The 2012 season brings several new faces into the mix for the Chicago Cubs – especially pitchers.
Longtime Pirates lefthander Paul Maholm signed a one year deal worth $4.25 million with a club option for $6.5 million with the team this off-season and will immediately walk into a starting role.
Maholm, 29, is a contact pitcher seen in his career K/9 ratio which is a mere 5.5. In 26 starts in 2011 he pitched 162.1 innings which averages out to about six innings per start.
The Cubs hope Maholm can eat up around 180 innings, or so this season. Since 2009, Maholm’s fastball has been much more effective – his HR/FB ratio decreased from around 12 percent to 7 percent and has stayed consistent at 7 percent since. For Maholm to have success at Wrigley he needs to keep the ball in the ballpark which means locating his fastball low in the zone.
Expect Maholm to clock around 180 innings, have pretty good control with fastball velocity averaging in the upper 80s, and about a mid 4 ERA. Though wins and losses aren’t a fair way to project a pitcher, most see Maholm ending the season with around 10-to-12 wins.
Jeff Samardzija, 27, is a ‘near lock’ in the rotation according to first year manager Dale Sveum. 2012 would be the first year Samardzija’s had a chance at starting in the rotation on the big league level.
In starts in 2009 and 2010 for the Cubs he lacked control on the mound, especially with his splitfinger. Since then he’s thrown his splitfinger less and invested in a nasty slider which accounted for 23.6 percent of his pitches in 2011.
Working out of the bullpen proved to be where Samardzija excelled since he entered the Bigs. He pitched 88 innings with an ERA of 2.97 and a FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching) of 3.66 last year. He also struck out about a batter per inning with 87 strikeouts.
The obvious question is will Samardzija’s success in the bullpen transfer over to success in the starting rotation?
Samardzija has put up nice numbers so far in Spring Training, but that can rarely be used as a tool for effectively predicting regular season success. Plus, the sample size is small – he’s only pitched 10 innings. The one stat that does impress is that he has 10 IP and 0 walks.
Expect Samardzija to miss a lot of bats and miss the strike zone just as often. I don’t expect him to have stamina issues since he started games in the minors and in college at Notre Dame, but it would be a stretch to expect him to gobble up innings. Sveum, Hoyer and Epstein saw a window to let Samardzija crack into the starting rotation and this seems like good timing.
However, most are a bit skeptical because the Cubs bullpen remains thin, and with Marmol’s health questions and Wood’s age, the back end of the bullpen could use Samardzija. He’s never had extreme success as a starting pitcher, and while it’s valuable to try and maximize his value as a starter, it just might not be realistic.
Chris Volstad, Randy Wells, Rodrigo Lopez, and Travis Wood are the four who are in running for the last spot. It looks as though Volstad will earn the spot as Wood has had a terrible Spring and is essentially out of the running and Lopez is a longshot for the spot. Wells is posed to be the longman in the bullpen.
Chris Volstad, 26, was acquired from Miami in the Carlos Zambrano deal. Volstad is 6- foot-8 inches, a physically imposing figure on the mound. Volstad’s had a couple above average seasons for the Marlins in the past (2008, 2010, and a decent 2011).
In three full seasons in the majors, he’s thrown between 159 and 175 innings, with a relatively consistent ERA in the mid 5s. In 14 starts in 2008, he had an ERA of 2.88, but a FIP or 3.82, which says that he was a bit lucky.
Last season he had an ERA of 4.89, but had an xFIP (Expected Fielding Independent Pitching) of 3.64, which was the lowest of his career. Obviosuly, he had a severe problem giving up HRs last year, giving up 23 longballs with a FB/HR ratio of 15.5%. Volstad has always had problems with giving up the longball – he gave up 29 in 2009.
Ideally, Volstad will reduce allowing HRs, but realistically he won’t. Hopefully Volstad can limit the damage once he gives up a HR in a game, and give the Cubs plenty of innings this year.
These newcomers to the rotation will clearly decide whether the Cubs have a decent season, or not. If Maholm, Samardzija and Volstad all perform at their career bests, the Cubs might succeed in 2012.