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Breaking Down the Staffs: Chicago Cubs Edition

Alex Kantecki breaks down the fantasy value of all 30 starting rotations for 2013, this time focusing on the Chicago Cubs.

Dilip Vishwanat

Last week we took a look at the Atlanta Braves and Arizona Diamondbacks starting rotations, and since then, the Braves exercised options on Tim Hudson and Paul Maholm. This means the two veterans will be back for another year, and I think they are worthy of being No. 4 pitchers on your fantasy staff.

Staying in the National League, we shift focus to the Chicago Cubs, whose starters went 42-76 with a 4.52 ERA and 4.17 xFIP while compiling 725 strikeouts in 922.2 innings. The Cubs lost 101 games and used 12 different starters in reaching the century mark, so it's likely their staff gets a big shakeup in the coming months.

As always, pitchers are ranked from worst to best in terms of 2013 value (with 2012 stats in parentheses).

5. Chris Volstad (3-12, 111.1 IP, 4.93 K/9, 3.58 BB/9, 6.31 ERA, 4.68 xFIP)

The only reason I'm including Volstad here is because, outside of the top two options, the Cubs current projected staff is littered with pitching garbage.

And that's the nicest way I could think to put it.

Volstad was one of the league's least effective starters in 2012, barely registering a positive WAR (0.2). Low strikeouts. High walks. Not worth considering in fantasy. This guy makes Carlos Zambrano look like a first ballot Hall of Famer.

**Chris Volstad was claimed by the Kansas City Royals last week. Somehow, this game-changing news flew under my radar. Thanks to reader BSU_Alum07 for bringing it to my attention.**

4. Arodys Vizcaino (did not pitch in 2012; underwent Tommy John Surgery)

The Cubs acquired Vizcaino from the Braves in the Paul Maholm and Reed Johnson package deadline deal, and he could be a valuable piece for the team as soon as 2013. While he underwent Tommy John Surgery in 2012, Vizcaino has tremendous upside and was considered one of the Braves top pitching prospects in a system full of them.

If fully healthy, Vizcaino has a good shot at securing the No. 5 spot for the Cubs, given their current options. In 2011, Vizcaino posted a 10.29 K/9 in six games in Triple-A and a 9.97 mark in 49.2 innings in Double-A. His BB/9 has hovered in the mid-2's, and he's by far the Cubs best pitching prospect right now.

I'd be willing to take a flier on Vizcaino late in drafts if he gets a legit chance at cracking the Cubs rotation in 2013. He has ten times more upside than the No. 3 guy on this list. I'm only putting him here because we have yet to see him throw since the surgery.

3. Travis Wood (6-13, 156 IP, 6.87 K/9, 3.12 BB/9, 4.27 ERA, 4.62 xFIP)

The Cubs were hoping to get the 2010 rookie version of Wood - the one with a winning record and an effective 3.51 ERA in 102.2 innings - when they shipped veteran reliever Sean Marshall to the Reds in the offseason; instead, the Cubs got a slightly less effective version.

Wood did reach his career high in innings pitched, but, surprisingly, the switch from Great American Ballpark to Wrigley Field spiked his home run rate. While his strikeouts increased slightly from 2011, the 6.87 K/9 was still far off from his career high of 7.54 set in 2010.

Wood has proven to be a valuable matchup play in the past, but he's regressed to an NL-only or deep league option for fantasy purposes.

2. Matt Garza (5-7, 103.2 IP, 8.33 K/9, 2.78 BB/9, 3.91 ERA, 3.59 xFIP)

Garza entered 2012 with the distinction as the Cubs best starting pitcher, but that might not be the case in 2013. In the midst of another typical solid Garza-like season, the soon-to-be 29 year old was shut down with a stress reaction in his right elbow on July 21. The injury not only cut Garza's season short, it also prevented the Cubs from trading one of their most valuable trading assets for rebuilding pieces. There's still a chance the Cubs trade Garza in the offseason, but the injury makes it less likely. I wouldn't count on it.

With a 96:32 K:BB ratio in 103.2 innings, Garza proved to be a solid source of strikeouts despite not reaching his career high mark of 8.95 K/9 set in 2011. With the injury, it may be unrealistic to expect Garza to post 9 K/9, but he should still register solid numbers in the strikeouts department.

We didn't learn a whole lot about Garza in 2012 thanks to an injury-shortened season, but his value remains as a mid-level No. 2 on your staff. With questions of durability surrounding him, you may be able to land Garza at a discounted price.

1. Jeff Samardzija (9-13, 174.2 IP, 9.27 K/9, 2.89 BB/9, 3.81 ERA, 3.38 xFIP)

In a season the Cubs would rather forget, Samardzija was their brightest surprise. Coming out of spring training, Samardzija was merely fighting for a rotation spot; in the end, he may have solidified himself as the Cubs best starting pitcher, leading the team in wins, complete games, innings pitched, strikeouts and most flowing hair.

His 9.27 K/9 was fourth best among all starting pitchers, trailing only Max Scherzer, Yu Darvish and Gio Gonzalez. And while Samardzija entered 2012 with a poor track record of walking too many hitters, he ended up right around league average, a positive sign that he's figuring things out as a maturing big league pitcher.

Samardzija's fastball reaches above 95 mph, and his splitter, which averages 86 mph, is already being touted as one of the best splitters in the league. If there's one area of concern, it's that Samardzija is coming off a career high 174.2 innings, and before 2012, he never reached more than 141.2 innings in any given year. He's not going to be an elite source of wins on a rebuilding Cubs team, but that shouldn't discourage you from picking him as high-end No. 2 starter. He's legit.

Wild Cards

The Cubs have left open the possibility of a Ryan Dempster reunion, and that might be the best possible outcome for both parties. Dempster pitched more than fine in 2012, with a 12-8 record, 3.38 ERA, 3.77 xFIP and a 153:52 K:BB ration in 173 innings split between the Cubs and Rangers. After a slow start in Texas, Dempster adjusted to his AL competition and helped the Rangers reach the playoffs. He'd immediately become the Cubs third best pitcher if he returned, and one you could fully trust.

As of this writing, I'm hearing the Cubs are in the mix for Dan Haren, who the Angels are aggressively trying to trade before the end of the day. Needless to say, Haren would fit nicely on a team that needs starting pitching. In a down year, Haren went 12-13 with a 4.33 ERA, 4.00 xFIP and a 142:38 K:BB ratio in 176.2 innings. The 7.23 K/9 was his lowest mark since 2006, but a shift to the NL would only help Haren. He's someone to trust as a solid No. 3 on your staff, with the possibility for much more.