Way back in 2013, the Cubs acquired a pitcher who had not performed to his ability, hoping a change of scenery would help him meet, or get close to, that potential. That pitcher was Jake Arrieta. The early returns on Arrieta have been positive. He had a dominant 2014, carrying multiple no-hitters through six innings and being dominant, in general. He finished 2014 with a 2.53 ERA, which was supported by a 2.26 FIP, 2.73 xFIP, and a 2.83 SIERA. He cut his walks to a career low, 2.4 BB/9 and increased his strikes outs to 9.6 K/9. In short, he was able to more effectively use his very good pure stuff by locating better, and either inducing weak contact or no contact at all.
It would be unfair to expect Jake Arrieta to duplicate a tremendous 2014 season. Because of his stuff, though, it shouldn’t be expected that he regresses too far. It may be too much to ask that he duplicates a 4.9 fWAR in 156.2 innings. If he’s able to post a 3.5 or 4.0 fWAR in a full season of work, though, it would still be a very strong season for Arrieta.
Behind Arrieta, newly acquired Jon Lester, and the reacquired Jason Hammel, the rotation is full of question marks. Nobody should expect Kyle Hendricks to repeat a sensational introduction to the majors. The same can be said for Tsuyoshi Wada. Travis Wood and Edwin Jackson are either inconsistent or consistently bad. One player who could rise and separate himself from the group, showing to be a legitimate middle of the rotation starter is Jacob Turner.
Turner,who was acquired after the Marlins decided to move on, is another pitcher with good stuff with less than stellar results. In some respects, the results for Turner are already trending in the right direction. His walks decreased from 4.12 BB/9 in 2013 to 2.63 BB/9 in a 2014 split between Miami and Chicago. Being around the plate more consistently may have contributed to the jump in BABIP from .285 in 2013 to .354 last season, but bad luck probably also reared its ugly head. While the line drives allowed crept up to 20.8%, ground balls also went up to 49.1%. His 6.13 ERA may look very Edwin Jackson, but his 4.16 FIP, 4.05 xFIP, and 4.19 SIERA are all better than the results Jake Arrieta posted in 2013 before his explosion last year.
To be sure, it would be ridiculous to asset that “Jake Arrieta had a break-through season after not having it all together so we should expect Jacob Turner to do the same thing.” That is not the point here. The point is, if there is another pitcher in the Cubs organization who could have the kind of season, or something in that ballpark, to what Arrieta had in 2014, Turner is probably the best bet.
As far as pure stuff is concerned, Turner has the best of all of the fifth starter candidates. Scouting reports for Turner all say similar things. He pitches in the low to mid 90s with a good curve. The knock on Turner, which has kept him from blossoming is consistency with his pitches and his focus. That was echoed again by John at Cubs Den, who also tagged Turner as a potential break-out player. The truly frustrating thing about those words is that they have followed Turner from the Tigers to the Marlins and now to the Cubs.
The best reason for optimism with Turner is his age. Some players take a bit of time to figure it out and overcome youthful immaturity and inconsistency. Turner will turn 24 in late May. After five seasons with results below expectations, and going into his first season before he becomes arbitration eligible, it may be the right time to see Turner move past the things that have held him back.
Jacob Turner getting closer to reaching his potential as a pitcher this season is an intriguing thought for its impact on the Cubs, as a team, this season. Should Turner make the leap and maximize his ability this season, the Cubs would have three pitchers with very good stuff at the top of the rotation with Hammel and Hendricks bringing up the back end. That would allow the Cubs to go through some growing pains with their young hitters and take some of the pressure off of a young bullpen.
As it stands, the Cubs are on the very periphery of being able to legitimately contend for a playoff spot. They need some things to break the right way. Javier Baez, Arismendy Alcantara, and Jorge Soler all need to continue to grow at the major league level. Kris Bryant needs to come up and be as advertised. Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro need to continue to be All-Star performers. The bullpen needs to take another step forward after a positive 2014 season. One thing that would take the pressure off of all of these things is for Jacob Turner to go to Mesa next month, take hold of a rotation spot, and pitch to his ability.
A top tier starting rotation would go a long way toward making 2015 a season that lasts into October. Externally, it would appear that there is no realistic option for the Cubs to make that happen at this point. It is unlikely that they trade for Cole Hamels, there is next to no chance that they sign James Shields, and there is absolutely no chance that they add Max Scherzer. The pitcher to push their rotation to the next level this season is going to be found internally, and the best candidate is Jacob Turner. If he pitches to his talent level this season, big things could be abound for the Cubs in 2015.