The Cubs are rebuilding under the guidance of Theo Epstein, but they are not deep at pitching that is ready for the major leagues, as of yet. If you are looking to populate your fantasy roster with late round Cubbies for your rotation, you are setting yourself up for a miserable season.
Starting Pitching Rotation Analysis
Potential Rotation Alternatives
ADP designated by * indicates no reported ADP as of date of publication. Projections are based on a compilation of several sources (ZiPS, Oliver, Steamer, RotoChamp), given equal weight.
Travis Wood is my choice for the pitcher who could outperform his projections, but he could also revert to form and kill you in his peripherals. A career best 3.11 ERA and a good 1.20 WHIP in 2013 should recede in 2014 as his BABIP normalizes from the astounding .252 and .257 he's displayed over the past two seasons. You will not want to owning him when and if the correction occurs, but he could have periods of usefulness. Keep that in mind if he is available on your wire after the draft.
Edwin Jackson is a frustrating starting pitcher. He can seem absolutely in control for two or three games, then blow up just as suddenly for the next several starts. For example, he has been striking out batters and not walking many this spring (11:1 K/BB ratio through 9 innings this spring), but when will the switch get thrown and the floodgates open? He is an average strikeout artist, and walks too many hitters to keep out of trouble, despite his extreme groundball tendencies (a good thing when the wind is blowing out at Wrigley Field). Ignore him in your drafts, unless you like rollercoaster rides.
Jeff Samardzija has been tagged as the Opening Day starter for the Cubs, but aside from his excellent K/9 ratio of a strikeout per inning and the fact that he can put up 200+ innings, the rest of his offerings are suspect. His ERA is due to decrease a bit, if his unlucky .323 BABIP normalizes, but his team is not good, and the results if you draft him will center on his strikeout numbers.
Jason Hammel, as my readers know, has long been a favorite pitcher of mine. An injury plagued 2013 has soured me, and despite his apparent security as the fourth starter in the rotation, I am not looking to draft him in any but the deepest of leagues this year. Baltimore was probably not a good fit for him, as he gave up homers at a 1.4 HR/9 clip in 2013, and posted an ERA very close to 5. Despite a very good 93 MPH fastball, he was only able to garner moderate strikeouts at a 6.20/9 pace. This is not the guy you want to rely on for back of the rotation stability in fantasy.
With shoulder woes delaying his spring, Jake Arrieta is not looking good for opening the season on the active roster. Think mid to late April for him, instead. When he is healthy, he features a good fastball that hits 94 MPH, and while his 2013 K/BB ratio was not anything to praise (1.46), he did show potential in 2012 with an 8.56 K/BB ratio. His delayed spring likely will mean he is a waiver wire pitcher, but once he returns, keep an eye on his strikeouts and add him on the cheap if he looks like his 2012 self.
Chris Rusin will most likely take the fifth rotation spot while Arrieta rounds himself into game shape, but he is not brimming with potential. The five strikeout per 9 rate and the unsustainable low BABIP and high strand rate he benefitted from in 2013 show probable regression in 2014. Avoid him in drafts unless some miracle occurs between now and Opening Day.
The Cubs signed James McDonald after the Pirates let him go, but a recent shoulder injury just two pitches into his latest spring start. He is not likely to make the Opening Day roster, and you can ignore him for now, and likely from here on out.
Not a ton to jump up and down about with this rotation. Wood, while he could continue to defy odds, is likely to regress, and Samardzija is basically a one trick pony with his strikeouts. Jackson is too inconsistent to rely upon as a full time starter, and Hammel is most probably going to give up loads of homers while calling the cozy confines of Wrigley home. I would suggest you do your shopping for starting pitching elsewhere than the North Side of Chicago.
If you disagree with my assessments, or just want to discuss starting pitching, I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. I enjoy comments and am more than willing to engage in discussion about fantasy baseball, so feel free to write.