To say that the Cubs rotation this season has been less than ideal would be an understatement. We have grown accustomed to seeing the starters allow run after run to score in the first innings of games for the last week or so, but the struggles extend further than just the first inning. The starting rotation ERA currently sits 22nd in all of Major League Baseball (4.28), the WHIP a tad worse than that at 23rd on the list (1.36), and batting average against at an abysmal .259 which sits 26th in the league.
There really has not been a single starter that has put up impressive stats. Between the starting five of Jake Arrieta, Jon Lester, Kyle Hendricks, John Lackey, and Brett Anderson the lowest FIP is Lester’s 3.60 mark. Now into the second month of the season there are still sample size alerts all around, but Theo & Co. needs to begin to figure out a backup plan for this rotation if it does not begin to work itself out soon.
With Lester and Lackey being established veterans, they seem to have their role in the rotation locked down. The same can be said for 2015 Cy Young winner Arrieta and 2016 ERA leader Hendricks. Naturally, the odd man out seems to be Anderson and after his rough start on Monday night, he might really be on the hot seat just a few weeks into the season.
Anderson’s rough stat line now reads: 6.23 ERA, 1.85 WHIP, .308 batting average against, 15 strikeouts, 12 walks.
So if the Cubs were to move on in the rotation, what exactly are the options available to fill that fifth starter spot?
The obvious choice would be Mike Montgomery. He is already on the Major League roster and a simple switch of roles between he and Anderson would be the easiest move for both the front office and Joe Maddon. Montgomery pitched nearly every game as a starter for the first nine seasons of his professional career but was moved to the bullpen by the Mariners last season. After coming over in the trade that sent Dan Vogelbach to the M’s (how could you not mention Vogelbach if you have the opportunity) he made 5 spot starts during the second half of the year for the Cubs. He has looked very good out of the bullpen so far this year and his performance on Monday in relief of Anderson was impressive.
There are also several starting pitchers currently stockpiled on the Triple-A Iowa roster that are in the organization for this exact reason. While Aaron Brooks, Williams Perez, Ryan Williams, and Seth Frankoff all could be viable options at some point this season for a spot start here or there, all four guys have been fairly ineffective so far in this young season. That leaves two guys as potential call-up material: Alec Mills and Eddie Butler.
Mills was acquired in a trade with the Royals for minor league outfielder Donnie Dewees this past offseason. After tearing up Double-A last season for half the season, he had mixed results in Triple-A before getting the call to the majors with Kansas City. He has only given up 9 hits and a walk with 7 strikeouts in his two starts in Iowa so far this year.
Butler was acquired just before the season in a deal that sent relief pitching prospect James Farris over to the Rockies. Once a top prospect, Butler struggled in his time in the bigs in Colorado. So far in Iowa through four starts he has put up a 1.46 ERA and 1.22 WHIP but with only 11 strikeouts through 24.2 innings.
Mills and Butler are both currently on the Disabled List, each with a rolled ankle. Both guys are expected to return to the field soon, and a few successful starts could prove to be enough to make them ready for the call to Chicago should Brett Anderson continue his rough start on the bump.
While many thought the organizational depth would be put in place in case of an inevitable Brett Anderson injury, it seems as though Anderson’s ineffectiveness could see some of that depth really put to use in Chicago very soon.