Cubs’ relievers combined for an ugly 4.79 ERA and 1.48 WHIP this season. Despite the disaster that was the pen, two pitchers made significant contributions:

Carlos Marmol— Carlos is amazing on many levels. First and foremost, you can’t say enough about his stuff. In case you forgot, the Cubs closer punched out 138 batters in only 77.2 IP, holding opponents to a miniscule .149 average. Just as amazing was his lack of command. Marmol’s 52 walks would make Mitch Williams hide his eyes. The control issues didn’t hurt him this year, but that trend won’t continue going forward. Having said that, Marmol’s season was something to be remembered. GRADE: A-

Sean Marshall—Don’t even try to tell me that you saw this coming. A league average pitcher coming into 2010, Marshall was a force out of the Cubs’ pen. In 74.2 IP, he allowed only 58 hits and 3 home runs, striking out 90 and walking 25 (5 intentionally). Perhaps this is the start of something great, but I doubt it. Hopefully I’m wrong, but it would be almost impossible for Marshall to duplicate last year’s performance. I’ll settle for 80 percent of what he did in 2010. GRADE: A

And now for the rest of the story (WARNING! It’s not pretty. Read at your own risk!):

Andrew Cashner—The good news… Cashner has tremendous upside. The bad news…he really struggled in 2010. Despite his bionic arm, the rookie righty was drilled for eight homers in 54.1 IP. Add to that 30 walks, and you have the makings of a rough year. He showed flashes of brilliance, striking out almost a batter per inning. At age 23, I think the pluses outweigh the minuses, but Cashner is far from polished. His development will be crucial to the success of next year’s bullpen. GRADE: C

James Russell—If I hear one more announcer tell me that James Russell is the son of former big leaguer Jeff Russell, I may chop off my ears. Who cares? In case you haven’t figured it out, bloodlines mean nothing in professional sports. If you don’t believe me, take a look at Pete Rose Jr.  Anyway, Russell showed impressive control in his first year, walking just 11 batters in 49 innings. Unfortunately, opposing hitters beat him like a piñata. The youngster allowed 55 hits and 11 (not a typo) home runs in 2010. He did hold lefties to a .238 average, so perhaps there is hope for him as a specialist. GRADE: D

Justin Berg (not to be confused with Alec Berg from “Seinfeld”) – The fact that this guy appeared in 40 games shows us just how bad the Cubs bullpen really was. Berg walked 20 batters (compared to only 14 strikeouts) and allowed 45 hits in his 40 innings of work. He also plunked three men, which adds up to 68 total base runners and a 1.63 WHIP. Justin is lucky that his ERA was only 5.18. GRADE: F

Thomas Diamond—Watching the 2010 playoffs, I’m trying to pay close attention to each team’s pitching staff. One thing I’ve noticed is there aren’t many relievers like Thomas Diamond (who is a former Texas Rangers’ first-round pick) on postseason rosters. That’s not so much a knock on Diamond, who has some talent, but rather a comment on the Cubs ability to find guys who can consistently make quality pitches. With apologies to his family and friends, guys like Thomas Diamond, now age 27, are a dime a dozen.  As far as his 2010 performance, the brutal numbers say it all. On a happier note, his Uncle Neil is a great singer. GRADE: D

John Grabow—Injuries cost Grabow most of 2010, limiting him to only 25.2 IP. But while he was on the mound, the former Pirate did everything he could to torture fans, coaches, and teammates. To say that Grabow was awful would be an insult to all things awful. And you know what’s funny? Lots of people predicted this exact outcome (OK, maybe not a 7.36 ERA). The decision to throw a lefty with so/so stuff and shaky command into the primary setup roll had trouble written all over it. Pitchers like Grabow have to be handled very carefully, with appearances based only on matchups. This guy isn’t Hong-Chih Kuo or Matt Thornton. Hell, he’s not even Phil Coke. GRADE: F

Carlos Zambrano—For reasons that we’ll probably never fully understand, the Cubs used Big Z out of the bullpen for 16 games. Here’s how he fared as a reliever:

16.2 IP, 22 hits, 7 BB, 14 SO, 4.32 ERA

Fortunately, cooler heads prevailed and Zambrano returned to the rotation after his well-publicized meltdown. As a reliever, he was certainly nothing special. Here’s hoping the next Cubs manager doesn’t try that experiment again. GRADE: C-

Others—How’s this for a depressing list? Marcus Mateo, Bob Howry, Jeff Samardzia, Jeff Stevens, Scott Maine, Mitch Atkins, Jeff Gray, and Brian Schlitter. This collection of useless arms needs a catchy nickname. The Gas Can Gang? Quade’s Quagmire?  Please post your ideas! GRADE: D-

Saying the Cubs have to revamp the bullpen is like saying the city of Detroit has to address its crime problem. At the end of the day, this mess may be too big to clean up. Luckily the free agent market will provide some intriguing options: Scott Downs, J.J. Putz, Rafael Soriano, Matt Thornton, Jason Frasor, Chad Qualls, Jeremy Affeldt, and Grant Balfour, just to name a few. Signing two pitchers from the list would be a good start, especially since Marmol and Marshall are likely to regress.  Otherwise, we’re likely to see more of the same from the 2011 pen.

2010 Cubs Stats

Age W L ERA SV IP ERA+ WHIP H/9 HR/9 BB/9 SO/9 SO/BB
James Russell* 24 1 1 4.96 0 49.0 88 1.347 10.1 2.0 2.0 7.7 3.82
Sean Marshall* 27 7 5 2.65 1 74.2 165 1.112 7.0 0.4 3.0 10.8 3.60
Marcos Mateo 26 0 1 5.82 0 21.2 76 1.338 8.3 2.5 3.7 10.8 2.89
Carlos Marmol 27 2 3 2.55 38 77.2 171 1.185 4.6 0.1 6.0 16.0 2.65
Scott Maine* 25 0 0 2.08 0 13.0 215 1.077 6.2 0.7 3.5 7.6 2.20
Thomas Diamond 27 1 3 6.83 0 29.0 64 1.759 10.2 1.6 5.6 11.2 2.00
Andrew Cashner 23 2 6 4.80 0 54.1 91 1.564 9.1 1.3 5.0 8.3 1.67
Mitch Atkins 24 0 0 6.30 0 10.0 71 1.800 10.8 1.8 5.4 9.0 1.67
John Grabow* 31 1 3 7.36 0 25.2 60 1.870 12.3 1.8 4.6 7.0 1.54
Jeff Stevens 26 0 0 6.11 0 17.2 73 1.755 10.7 2.0 5.1 7.6 1.50
Brian Schlitter 24 0 1 12.38 0 8.0 37 2.875 20.3 2.3 5.6 7.9 1.40
Bob Howry 36 0 3 5.66 0 20.2 78 1.742 12.6 0.9 3.0 3.5 1.14
Esmailin Caridad 26 0 1 11.25 0 4.0 42 2.250 9.0 2.3 11.3 9.0 0.80
Jeff Gray 28 1 0 6.75 0 9.1 67 1.821 11.6 1.0 4.8 3.9 0.80
Justin Berg 26 0 1 5.18 0 40.0 85 1.625 10.1 0.7 4.5 3.2 0.70
Jeff Samardzija 25 2 2 8.38 0 19.1 53 2.121 9.8 1.9 9.3 4.2 0.45
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