The Cubs’ big pitching addition last year was former Met Marcus Stroman, and it appears as though they may go back to that well to solidify a starting rotation largely devoid of innings-eaters. Per a report from Sahadev Sharma and Patrick Mooney, the front office is looking at righties Chris Bassitt and Taijuan Walker as part of a group that also includes Japanese fireballer Koudai Senga.
Without getting into the specifics on either of the Mets pitchers, it’s easy to say Walker should be prioritized for the simple fact that he doesn’t carry qualifying offer penalties. While the Cubs will get a little compensation when Willson Contreras signs elsewhere after turning down a QO himself, Bassitt doesn’t immediately strike me as the kind of pitcher for whom they’d be willing to lose a pick and some international pool money.
After looking a little deeper, however, Bassitt’s consistency might be something the Cubs are willing to pay a premium for. His walk percentages and home run rates have been nearly identical over each of the last three seasons and he improved his groundball rate to a career-high 48.8% in 2022 behind a sinker-first approach. It’s also notable that he performed as well as he did after being traded from the A’s to the Mets back in March.
Pitching in a high-pressure environment doesn’t bring out the best in everyone, especially pitchers, but Bassitt’s mental toughness had already been put to a much stiffer test. In a game against the White Sox on August 17, 2001, Bassitt suffered a displaced tripod fracture in his right cheek when he was struck in the face by a 100 mph liner by Brian Goodwin of the White Sox. The righty was able to return to the mound a little more than a month later.
It’s impossible to quantify the psychological part of the game, but I have to think the Cubs and other teams like what Bassitt brings to the table in that regard. He also displays a very high degree of pitchability, working with a broad repertoire highlighted by a sinker, cutter, and curve that all got great results last season. The slider and change have not been consistent and the four-seam gave him a little trouble with the Mets, but the variety kept hitters honest.
Bassitt is a strike-thrower who attacks the zone early and often to get more called strikes than most of his peers. He doesn’t get a lot of whiffs, which is something the Cubs could really use more of, but his total volume of strikes and the ability to generate grounders keeps him from getting in trouble.
Walker is somewhat similar in terms of leaning more toward finesse than power, though his go-to pitch is the splitter he throws nearly 30% of the time. It would be very interesting to see the Cubs add both Walker and Senga for that reason alone. Walker’s fastball velocity is around 94 mph, slightly faster than Bassitt, but his strikeout and walk rates aren’t quite as good.
The biggest difference between these two might be that Walker is more than three years younger, a factor that must be considered on any deal that is likely to make sense for these guys. That relative youth may not be too big a deal, though, as Walker doesn’t have as high a ceiling and profiles as more of a complementary piece. I like him as a depth starter if the Cubs indeed opt to go with a six-man rotation or something like that.
Senga still strikes me as the best option by far from among this limited group because he’s got the triple-digit heat and highest upside. He also carries more risk, where Bassitt and Walker are much safer known commodities. A lot of it depends on how much faith the Cubs have in Justin Steele to take another step forward and remain healthy. Hayden Wesneski continuing to be a dude would help as well, then there’s the idea that Kyle Hendricks could come out throwing gas next season.
If, that is, he’s able to throw at all. The Professor opted for non-surgical treatment on the capsular tear in his right shoulder that ended his season and he still hasn’t begun an offseason throwing program. The front office might look to add two free agent starters and then see what things look like in the spring. Better to have too many starters than not enough, that’s for sure.
Ed. note: Bassitt’s pitching mechanics are really interesting and, while you’d never teach anyone to pitch like he does, he probably gets a boost from deception. His glove arm shoots straight out and then immediately pulls off to the left, to the point where it’s outside the width of his body before he’s even gotten into layback. The glove is almost a foot outside his body and all the way down to his ankle at release, which should cause him to fly open and have trouble finding the zone.
That clearly hasn’t been a problem for him as we noted the low walk numbers earlier, but the exaggerated glove move pulls Bassitt way off to the left after his delivery. He’s all arms and legs, really getting that 6-foot-5 frame down the mound and low to the ground with a big dip as he goes toward the plate. He actually reminds me a lot of Clayton Kershaw and Kenley Jansen due to the initial move, lead arm and leg extending straight out, but what happens from there makes Bassitt look very different.
It’s always fun for me to look at stuff like these and see players who’ve found success with mechanics no coach would let a kid practice. But sometimes you just have to let people find what works for them.