Thursday, December 7, 2023

Cubs Have Another Emerging Starter


The Chicago Cubs are on a heater! They haven’t lost since the All-Star Game and have the longest win streak in Major League Baseball, racking up six straight wins. Tuesday’s starting pitcher, Keegan Thompson, allowed no runs while striking out seven over seven innings pitched, a new career-high. Thompson’s ERA is down to 3.16, and his emergence, along with lefty starter Justin Steele, has been one of the bright spots for the Cubs this season. But if you haven’t noticed, the Cubs have another emerging starting.

Adrian Sampson Emerging

The right-handed Sampson made his Cubs debut last season, appearing in 10 games, starting five with an ERA of 2.80. This year, Sampson has appeared in eight games for the Cubs, starting six with an ERA of 3.20. He’s allowed three earned runs or fewer in five of his six starts. In his last outing, Sampson pitched a season-high seven innings, giving up two runs while walking one and striking out three.

Despite not recording a win for the Cubs this season, Sampson has basically come out of nowhere to steady a starting pitching staff that’s been decimated by injuries to starters Wade Miley, Kyle Hendricks, Marcus Stroman, and Drew Smyly at different times throughout the season.

Cubs Find Late Bloomer In Adrian Sampson

When the Cubs resigned Adrian Sampson on May 12th, few fans blinked an eye. The 30-year-old journeyman made his big-league debut with the Mariners in 2016, but it would be his only appearance that year. Sampson landed on the Rangers in 2018, making four starts. In 2019, Sampson appeared in 35 games with 15 starts, but the results weren’t pretty. He had an ERA of 5.89, surrendering an ugly 29 home runs in 125 innings.

Sampson Goes To Japan

By 2020, Sampson was out of the bigs, opting instead to play in Japan. The results there were mixed. According to the MLB Trade Rumors, Sampson had a 5.40 ERA over 130 innings, with a strike-out rate below 15%. However, Sampson’s tour with Japan’s Lotte Giants gave him valuable innings during a covid-shortened MLB season. So what did the Cubs see in Sampson?

Tapping Into Sampson’s Control, Ground Ball Rate

While Sampson’s season in Japan wouldn’t be considered a success, he did have a good walk percentage and ground-ball-rate metrics. Sampson walked a mere 6.1% of batters while inducing ground balls on more than 65% of at-bats.

Before Japan, Sampson had been good enough to reach the majors but had never found the consistency to stay. Despite his low strike-out numbers, Sampson’s stuff was dynamic at times.

Cubs Found Cheap Starter Or Possible Trade Bait

Give Cubs’ scouts and President of Baseball Operations Jed Hoyer credit for rolling the dice on Sampson. Starting pitching is one of the most valuable commodities in baseball, and competing clubs can never have enough of it. They did a phenomenal job finding a starting pitcher giving them quality innings on the cheap (Sampson is signed to a 1-yr. $506K contract.) Between Justin Steele, Keegan Thompson, Kyle Hendricks, Marcus Stroman, and Sampson – the Cubs might have their 2023 starting rotation right now. Regardless, it looks like the Cubs have stumbled onto a hidden, late blooming gem in Sampson – or possible trade bait ahead of next week’s August 2nd trade deadline.

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