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August 2014

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COMMENTS

The Real Strength of the 2014 Cubs: The Bullpen

Written by , Posted in General

All of the attention surrounding the Cubs right now is focused in on the prospects and young stars, and rightfully so. These kids are exciting and it is perfectly fine to zone in on the top prospects, but that isn’t the only part of the puzzle that seems to be solved. The part that might be the best section on the major league club right now is the bullpen.

Now when you look at the stats as a whole, it doesn’t look impressive. A 3.57 ERA in 375.1 innings this year is good for 8th best in the NL. However, you have to think that Jose Veras’ 8.10 ERA (12 ER in 13.1 innings) is included in there. If you exclude Veras’ numbers, the bullpen has a 3.42 ERA, which is good for 6th in the NL and 13th overall in baseball. To go along with that ERA, the relievers have combined for a FIP of 3.42, which is 9th in MLB and included Veras’ stats. This year’s bullpen is far better than the bullpen that posted a 4.04 ERA in 474 innings last season (25th in MLB) and the second worst FIP at 4.23.

There are a few reasons for the resurgence of the ‘pen. One of these reasons is a stable closer. Cubs’ fans have gotten used to seeing Carlos Marmol or Jose Veras blow games in such a way only they could. Since Veras’ release in June, Hector Rondon has taken over the closers role and performed terrifically. A Rule Five draft selection last year, Rondon has posted a 3.45 ERA in 44.1 innings while striking out 49, posting a 2.10 FIP, and converting 14 of 18 save opportunities.

Another reason for the improvement in the bullpen is the power, middle relief arms. The Cubs received two bullpen arms in the Matt Garza deal last year, Neil Ramirez and Justin Grimm. The first of which, Ramirez, has pitched in 28.2 innings this season and has only given up 4 runs. To go along with his sparkling 1.26 ERA, his FIP is 2.89 and he has struck out 36 over those 28.2 innings. Grimm, on the other hand, has struggled a bit, but has an average 4.21 ERA in 51.1 innings. Also, his FIP is above average at 3.70 and has struck out more than a batter per inning (52 in 51.1 innings). Another guy that has emerged this year, actually it started last year, is Pedro Strop. Acquired in early July last year for Scott Feldman, has pitched 43.1 innings this season compiling a 2.70 ERA and a 2.99 FIP. During that span, Strop has struck out 49 batters and owns a 1.11 WHIP.

The final reason for the bullpen’s bounce back season is the help of some crafty pitchers. The leader in appearances for the ‘pen this year is none other than Brian Schlitter. Wait, what? Yes, Schlitter in his first full season in the big leagues leads the Cubs with 53 games pitched. In 49.1 innings through this year, Schlitter has a 3.47 ERA, 3.68 FIP, a 1.18 WHIP, and only giving up 0.4 HR/9. Another crafty veteran is swing man Carlos Villanueva. Besides having an amazing mustache, Villanueva has been one of the most reliable pieces in the Cubs bullpen the last two years. After starting the season in the rotation and getting hit hard, the right hander has turned it around in the ‘pen. In 42 relief innings, Villanueva has a 2.57 ERA and a .222 batting average against while giving the Cubs a long relief option out of the pen. The lone lefty that has been in the bullpen all year is first year Cub, Wesley Wright. A free agent signee in December, Wright has compiled a 2.78 ERA and a 3.39 FIP in 35.2 innings over 45 games. Actually, the lefty has fared better against right handed batters. Righties are hitting .213 with a .617 OPS against Wright while lefties are hitting .293 with a .626 OPS.

There are other names that have plugged in the bullpen this year including Zac Rosscup, Blake Parker, Chris Rusin, and Kyuji Fujikawa among others. Also, the future looks bright for the bullpen as well. In AAA Iowa, two top prospects are lighting up the radar gun and mowing down Pacific Coast League batters. Armando Rivero and Arodys Vizcaino both should get a nod in September and will have a shot in spring training next March to make the bullpen in 2015.

Regardless, any way you look at it, the bullpen in much improved from last year. My favorite stat comparing the two bullpens is: 2013 bullpen -0.5 WAR, 2014 bullpen 2.8 WAR. That is ridiculous. As much as a crazy thought it is, the facts are the facts. The bullpen is the strength of this team and could be another strength, with the mega lineup, in 2015 and beyond.

  • Doug S.

    My sweat factor is way down with this years pen compared to last year.

    • Bryan

      Amen. I have cut my Rolaids bill down by nearly 50%!

      • Eddie Von White

        There is no money going into the curse jar.

  • Doug S.

    My sweat factor is way down with this years pen compared to last year.

    • Bryan

      Amen. I have cut my Rolaids bill down by nearly 50%!

      • Eddie Von White

        There is no money going into the curse jar.

  • cap’n realist

    not sure why we should be excited about a closer with the lowest save percentage of the top 30 closers in he game. And Schlitter only giving up .4HR/9 isn’t all that impressive when you factor that he’s a lefty specialist facing lefties about 2/3 of the batters he faces.

    Otherwise, however, this is a fine piece. Lots of good research and analysis. There is a decent foundation in this bullpen.

    • Darlin_Starlin

      Rondo has gotten shafted. The amount of soft hits he gives up makes me cry for the dude.

      • Noah_I

        This. Rondon’s FIP is 2.12 and his xFIP is 2.80. Whether you believe his ability to prevent fly balls from becoming home runs is something he can continue or not should determine which of those numbers you think are more indicative of true talent.

    • Noah_I

      Schlitter is right handed. He’s faced 136 right handed hitters and 68 left handed hitters, which, considering about 2/3 of MLB hitters are right handed, means he’s pitching indiscriminate of what side of the batters box the hitter is on.

