Cubs need Adbert Alzolay to drastically improve against left-handed hitters

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

After the buzzer beater signing of Marcus Stroman earlier this month, the Cubs put the finishing touch on a rotation renovation ahead of the lockout. With Stroman added to the mix, along with veteran Wade Miley, Chicago’s staff is already in a much stronger place than it was heading into 2021.

Thinking a Jake Arrieta reunion tour was going to be anything but an early season feel-good story was foolhardy. Throw in a career-worst season from Kyle Hendricks and underwhelming showings from Trevor Williams, Zach Davies and Adbert Alzolay and you get just what you’d expect: a starting staff that ranked near the bottom of the league in almost every statistical category.

Thankfully, Arrieta, Davies and Williams are out of the picture now. Alzolay, however, remains a potential key contributor for Chicago. The question after he struggled last year, though, is whether he profiles as a starter or is best suited as a swing man coming out of the bullpen moving forward.

This year, the right-hander made 21 starts and eight relief appearances – and really put his best foot forward out of the bullpen. Over the final month of the season, he notched a 1.40 ERA and 21 strikeouts in 19 1/3 innings of work as a reliever. 

His biggest issue is abundantly clear. Left-handed hitters torched Alzolay this year. Of the 25 home runs he allowed, only five came from right-handed bats. Lefties slugged .590 against him, nearly twice what righties did.

In 2021, Alzolay turned to his slider far more than ever before – with tremendous success. However, both his sinker and fastball were less effective, meaning he might need to reassess how he deploys his arsenal, especially if he hopes to stick as a starter.

Chicago Cubs aren’t going to give up on Adbert Alzolay as a starting pitcher

With the rotation improvements we’ve seen Jed Hoyer make already this winter, it stands to reason Alzolay will get the opportunity to work through his struggles moving forward. The top three spots in the rotation are locked down with Hendricks, Stroman and Miley. But from there, it’s likely to be a mix of young arms in competition to round things out.

If we learned anything from the 2021 season, it’s that five starting pitchers isn’t going to get the job done. You’re far better off having eight to 10 guys capable of taking the ball – and there’s no scenario where Alzolay isn’t in that mix. He’ll be joined by Justin Steele, Keegan Thompson and Alec Mills, as well.

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After a breakout performance in 2020, we had high hopes for Alzolay this year. Instead, he struggled – but he’s still young, and will have the opportunity to prove he can address the shortcomings in his game in 2022.