What was meant to be a top rotation in baseball for the Chicago Cubs has been anything but that so far. But there’s reason to hope we’ll have the rotation we expected after the All-Star break.
The Cubs’ struggling rotation is best epitomized through Yu Darvish’s injury and Tyler Chatwood’s incompetence on the mound. The sole bright lights are Jon Lester and Mike Montgomery—the latter of which was never meant to be in this rotation.
Nonetheless, the Cubs are still just behind the Brewers for the NL Central. And if the rotation finds its stride, it might be the Brewers chasing the Cubs in the tail end of this season.
The rotation might be worse than you think
It’s not a hot take to say the rotation has been the weak link for the Cubs in 2018. But that link might be weaker than you think.
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Let’s start with the more obvious culprits. Tyler Chatwood’s 5.27 xFIP will be the worst of his career if it sticks in that vicinity. Jose Quintana, Kyle Hendricks and Yu Darvish are all sporting the worst MLB xFIPs of their career as well.
But here’s the not-so-fun-fact: Jon Lester is in barely the same spot. His 4.57 xFIP would be the worst of his career since his rookie year in 2007. He’s the one with the 2.45 ERA and 11 wins in 18 games, but the peripherals are saying he’s not pitching well either. All the metrics you’d expect to be lower with his success are higher; his K/9 is down, BB/9 is up and he’s giving up hard contact 33.1% of the time—the highest clip of his career.
However, fortunately for Cubs’ fans, there are two ways of interpreting the rotation’s weak first half.
What the rotation’s struggles mean going forward
The obvious, intuitive way of looking at the Cubs’ rotation is that they’ve been bad so maybe they’re bad. But that’s not necessarily true.
In baseball, we hear a lot about regression to the mean. The Mets started 11-1 and regressed their butts off to their current 37-54 record. The idea is that a hot team or hitter that’s playing better than expected will slump and the hot streak will be balanced out.
But what about progression to the mean? In spring training, there were plenty of people around baseball that believed the Cubs’ rotation was the best in the league. The rotation might have an excellent second half to compensate for the ugly first half and find that mean.
The Chicago Cubs have had so many false starts to hot streaks that would elevate them past the Brewers in 2018. But with the rotation firing on all cylinders, the Cubs might be in for another impressive second half.