The Chicago Cubs have no shortage of talent on their team to choose from when compiling the 2016 postseason roster. That means that Joe Maddon will have some difficult decisions to make come playoff time. For now, we can only speculate, so that’s what we’ll do.
First matter to look at is how many position players and how many pitchers will make up the roster. Using 2015 postseason as a baseline, the Cubs took 11 pitchers and 14 position players. There’s no reason to think that Joe will divert from that mix so for our purposes today, that’s what we’ll assume.
The pitchers that are obvious locks include: Jake Arrieta, Jon Lester, Kyle Hendricks, John Lackey, Justin Grimm, Carl Edwards, Travis Wood, Pedro Strop, Hector Rondon and Aroldis Chapman. That’s ten, which only leaves one spot open.
Jason Hammel has struggled away from Wrigley Field all year. His home/away ERA split is 1.84/5.33. That’s a huge gap and not really clearly explainable either. He’s given up an inordinate amount of home runs this year too. His HR/9 of 1.31 is the worst out of all starting pitchers. He’s the only starter with an FIP over four (4.40). Jason Hammel is out.
That leaves Trevor Cahill, Mike Montgomery, Felix Pena, Rob Zastryzny and Joe Smith. Of those pitchers, the obvious cuts are Felix Pena and Joe Smith, with Smith being the first man out of the conversation due mainly to the fact that he’s got an incredibly high 3.00 HR/9 and a 7.14 FIP. As for Pena, he just doesn’t have enough big league experience, having pitched only 7 innings, not to mention he has a 4.70 ERA.
The decision comes down to who you like out of Cahill, Zastryzny, and Montgomery. Both Cahill and Montgomery have the ability to come into a game and eat up innings in case Joe has to pull a starter early. While you don’t necessarily want to plan for that, it’s not a bad idea. Although, you could argue that Joe would choose to go with one of the other starters on the roster at that point, but that makes it difficult to manage the starting rotation for the rest of the series if the situation pops up earlier enough in said series.
The case for Rob Zastryzny is how well he’s pitched since being called up in late August. He has a .79 ERA and a 1.90 FIP. Of course, that’s over only 11.1 innings pitched. I think there’s clearly a place for Rob on the Cubs 2017 roster, no doubt about it. As for the postseason roster, I just don’t think he’s got enough big league experience right now to give him the nod.
As for Cahill or Montgomery, it will come down to match-ups. Assuming the Cubs end up with the best record in the National League, which appears pretty close to a lock considering their magic number is 5 with 12 games remaining, if the Cubs play either the Cardinals or the Giants you can pencil in Montgomery. If the Cubs play the Mets then perhaps Cahill sneaks in. Of course, it’s possible they both make it if the Cubs decide to go with 12 pitchers, which is a distinct possibility.
For position players the obvious locks are: Anthony Rizzo, Ben Zobrist, Addison Russell, Kris Bryant, Jorge Soler, Dexter Fowler, Jason Heyward, Javier Baez and David Ross.
Predicting the remaining position players gets a little more daunting. First off, I believe that Willson Contreras is pretty much a lock. He’s the Cubs’ best defensive catcher, he has the best arm and he can play other positions. Versatility is a key ingredient and Joe Maddon loves to have it.
The next decision that will loom is whether Joe wants to have three catchers or just go with two. My assumption is that he will want three. He’s always said he likes the fliexibility that having three catchers gives you, especially when the game gets to late innings where Joe has a tendency to double switch players.
That leaves Chris Coghlan, Tommy La Stella, Matt Szczur or Albert Almora to fill the remaining three spots. So what’s the preference, righties or lefties.
Tommy La Stella seems like an obvious choice based on his full season of work and, of course, not taking any of the off field issues into account, which I believe will not play into Joe’s decision here. He’s a solid lefty bat off the bench and he can fill in as an average defensive infielder.
Of the remaining three, I’d have to say that Albert Almora is most likely to be the player that gets left off the roster, mainly based on two factors. One, he’s young and the other guys have been around longer and have more big league experience. And second, he trails the other two in plate discipline. He swings at more balls out of the zone (46.4%) by far than either Coghlan (28%) or Szczur (32%). And plate discipline in the playoffs, where the pitchers you face are typically some of the best in the league, can win or lose a game where one run can make all the difference.
There’s still two more weeks left in the season and, of course, a lot can change in that time. What do you think, who would you include on the playoff roster?
To recap, here’s my projected lineup:
Catchers – David Ross, Willson Contreras
1B – Anthony Rizzo
2B – Ben Zobrist
SS – Addison Russell
3B – Kris Bryant
LF – Jorge Soler
CF – Dexter Fowler
RF – Jason Heyward
Bench – Javier Baez, Matt Szczur, Tommy La Stella, Chris Coghlan, Miguel Montero
Starting Pitchers – Jake Arrieta, Jon Lester, Kyle Hendricks, John Lackey
Relief Pitchers – Justin Grimm, Travis Wood, Hector Rondon, Pedro Strop, Carl Edwards, Mike Montgomery, and Aroldis Chapman