2015 Outlook: Did Lester have a contract-year surge, or was his big 2014 year a matter of all health issues resolving in his favor finally? If you look at his numbers prior to 2012 and 2013, you might conclude that the latter hypothesis is more likely to be true. From 2009 to 2011, he averaged at least 8.55 K/9 before seeing a significant drop the next two years -- looking at that, his 9.01 K/9 in 2014 doesn't seem that out of line. Now that he gets to cross over to the NL and pitch for the Cubs, Lester should consolidate his strikeout gains and have another big year.
2015 Outlook: Arrieta had one of the biggest breakout performances by a starting pitcher in 2014. He put up a 2.53 ERA, which ranked 10th among pitchers who threw more than 150 innings, yet was largely undrafted in fantasy leagues. While certainly unexpected, it was not an empty or fluky ERA. Simply put, Arrieta was as good as all his numbers indicate. He had a 0.99 WHIP, a sparkling 167:41 K:BB ratio in 156⅔ innings and a 2.26 FIP, which suggest he pitched even better than his ERA indicates. The 6-4 righty was downright untouchable in almost a quarter of his starts. He had six outings in which he went six-plus innings while giving up zero earned runs and allowing four or fewer baserunners. After failing to live up to his impressive numbers in the minor leagues with Baltimore, Arrieta has blossomed under the instruction of Cubs pitching coach Chris Bosio and will enter his age-29 season as a legitimate No. 2 starter behind Jon Lester on the North Side.
2015 Outlook: Hammel started 17 games for the Cubs last season and won eight of them with a 2.98 ERA, 1.02 WHIP and more strikeouts (104) than hits allowed (88) in 108 2/3 innings of work. But he was a totally different pitcher after being traded to the A's on July 5. With Oakland, he won just two of 12 starts with a 4.26 ERA and 1.29 WHIP and struck out 54 while allowing 66 hits in 67 2/3 innings. Perhaps wisely, he's back with the Cubs now. Hammel does not have drastic splits but has been more effective against righties than lefties because he lacks an effective changeup. He's posted solid WHIP and strikeout numbers in recent years but still hasn't had that one season in which he puts it all together. Perhaps 2015 will be that year, if he stays in a Chicago jersey all year long, but don't bet your fantasy team on it.
2015 Outlook: After impressing at every minor league level and leaving the minors with a career 2.69 ERA, Hendricks had a dazzling MLB debut in 2014, going 7-2 with a 2.46 ERA in 13 starts. He's got great control, and while his strikeout rate of 5.3 per nine innings isn't particularly impressive, he managed a BB/9 of just 1.7 in the big leagues. The offseason acquisitions of Jon Lester and Jason Hammel make for a crowded starting rotation in Chicago, but Hendricks should be able to get work at the back end of it. If the 25-year-old can maintain his success from 2014 and work his strikeout rate back up -- he had 97 in 102 2/3 innings at Triple-A in 2014 -- he could be a useful addition to fantasy teams.
2015 Outlook: Wada was as good as one could have hoped after he was called up from Triple-A to make 13 starts with the Cubs down the stretch. After Wada posted a 3.25 ERA, 1.24 WHIP and 57 strikeouts in 69 1/3 innings, it's hard to make a case that he should not be given the chance to be the Cubs' fifth starter over veterans like Travis Wood and Edwin Jackson and a host of unproven younger arms. This may be a fluid situation throughout spring training, but Wada is worth a speculative roster spot in deeper leagues, as it is clear he can log a full season in a rotation after he pitched 183 innings between Triple-A and the majors in 2014. Big strikeout totals are not a part of this package, but he could offer double-digit wins and solid ratios if he can lock up the No. 5 starter spot in Chicago.
2015 Outlook: Wood followed up a great 2013 season with a dud of a campaign in 2014. While he saw an increase in his strikeout rate, there were also sharp increases in his walk rate, home run rate, his ERA and WHIP and a decrease to normal in runners stranded. Last season represented career-high numbers -- a 5.04 ERA and 1.53 WHIP -- following a nice 2013 season with a 3.11 ERA and 1.14 WHIP with 0.81 HR/9 allowed. His true numbers likely lie somewhere in the middle of the two, though his spot in the rotation is now in jeopardy. Spring training could be very important for the 27-year-old lefty, as the Cubs added multiple pitchers in the offseason, including an ace southpaw in Jon Lester. If he does make the rotation out of spring training, it would likely be in the back end.
2015 Outlook: Doubront was moved from the Red Sox to the Cubs just prior to the trade deadline in 2014, and benefited greatly from the change of scenery. Prior to the trade, he struggled to the tune of a 6.07 ERA and 1.60 WHIP with 43 strikeouts in 59 1/3 innings. In his four starts with the Cubs, however, he managed to post a 3.98 ERA and 1.43 WHIP. With multiple additions to the rotation in the offseason, most notably Jon Lester and Jason Hammel, it's hard to see Doubront pitching in the rotation in 2015. He will likely compete for a long-relief or middle-relief spot out of the bullpen, but there is no guarantee he will hold onto a roster spot out of spring training.