Chicago Cubs News: Is Justin Steele the most underrated pitcher in baseball?

San Diego Padres v Chicago Cubs
San Diego Padres v Chicago Cubs / Michael Reaves/GettyImages

The homegrown Chicago Cubs starting pitcher, Justin Steele, has done it again with 5.1 scoreless innings against a star-filled San Diego Padres lineup to now lower his season ERA to an NL-best of 1.19, and as I watched yet another stellar Justin Steele start, one question came to my mind– Is he the most underrated pitcher in the game?

Spoiler alert: He makes an incredibly strong case to be. 

Through five starts and 30.1 innings pitched this season, Steele ranks in the top-five in ERA across all of baseball and top-five in the NL in WHIP (0.89), and top-10 in FIP (3.36) while allowing the second lowest hard hit percentage (21.3%) in the NL, second to none other than Drew Smyly, and top-five in soft contact (22.7%).

The best part about Steele’s dominant start to the season, though, is that it dates back to last year’s All Star Break. 

Since the 2022 All Star Break, Steele has gone 12 consecutive starts in which he’s allowed 2 earned runs or fewer, notching a league-best 1.08 ERA in that span with miles of separation between those who follow him: 

Additionally, Steele’s produced a 1.07 WHIP and 10.21 K/9 (and 28.5% strikeout mark) in this span. 

One of the clear causes behind such impressive numbers lies within Steele’s fastball, or as Yan Gomes so affectionately called it last night, “a country-boy fastball”. Relying on the four-seamer 60.9% of the time, there’s no surprise as to why he does after earning a career-high 15 called strikes on the fastball against the Padres, and earning the lowest hard hit percentage out of his arsenal (26%) this season. 

But this isn’t to discredit his nasty slider, either. In 2022, his slider produced a -9 run value, the same value that Shohei Ohtani’s sweeper has produced this season while having a 32.9% whiff rate on it this year while using it 35.5% of the time.

With his four-seamer and slider, both of his pitches have produced a -4 run value to start the season as the two pitches he relies on the most in his arsenal. 

It’s not a secret that the Cubs have struggled to have a true, homegrown ace in recent memory, and fans have had their fair share of calls of wanting to go after a true ace in free agency as a result, but it seems that they’ve finally cracked the code in the Lucedale, Mississippi native’s second year in the Majors.

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