Chicago Cubs 2013 Statistical Preview: Pitching

Jeff Samardzija could be a legitimate ace. As for everyone else... oh look, Samardzija!

Hello and welcome to the regular group therapy session that is numberFire’s analysis of the 2013 Chicago Cubs. We begin our depressing journey together with the relative strength of the Cubbies, the pitching.

Inside the Staff

Jeff Samardzija – The opening day starter is by far the guy with the coolest hair on the Cubs. Last year served as a coming out party for the former Notre Dame star who for years looked like he had made the wrong decision by forgoing his promising football career. Given a real chance as a starting pitcher for the first time, Samardzija delivered in a big way with career high K/9 of 9.27 and a career low in BB/9 of 2.89. Of players who pitched 150 innings last year, only Stephen Strasburg and Matt Scherzer had strikeout rates as high and walk rates as low. Having shown the tools to be a legitimate ace, Samardzija is in position to be one of the few bright spots in the 2013 Cubs season.

Edwin Jackson – Chicago’s biggest acquisition this offseason, Jackson has had more down years than up. Despite this, there are reasons to be optimistic about the starter with a 4.40 career ERA. He has consistently provided innings – at least 180 per year since 2008. Though he may not dazzle, his peripherals over the past few years suggest he will provide a lot of innings with an ERA in the high threes (we have him projected for 191 innings of 3.91 ERA). At his reasonable contract, this is valuable.

Travis Wood – While he hasn’t shown much at the major league level, he’s young enough that it wouldn’t be shocking to see him improve some. However, his peripherals suggest that he got a bit lucky even to accomplish his unimpressive 4.27 ERA last year. Hitters managed only a .244 average on balls put into play against Wood. League average on this number was .293, so expect some regression on this front. If Wood is to improve on or even match last year’s performance, he’ll have to improve in some other area.

Scott Feldman - When you’re a rebuilding team, you might as well take a gamble on players that look like they might have been unlucky recently. Feldman certainly fits this description. Unlike Wood, Feldman’s batting average on balls in play was worse than both league average and his career average. The same is true of the percentage of batters he faced that were left on base. As neither of these have been issues in his career, they are likely to improve, and Feldman has the potential to be an average starter this year.

Carlos Villanueva – Villanueva has been mediocre when asked to start games for the Blue Jays over the past couple of season, but the move to the National League might help him a bit. Someone has to be the fifth starter. Let’s hope Matt Garza comes back quickly.

Matt Garza – His 2011 season showed how dominant Garza can be when he’s healthy – a 3.32 ERA with 8.95 K/9, 2.86 BB/9 suggesting that it wasn’t just luck. Of course, Garza is likely to be dealt as soon as he’s healthy, so don’t get too excited if he starts to flash his trademark stuff this year.

Bullpen – I don’t like Carlos Marmol; you don’t like Carlos Marmol. However, he’ll be the guy closing out games until his ridiculous lack of control (7.32 BB/9), causes him to blow enough saves to hand the job over to offseason acquisition Kyuji Fujikawa or his equally ridiculous strikeout rate (11.71 K/9) gets him traded to a contender. Fujikawa is unproven in the MLB, but was dominant in Japan. James Russell and Shawn Camp may have problems sustaining their performance from last year due to abnormally low HR/FB rates that will likely climb this year. There’s not a ton of upside with this bunch with this group aside from Fujikawa, and the Cubs would prefer their starters to go late into games.