Much has been written here in the last few days about the Cubs rotation injuries and what it means for the overall strength of the rotation. Most, or actually all of that has been negative. Sure, losing Garza can't be spun as a positive so I'm not going to do that.
As the resident optimist, I am here to assure you that the Cubs rotation is still better than last year and better by a wide margin compared to the rotation the Cubs ended the season with (Garzaless, Dempsterless and Samardzijaless).
The first thing we have to do as fans when trying to compare a rotation right now to a rotation from a previous season is to compare apples to apples. We want to compare this rotation to, for the purposes of this post, to last year's rotation by comparing the strength of each prior to the start of the season. Come July we can compare how the groups have performed, but right now, we have to compare pre-season to pre-season.
For last year's rotation, I'm only going to say two words: Jeff Samardzija.
I can't just say two words because, like Boyd Crowder, it takes me 40 words when 4 will do. See how I've already turned those two words into a bunch of crap? I'm good at that.
When the Cubs announced that Jeff Samardzija would be in last year's rotation it was maddening, funny and everything in between. He was the worst possible starting pitcher on the roster based on what we knew at this point a year ago. Clearly the Cubs knew something we didn't and good for them, but we didn't know that and anybody who wants to say that 40 innings of decent work in the bullpen in 2011 predicted the kind of season he had last year is full of it.
Ryan Dempster was the opening day starter last year. He was followed by Matt Garza, Jeff Samardzija (not only did he make the roster, but he was the number 3 starter!), Chris Volstad and Paul Maholm. Based on their previous years, I think most people expected little to nothing from Samardzija and Volstad. Most of us figured Travis Wood would come up soon enough to replace one of them. He did. Volstad kind of sucked and went to the minors.
Using the OV projected playing time for 2012, the 5 members of the rotation were projected to be worth 7.9 WAR. The most recent CAIRO projections for the projected starting 5 this season is 7.8 WAR. Those 5 are Edwin Jackson (3.2), Matt Garza (2.4), Jeff Samardzija (1.6), Scott Feldman (1.2) and Scott Baker (0.4).
Our OV projected playing times for those 5 last year was 873 innings, CAIRO, due to recent injuries to some of these pitchers, is only projecting 607 innings. The projections are based on the last few years and, take Jeff Samardzija for example, he was a reliever prior to 2012 so he's only projected to throw 135 innings. Scott Baker is projected to throw only 30 innings.
Adjust those innings upwards and the rotation we expected this season is better than last year's. It's not a great rotation, but CAIRO and PECOTA have Samardzija projected much lower than a couple of the others.
Scott Baker has recorded an out this spring before having to undergo another MRI. Matt Garza is battling an injury and will miss at least the first monty of the season. The rotation is shaping up to be Samardzija, Jackson, Feldman, Travis Wood and Carlos Villanueva. Samardzija, Jackson and Feldman are projected by CAIRO to be worth 6 WAR.
The CAIRO for Travis Wood is 1.9 WAR and it's 1.0 WAR for Villanueva. So the expected Cubs rotation is projected to be worth 8.9 WAR, which is better than last year's rotation to begin the season.
Even if the Cubs lose another pitcher or two to the DL, they're likely to be better than they were at the end of the season. Guys like Chris Rusin, Brooks Raley and others can't be expected to be nearly as bad as they were. Even a guy like Josh Vitters would improve upon his season last year because you can't do anything but improve.