2024 Cubs Season Projections: Starting Rotation
Rich Storry - USA Today Sports

2024 Cubs Season Projections: Starting Rotation

by - Senior Writer -

With the position player side of our series finished, it's time to move into the pitching side, which has its own set of question marks for 2024. Today, it is all about the starting pitching as we get set to preview their upcoming season. When you look at this current Cubs staff on paper, you could make the case that they are middle of the road at best.

However, given some of the performances the fans saw last season, you have to feel at least confident with three of your arms and possibly even four. As long as four of your five pitchers pitch to their abilities, this rotation will win you some games, and with guys like Cade Horton on the way, the rotation will look much better in 2025 and beyond.

Justin Steele: Leading the way for the Cubs is the ace of the staff Justin Steele. Not your typical Ace in terms of flame throwers, Steele is more like a Jon Lester who knows how to pitch. He led the team in wins with 16 a season ago and, up until the final few weeks, was one of the favorites to win the Cy Young. He does that with only two pitches, which makes him more impressive across the board.

Prediction: 34 starts, 17-8, 3.12 ERA

As long as Steele can stay healthy, he will have another great year and again prove to be the Ace of the Cubs staff. The key for him could be using a third pitch more, which he has, but seldom uses it. In any case, he is a rare breed. He knows what works for him and doesn't shy away from it.

Kyle Hendricks: After being the Ace of the staff for five seasons and now entering his 11th season with the Cubs, this could be the farewell tour for Hendricks as he enters the final year of his deal. Unlike most pitchers his age who start to die off, Hendricks has never been a hard thrower and thus could last a bit longer in this league.

Entering the 2023 season, Hendricks had plenty of questions that needed to be answered as he was returning from offseason shoulder surgery that sidelined him until May. Once he returned, he started to look like the Hendricks of old, and although he finished with a below .500 record, he was excellent all season.

Prediction: 32 starts, 9-9 3.75 ERA

It's no secret that his best days are behind him, but you will still see a great effort from Hendricks every time he's out. He knows how to pitch at an old-school level and doesn't shy away from doing things to change things up. His record may not indicate how good of a season he had based on where he falls in the rotation, but he should still be good enough to win some games.

Shota Imanaga: The prized possession for the Cubs offseason, Shota Imanaga enters his first year in Chicago with a ton of pressure on him. Expected to be the team's No. 3 starter when the season starts, Imanaga has the best overall stuff and would be an Ace on many teams. Adjusting to the MLB hitting and mound could be why he is further down in the rotation for now, but that shouldn't matter.

From all accounts, Imanaga has been nothing short of impressive since camp started, to the point where several pitchers and coaches stopped what they were doing to watch him pitch. You rarely have a rookie gain that much attention, but Imanaga isn't a typical rookie and appears destined for a breakout in 2024.

Prediction: 28 starts, 14-7, 2.98 ERA:

Given how different a Japanese schedule is from an MLB schedule, look for Imanaga to get extra days off throughout the season. However, when he does start, look for him to be excellent even if he struggles early. That shouldn't shock anyone as it takes time for NPB players to adjust to the MLB game, but once he figures it out, you are looking at a legitimate rookie of the year candidate.

Jameson Taillon: Signed to a four-year deal last offseason, the first year for Taillon in Chicago was a struggle, to say the least. Not only did he struggle to win games, but with an ERA close to six most of the season, his contract was starting to look like a bust. That was until the season's final six weeks when Taillon emerged as their most trusted starter and lowered his ERA down to 4.7.

That alone has to give the Cubs and their fans some confidence that he figured something out and are hopeful that it will continue into this season. A solid pitcher for most of his career, Taillon has constantly been derailed by injury, and that happens right when he gets on a roll. He was on a roll late in the season last year, so let's hope that continues.

Prediction: 30 starts, 12-10, 3.77 ERA

Having Taillon as a No. 4 option isn't the worst thing in the world, as he would be better than most No. 4 options. However, until he consistently puts together 30 starts during the season, you have to look at him as an underachieving pitcher filled with potential.

From a stuff side, he does have front-of-the-rotation stuff, but he has never been able to unleash that stuff since his early Pittsburgh Pirate days. If he can do that now, Counsell will have an excellent veteran to lean on over the next few seasons.

Jordan Wicks: While the No. 5 spot is technically up for grabs and should be all spring, the odds-on favorite to earn that job is Jordan Wicks. Ranked as the Cubs' third-best pitching prospect behind righties Horton and Ben Brown, Wicks was the first of his group to reach the majors and had some great success.

Comparable to Cole Hamels, especially with his change-up, Wicks posted an unbeaten record in the minors last season before going 4-1 during his seven-start stint in the majors. That combines to be an 11-1 overall season with an ERA in the 3.6 range, which is all you can ask for and more. No one is asking for him to do that this season, but if he can, this rotation is in a much better place than many expected it to be.

Prediction: 25 starts, 7-8, 3.93 ERA

Given his lack of innings at the Minor League level, look for the Cubs to try to monitor his innings this season. That could result in shorter outings, leading to a worse record than it could be. Remember, Wicks is still a rookie and has made only seven MLB starts. He has yet to go through an extended rough patch, which he will learn to deal with this season.

The Cubs also have guys like Drew Smyly, Caleb Kilian, Hayden Wesneski, Javier Assad, and potentially Horton and Brown as other starting options to use this season. Granted, some of these guys are already in the pen, but you can bet they all will have opportunities to start when needed.

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