At the beginning of spring camp the Cubs had more starting pitching arms than spots available in the rotation. Now a week out before opening day and the Cubs have just enough arms to fill out a decent rotation: Samardzija, Jackson, Wood, Feldman, and Villanueva. That’s a credit to Team Theo.
Had the Cubs failed to sign either Edwin Jackson or Scott Feldman the rotation would be in dire straits entering the season. But despite the injuries to Matt Garza (pulled lat muscle) and Scott Baker (strained elbow), both of whom will miss extended time recovering, Chicago still has a decent chance of contending out of the gate.
As often as we hear ‘you can never have enough starting pitching’, it’s not unusual for teams to fall short when adding starting pitching depth. That’s partly because good starting pitching is hard to find. But I assume another reason is good starting pitching cost good money–and some teams simply don’t want to spend on players they view as insurance policies.
However, if you do need those insurance arms, and don’t have them, you’re in a world of trouble. And the 2011 Cubs under Jim Hendry are a perfect example.
The season wasn’t a week old before the starting rotation ran off the track with injuries to Randy Wells and Andrew Cashner. Wells was sidelined nearly two months and Cashner didn’t return until September, as a reliever no less.
Meanwhile, Hendry was left to fill the holes with 23-year-old Casey Coleman
(3-9, 6.40 ERA) and 35-year-old Rodrigo Lopez (6-6, 4.42 ERA) for a combined 40 starts. And that doesn’t include the drastic desperation move of signing 35-year-old Doug Davis, who lit the mound on fire going (1-7, 6.50 ERA) in nine starts.
Chicago was doomed from the onset without a viable Plan B for the starting staff. That, in combination with other roster shortcoming, put the team on course for a 91-loss season.
The Cubs’ record this season may not be any better than it was two years ago. But we can rest assured it won’t be from a lack of preparation to supplement the rotation with good arms in case of injuries.
Part of understanding the importance of rotation depth is knowing whatever plan you do have in place is only as good as its Plan B.