During his historic 2015 campaign, former Cubs starter and NL Cy Young winner Jake Arrieta exceeded 100 pitches in 23 of his 33 starts. The following year, Jon Lester did so in 20 of his 32 starts. In 2023, Chicago Cubs starters, cumulatively, threw 100 or more pitches just 16 times.
Sixteen times. In 162 games. To make matters worse, Justin Steele accounted for seven of those 16, en route to a fifth-place finish in NL Cy Young voting. The big starting pickup from last winter, Jameson Taillon, gutted his way through 100+ pitches four times - which paints a pretty bleak picture for the rest of the cast. Those other nine starters - combined - threw 100 or more pitches just five times.
Now, the game has changed a lot over the years and fewer and fewer guys pitch deep into ballgames like they did in the past. The days of 300-inning starting pitchers are long gone. We haven't seen anyone in baseball even eclipse 250 innings in a single season since 2011, when Justin Verlander tossed 251 innings for the Detroit Tigers en route to the AL Cy Young and MVP.
I understand the game has changed. But, more often than not, if a guy is throwing that many pitches in a start, it means he's gone deep into a ballgame and he's given his team a chance to win. Chicago starters broke the 100-pitch mark in a game more than just four other teams in the league last season: the Rockies, Rays, Tigers and Dodgers.
Cubs, along with most of the league, have shyed away from lengthy outings from starting pitchers in recent years
Now, I know what you're thinking: so it is possible to win without guys throwing a ton of pitches. Yes, it is. After all, Chicago starters ranked near the top of the league in quality starts last season, with 71 - second-most in the National League. And Dave Roberts has thrived over the years by helping Los Angeles' starters avoid a third trip through the lineup.
There's also a very big difference between guys who are inefficient and need 100+ pitches to gut their way through four or five pretty not great innings on bad teams and guys who put the team on their backs in big games, working into the late innings on the heels of a bullpen game.
In my eyes, at least, having those guys you can turn to and count on to eat innings, especially late in the season, is still important. Steele and Taillon (I'm very ready for the comeback campaign I think we're going to see from him in 2024) can do that for the Cubs. The question marks ramp up quickly in the back half of the rotation, though.
It remains to be seen if any of the returning cast (Drew Smyly, Kyle Hendricks, Javier Assad, Jordan Wicks) can do that at the various points of their respective careers and, if not, adding another quality innings eater could help lengthen the Cubs' rotation in a significant way heading into the season.