      • cap’n realist

        I must have confused him and Wright when poring over the numbers. Probably was made worse by the number of appearances Shlitter has. This is why I’m not a numbers guy…

  • cap’n realist

    not sure why we should be excited about a closer with the lowest save percentage of the top 30 closers in he game. And Schlitter only giving up .4HR/9 isn’t all that impressive when you factor that he’s a lefty specialist facing lefties about 2/3 of the batters he faces.

    Otherwise, however, this is a fine piece. Lots of good research and analysis. There is a decent foundation in this bullpen.

    • Darlin_Starlin

      Rondo has gotten shafted. The amount of soft hits he gives up makes me cry for the dude.

      • Noah_I

        This. Rondon’s FIP is 2.12 and his xFIP is 2.80. Whether you believe his ability to prevent fly balls from becoming home runs is something he can continue or not should determine which of those numbers you think are more indicative of true talent.

    • Noah_I

      Schlitter is right handed. He’s faced 136 right handed hitters and 68 left handed hitters, which, considering about 2/3 of MLB hitters are right handed, means he’s pitching indiscriminate of what side of the batters box the hitter is on.

      • cap’n realist

        I must have confused him and Wright when poring over the numbers. Probably was made worse by the number of appearances Shlitter has. This is why I’m not a numbers guy…

  • Doc Raker

    Not a bad piece from a management major at ISU. I do like our bullpen also and I am optimistic that they will be even better in 2015. The blown saves needs to be improved by Randon which I think it will be in 2015. How many years have we suffered through lousy bullpens including 2003. Like Brewers radio broadcaster Bob Uecker would say, “We need to get to the soft underbelly of the Cubs pitching staff- the bullpen.”

    I like that Thed has rebuilt the bullpen with young developing arms.

  • Doc Raker

    Not a bad piece from a management major at ISU. I do like our bullpen also and I am optimistic that they will be even better in 2015. The blown saves needs to be improved by Randon which I think it will be in 2015. How many years have we suffered through lousy bullpens including 2003. Like Brewers radio broadcaster Bob Uecker would say, “We need to get to the soft underbelly of the Cubs pitching staff- the bullpen.”

    I like that Thed has rebuilt the bullpen with young developing arms.

  • Noah_I

    The bullpen is much improved, although I think there are several of the pitchers that are not performing where we should expect them to next season, some good, some bad. I think Rondon gets some better luck on the flares and pop ups which have magically found holes against him this season. Ramirez is good, but pitching over his head (but who wouldn’t be with a 1.26 ERA?) He’ll likely be more in the 2.50 to 3.50 range next season. Strop’s legit. Schlitter and Grimm are standard 6/7th inning guys to me. You’re fine with them, but can improve. I like Wesley Wright, but he’s ideally a LOOGY and I’m not sure if he’d be worth what he’ll make in arbitration next season. I’m curious what the Cubs do with Fujikawa. Can the Cubs really afford to take a $5.5 million option on a guy who will have thrown 25-30 MLB innings by the time the season is over? Maybe they can come to a deal with him to pay him the buyout and have him come back for less.

    As far as the prospectier types, Rosscup is interesting, but has walked way too many guys at the MLB level. I love Rivero, and think he’ll join Ramirez and Strop as a setup man almost immediately. I have some concerns with Vizcaino, as he really struggled in his first 7 appearances in Triple A (15.63 ERA). He hasn’t given up a run in his 6 appearances since then, but generally the Ks are down and the BBs are up in Triple A. Considering Vizcaino’s injury history, I’d lean towards the Cubs shutting Vizcaino down at the end of Iowa’s season, then have him start the season back in Iowa in 2015 before hopefully calling him up after a dominant month or two in the PCL.

  • Noah_I

    The bullpen is much improved, although I think there are several of the pitchers that are not performing where we should expect them to next season, some good, some bad. I think Rondon gets some better luck on the flares and pop ups which have magically found holes against him this season. Ramirez is good, but pitching over his head (but who wouldn’t be with a 1.26 ERA?) He’ll likely be more in the 2.50 to 3.50 range next season. Strop’s legit. Schlitter and Grimm are standard 6/7th inning guys to me. You’re fine with them, but can improve. I like Wesley Wright, but he’s ideally a LOOGY and I’m not sure if he’d be worth what he’ll make in arbitration next season. I’m curious what the Cubs do with Fujikawa. Can the Cubs really afford to take a $5.5 million option on a guy who will have thrown 25-30 MLB innings by the time the season is over? Maybe they can come to a deal with him to pay him the buyout and have him come back for less.

    As far as the prospectier types, Rosscup is interesting, but has walked way too many guys at the MLB level. I love Rivero, and think he’ll join Ramirez and Strop as a setup man almost immediately. I have some concerns with Vizcaino, as he really struggled in his first 7 appearances in Triple A (15.63 ERA). He hasn’t given up a run in his 6 appearances since then, but generally the Ks are down and the BBs are up in Triple A. Considering Vizcaino’s injury history, I’d lean towards the Cubs shutting Vizcaino down at the end of Iowa’s season, then have him start the season back in Iowa in 2015 before hopefully calling him up after a dominant month or two in the PCL.

  • edlosejackson

    Wow if you exclude bad numbers, the numbers go up? What are you dong writing articles!?! You should work for NASA or something man!!!! Don’t hide that genius in a bushel basket!!!!! Somebody call Obama!!!!

  • edlosejackson

    Wow if you exclude bad numbers, the numbers go up? What are you dong writing articles!?! You should work for NASA or something man!!!! Don’t hide that genius in a bushel basket!!!!! Somebody call Obama!!!!