in flames again if arms don’t drastically improve

(Photo by Nuccio DiNuzzo/Getty Images)
(Photo by Nuccio DiNuzzo/Getty Images) /

After the Chicago Cubs front office sold off almost the entire offense in July, somehow it wasn’t the bats that were the problem in the second half. That designation falls to the pitching staff. Chicago’s arms were a wildly mixed bag after the deadline – with far more bad than good.

Zach Davies, Kyle Hendricks and Alec Mills all saw their fair share of struggles in the rotation. Tommy Nance, Trevor Megill, Rex Brothers, and others saw time out of the bullpen and got knocked around. Aside from Justin Steele, none of the pitchers that came up to “help” in the second half solidified themselves as future options.

That could be credited to the fact they just aren’t Major League pitchers, or it could be a deeper issue stemming from pitching coach Tommy Hottovy and the organization’s pitching infrastructure. Clearly, something the Cubs are doing isn’t working pitching-wise.

Some of the rookies that saw time include –

  • Trevor Megill: 8.37 ERA, 36 hits in 23 2/3 innings, 30 strikeouts, seven home runs, a .420 BABIP, negative fWAR (-0.2), and gave up hard contact 45 percent of the time.
  • Michael Rucker: 6.99 ERA, 32 hits in 28 1/3 innings, five home runs, 30 strikeouts, negative fWAR, (-0.1), hard contact nearly 40 percent of the time.
  • Tommy Nance: 7.22 ERA, five home runs in 28 2/3 innings, 13 walks, five home runs, negative fWAR (-0.2), over 4 BB/9.
  • Manuel Rodriguez: 6.11 ERA, 18 hits in 17 2/3 innings, 16 K, 12 BB, negative fWAR (-0.2). Rodriguez has a future with the Cubs, but his last few appearances were ugly before ending up on the Injured List for the rest of the season.

It doesn’t sound like the Cubs will move on from Hottovy, but at some point he needs to figure out what he’s doing with the team’s pitchers, because even seasoned veterans with sustained success like Hendricks and Davies had their worst statistical seasons ever.

Chicago Cubs: Even established arms trended in the wrong direction

Hendricks is almost 32 and has made over 200 starts, so it’s understandable to see him finally struggle a bit. Davies, on the other hand, makes no sense. His walks per nine innings skyrocketed, his 5.78 ERA was the worst it’s been by a wide margin. He also had his worst home run rate in the majors this year. It’s possible it was just a bad season, which happens, but it’s also the first year under Hottovy’s tutelage, and that part is hard to ignore.

For Mills, this was his first full 162-game season in the Majors and near the end of the year it showed. He made 20 starts with a 5.07 ERA, but he appears to have carved out a role for himself as a spot starter/multiple-inning reliever.

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The Cubs need to find some pitching outside of Hendricks, Codi Heuer and Rowan Wick next season. President of Baseball Operations Jed Hoyer says pitching is the top priority, and after some of these numbers, it should be.