Ranking the 5 best expansion era seasons by Cubs rookie pitchers

Mandatory Credit: Jonathan Kirn /Allsport
Mandatory Credit: Jonathan Kirn /Allsport /
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Randy Wells / Chicago Cubs
(Photo by Ron Vesely/MLB Photos via Getty Images) /

Over the years, the Cubs have had a handful of rookie pitchers rise above

#4 Dennis Lamp 1978, 7-15, 3.30 ERA, 122 ERA+, 4.0 WAR

Dennis Lamp was an unspectacular but very durable pitcher who gave the Cubs two very good seasons – his rookie and sophomore years – before losing some of his effectiveness in 1980. His ERA jumped from 3.50 in 1979 to 5.20 in 1980, though his FIP was a much less alarming 4.19. The Cubs had seen enough and before Opening Day 1981 shipped him down I-94 to the Fighting LaRussas in exchange for … no, this can’t be right … Ken Kravec??

WAR is hell: Career WAR after  the Lamp-Kravec trade

  • Lamp: 8.2
  • Kravec: -0.7

An important part of assembling a competitive team is finding useful pieces – not everyone is a star, but not everyone has to be. Lamp had a long career helping his teams win a few games. Kravec, well, didn’t. This trade is emblematic of the Cubs’ sloppy roster construction efforts during this period.

#3 Randy Wells 2009, 12-10, 3.05 ERA, 146 ERA+, 4.2 WAR

Now almost forgotten, Randy Wells burst onto the scene in 2009 with a near-All-Star caliber season, culminating in a sixth-place finish in Rookie of the Year voting. The 2010 campaign would see Wells’ ERA jump by more than a run but his FIP held steady and he threw almost 200 innings.

And … that was about it. Injuries ate him up; he would never see another FIP below 5.00. Two seasons and 164 innings later, Wells was done.

It does not, on the surface, seem to have been a workload problem. During his two good years with the Cubs Wells threw more than 120 pitches just twice. In many games he didn’t reach 100. But this may illustrate one problem with relying on raw pitch counts as a management tool: every arm is different.

Unlike Wood, Wells could still happen today; probably is happening in several organizations around the league. But it’s getting less likely as teams learn better not just how to monitor workload, but how to match that workload to the person bearing it. Failure through injury is a recurring theme in pitching development, but teams are attacking the problem aggressively with new types of information, new ways of disseminating it, spurred by the overwhelming necessity to spend more efficiently. If pitchers are going to cost this much, may as well figure out how they work.