While the season ended sooner than we would have liked, it did indeed end. So now there’s nothing left but to hand out report cards for the players of each team. We’re continuing this series today with Cubs starting pitchers.
Adbert Alzolay (1-1, 2.95 ERA)
He didn’t set foot on a big league mound until August 19, and he had four starts and a couple relief stints. The big thing for him this year was developing a slider that is a true swing-and-miss pitch. 29 strikeouts in 21 1/3 innings proves that out. The slider showed up after a stint in South Bend following a couple ugly starts in early September. He’s still learning, but at this point he looks like the early leader for the 5 spot in next year’s rotation. This will also be the first Cubs pitcher that has been signed/developed by the Epstein/Hoyer regime to join the Cubs’ rotation.
Tyler Chatwood (2-2, 5.30 ERA)
After a horrendous 2018 where he came to the Cubs suffering a complete loss of command, then a 2019 where he wound up relegated to the bullpen where his command returned, he was ready to return to the rotation for a 2020 salary drive.
For the first two starts of the year, he was awesome, going 12 2/3 innings allowing 1 earned run, striking out 19 and having a WHIP under 1. Then injuries came into the picture, and he had a rocky start against Kansas City, followed by a trip to the Injured List with a bad back. He came back, and this time it was his elbow. Never a good thing. So now he hits the open market with only the promise of what he was early in the season.
Yu Darvish (8-3, 2.01 ERA)
Not sure if there are any superlatives left to describe Yu Darvish. He had 12 starts for the year, 10 of which were of the quality variety. In only one of those twelve starts did he allow more than three earned runs, and in that one he allowed four. While that one outing came late in the season and probably cost him the Cy Young Award, there’s no argument that he’s one of the true elite pitchers in baseball right now.
His performance in the past year and a half has vindicated the Cubs’ decision to let Jake Arrieta walk and bring Darvish onto the team. His huge pitch arsenal and control (14 walks in 13 starts) will keep him among the best pitchers in the league next season.
Kyle Hendricks (6-5, 2.88 ERA)
There are few things as certain in this world as death, taxes, and Kyle Hendricks getting overlooked when best pitchers in the National League are being discussed. He had a sub-1 WHIP for the season, and had two rough outings for the year, both against Cincinnati. He and Darvish give the Cubs a 1-2 as good as any in baseball.
Hendricks set the tone for the shortened season by pitching a complete game shutout in the first game of the season. He offers a perfect complement to Darvish’s power arsenal.
Jon Lester (3-3, 5.16 ERA)
There’s no harder pitcher to talk/write about than Big Dick Jon. Because when you look at his 2020 season, it’s hard to not think about how much he’s meant to this team over the years, and how many huge performances he gave. Every so often, you’d get a glimpse into the past with him, as he had 4 quality starts and two other 5 inning outings where he gave up one run or less. But when he was bad, he got absolutely racked. He had 5 outings where he allowed 5 or more earned runs, and his FIP of 5.14 was almost a full run over last season. Also, for the first time in his career none of his pitches averaged at least 90 MPH. He’s said he wants to win his 200th career game as a Cub, but that’s 7 wins away. I’m not sure he could come back and accomplish that before Labor Day. We’ve already said goodbye to Jake Arrieta and Dexter Fowler, but saying goodbye to Lester will be another level of heartbreak.
Alec Mills (5-5, 4.48 ERA)
Here’s a case of a guy having one game that overshadowed a bunch of stuff. Mills threw a no-hitter against Milwaukee, but it was one of only four (out of eleven) quality starts. There’s definitely something there, but he’d benefit from having a guy between him and Kyle Hendricks in the rotation, as they both have very similar pitch styles and repertoires. And any team (except Milwaukee) would be overjoyed to see less-good Hendricks the day after actual Hendricks. Maybe it would be fair to compare Mills more to Zach Davies – a guy who is kinda/sorta like Hendricks, just not quite Hendricksian. But put a guy between him and Kyle and he should have more success next season.
Jose Quintana (0-0, 4.50 ERA)
How much damage can one broken wine glass do? Quintana cut his finger while washing dishes, and didn’t get onto a big league mound until a relief outing August 25. He had one more relief appearance, striking out 6 in 3 innings before his lat acted up. Back to the Injured List, then South Bend. He got 4 more innings for the year, for a total of 10. Like Chatwood, not the best time to be shopping for a new contract.
The Cubs’ starting pitching was one of the main reasons the Cubs were able to claim the division title, and certainly not the reason the postseason only lasted two games. While it was certainly a shame that neither Chatwood nor Quintana were healthy enough to not only help the Cubs, but also increase their bargaining power this winter, overall this was one of the positive parts of this season.