No one really batted an eye when Buster Olney said the Cubs had the best infield in the game. It’s easy to see how the fearsome foursome of Anthony Rizzo, Ben Zobrist, Addison Russell, and Kris Bryant could be considered better than any other combination out there. The rotation, though, that’s a different story. Sure, the Cubs have got Cy Young and the $155 Million Man. Sure, they added a salty barnacle to anchor the middle. But there are still all kinds of questions when it comes to the other 40% (not that Lackey’s a sure thing by any means) of the starting staff, not the least of which is whether Jason Hammel and Kyle Hendricks will be able to go more than 4 innings in any given start.
For The Win’s Ted Berg cares little for your questions though, as he recently placed the Cubs atop his rankings of MLB’s rotations. For what it’s worth, the Mets — whose superior pitching led to an old-fashioned trip behind the woodshed in the NLCS — came in second, followed by the Nationals and Indians. Interestingly enough, the same pair about whom many of you are worried were the deciding factor in giving the Cubs the nod for the top spot.
I’m going to be honest: I did not begin this list expecting to name the Cubs’ as the top starting rotation in baseball. The Mets, Nats and Indians can all probably match the excellent top three of Jake Arrieta, Jon Lester and John Lackey, but the Cubs’ depth sets them apart. Only the Cardinals have Nos. 4 and 5 starters that stack up to Jason Hammel and Kyle Hendricks, but St. Louis can’t match the Cubs in the front end of the rotation. Astoundingly, the Cubs’ starting pitching isn’t even the most notable thing about their 2016 team, given their remarkable core of young position players.
The Cubs: It’s happening, y’all.
Take that, Dr. Cork Gaines.
But enough of my personal beef with guys who name-search themselves, find something you wrote eviscerating their work, proactively block you, then tweet a Jed Hoyer quote at you 5 months later. Let’s talk about this lofty ranking for a bit. My first thought is that it’s like giving the Cubs good World Series odds. Give the fans something to rally around and you’ll get more views. Would I be writing this if Berg had put the Cubs, say, 5th? Doubt it.
Then I got to thinking about it a bit more, which can be a bit of a dangerous practice for someone like me. And after I’d thunk for a full 10 seconds, maybe 12, I began to see the logic in putting the Cubs at the top. I mean, even beyond the obvious reason of driving clicks. You wanna know what did it for me? It was the idea of depth.
I know the goal of a rundown that includes snippets on every team is to keep the analysis short and sweet, something with which I’m relatively unfamiliar, but I think the concept of superior depth could use a little more, well, depth. The thing I really like about the Cubs’ rotation this coming season is that it’s not just five guys (burgers and fries?). The Cubs’ rotation really runs about nine deep, and that’s before they’ve really even got to consider dipping into the minors. Between Travis Wood, Trevor Cahill, Clayton Richard, and Adam Warren, this team has got backup plans for days.
That’s not to say you’d really be comfortable having any of the first three guys taking the bump every fifth day all season, only that the potential is there to swing any one of them out of the bullpen as the situation calls for it. Whether that’s an injury or a scheduling fluke or just a desire to conserve June and July innings for use in the postseason, there’s a great deal of flexibility there. I like it a lot.
In the end, this really isn’t something we need to take all that seriously. That doesn’t mean it’s any less fun to read and write or talk about though. We’re still nearly a month away from Spring Training and there’s a definite place for fun stuff like this to satiate our need for baseball conversation. And lists are hella fun. Earlier today I took a look at the Baseball Prospectus Top 101 prospects and the six Cubs who had found their way into its numbers. So go ahead and consume some empty baseball calories for now. It’ll be time to get down to the real work soon enough.