The Rotation Outlook

As the precious glimmers of Spring Training approach, many Cubs fans are really getting anxious about our rotation. The top four (Zambrano, Lilly, Dempster, and Wells) will be only three for the first month as Terrible Ted recoups from surgery. So that leaves an open 5th spot and a month-long vacant 4th spot. And frankly, this state of flux has produced a lot of hand-wringing. So let's examine this no-Lilly situation:

Starting Pitchers, last three xFIPs (recent to old):

Carlos Zambrano - 4.27, 4.45, 4.62
Ryan Dempster - 3.81, 3.74, 4.25
Randy Wells - 4.24, n/a, n/a

These are good numbers. The numbers we want from our rotation. Now let's look for these numbers among...

The Contenders, last three xFIPS:

Jeff Samardzija - 5.16, 4.34, n/a
Carlos Silva - 5.53, 4.64, 4.57
Sean Marshall - 3.82, 4.25, 4.56
Tom Gorzelanny - 3.74, 5.84, 4.82

Follow the jump as we take these numbers apart.

Okay, I should hope that the last two Contenders jump out a little bit. Both Marshall (who was a reliever all year) and Gorzo (who was a swing man, starting 7 times at the season's end) have some really nifty xFIPs (both in the 3's). Why do I use xFIP? Well, basically it helps us predict future performances better than FIP, which tends to simply tell us what happened.

However, in the case of these two xFIP champs, we must look for some extra confirmation. So, we turn to tRA, which is much like FIP and xFIP, except it is based on batted ball data (like % line drive and such). In this case, tRA was unkind to both Gorzo and Marshall in 2009 (Gorzo tRA = 4.85; Marshall tRA = 5.69). So, where are we with each player?

Jeff Samardzija: He's apparently doing well in winter ball and may have added a pitch or two. However, he's still not shown signs of being at least average. I'm anxious to see him start, though, so let's pencil him in for the first month as the #5 starter.

Carlos Silva: He was bad in 2008. He was a disaster in '09. Maybe he finds his old form in 2010, which would be almost average. But, please don't start with Carlos Silva.

Sean Marshall: Great xFIP in 2009, but pretty gross tRA. That tRA came from his line drive rate (23.3%) which could be a sign of very bad things to come. Let's keep him in the 'pen for now and call him backup.

Tom Gorzelanny: It felt like forever-ago that Gorzo was a rising star in the Pittsburgh system, so it's easy to forget he's only going to be 28 this year. I really, really think that 4th/5th spot should go to Tom. Let me show why:

In 2008, Tom got asploded in about 100 innings with the Pirates. Before that, he had posted nice FIP, xFIP, and tRA numbers -- numbers good enough for a fifth starter. So what happened in 2008?

Well, Gorzo is pretty much a three-pitch guy: fastball, slider, change. Very standard. One of the elements that made him successful in 2007 was his fastball (nearly 90 MPH and about 7 runs above average). However, it fell off a cliff in '08 (88.7 MPH; around 11 runs below average). So, 2009 rolls around and he ends up in AAA pretty quickly. Near the deadline, he gets traded to the Cubs (after owning AAA for a few months) and they bring him back to the bigs. Fastball speed? 91 MPH, 2 runs above average in limited exposure; thankyouverymuch.

I'm pretty sure Gorzo was not all there in 2008, maybe nursing some injury. In short, I think he can really be handy in '10, and a delightful surprise in the rotation.

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  1. Agreed very much about Gorzellany. I expect him to step up for this team, at the very least in the early going while Lilly nurses the shoulder.

    Marshall is certainly the superior choice over both Samardzija and Silva at this point, but something tells me he'll eventually settle in the bullpen once again. Not out of the question by any means that he gets a few starts though.

    I hadn't paid any attention to Samardzija's winter league numbers 'till you just mentioned them and you're right-- they're impressive. He hasn't really done anything to earn it at this point, but I don't think there's any question that Samardzija could lock down a spot in the rotation if he has a good spring.