“I love funk. I’ve always been a funk guy. The funk is good. Whenever you get funk in the bullpen, I like that.” Joe Maddon

Like it or not, we are now seeing what is being labeled as the Bullpen Revolution. Starting pitchers are being monitored by, among other things, pitch count, with many teams having no expectations of their starters going deep into the game. In turn, putting a large burden on the bullpen as well as managers in making sure the bullpen is not taxed through the regular season. Historically, this has been a weakness for the Cubs but it seems they might just have found some guys that will change all that this season. Who are they? Let’s take a look at a few new faces.

As the story goes, relief pitchers are starting pitchers that failed. Wade Davis was a boring starting pitcher before becoming one of the best closers in the game. Brandon Morrow however, is an interesting failed starter who once had great stuff, but due to physical ailments transitioned to the bullpen full-time. While still in high school, Morrow was diagnosed with diabetes, and while manageable it is still somewhat of an obstacle for professional athletes. Since 2012 Morrow has suffered numerous minor nagging injuries in this arm and shoulder and in 2014 underwent surgery to remove damaged shoulder tissue. That being said, how can we believe that Morrow will become a successful closer at 33? Despite everything, Morrow had flashes of brilliance as a starter. Playing for the Jays in 2010, Morrow pitched a one hit shutout throwing 137 pitches with 97 being strikes. In 2012 Morrow threw three complete game shut outs with numbers in line with both of Scherzer’s Cy Young seasons. Injuries however, limited him to only 124 innings. Since moving to the bullpen, Morrow has scrapped all pitches except his slider, his cutter, and his four seamer which tops out at 97 miles per hour. When signed to a 2 year 21 million dollar deal in with the Cubs in December, Theo made it clear that Brandon Morrow will be a structured ninth inning closer in order to keep him healthy. Joe Maddon was quoted as saying Morrow has better or equally good stuff as Chapman or Davis and should post equally good numbers.

When Morrow needs rest, Steve Cishek might get the nod for save opportunities. Cishek signed a two-year 13 million dollar contract with the Cubs in December and could prove to be an outstanding value due, in part, to his versatility of being able to close games and provide middle relief. Throughout his career, he has proved to be a ground ball pitcher but also has 9.58 strikeouts per nine. Cishek, closing out the final 26 games of last season with Tampa Bay posted a 1.09 ERA striking out 26 batters in 24 innings. He credits his success there to Jim Hickey and his way of giving pitchers scouting reports to make them successful without the burden of information overload. Going into his ninth year, Cishek has spent his entire career in the bullpen with consistency being key. Cishek has 121 career saves and a 2.73 lifetime ERA but equally encouraging was his tweet after signing in December:

I’ve had go Cubs go playing in my head since Thursday… thankful for this opportunity and beyond thrilled to be a Cub! #gocubsgoooo #praisetheLord #letsgo!

Everyone fell in love with Eddie Butler after his outstanding performance in Miami earlier this year, but was it a fluke? Butler was a first round draft choice by the Rockies in 2012, making his debut in the majors in 2014. However shoulder-issues placed him and the DL and was soon sent back to the minors. He won his spot back in 2015 but was plagued by control issues and again demoted. His continued struggle got him designated for assignment in 2017. The Cubs landed Butler, and to most it was simply a depth piece; someone ready to bring up in case of an injury. When Butler was given the nod as the final bullpen option for the Cubs this spring, it was not without controversy. Once a top ten prospect, Butler was a starting pitcher in all but ten of his 49 games in the majors and all but one of his 95 games in the minor leagues. While Maddon believes Butler certainly still has starting abilities, there was no room for him in the rotation and due to Butler being out of options, sending him back down to the minors would risk loosing him. Butler has a career ERA of 5.63 pitching a total of 225 innings and the rest of his career stats are no better. However, he does have a wide array of pitches, above average movement on his fastballs and solid velocity. The inability to consistently locate his pitches has been his downfall, and Jim Hickey has been working with Butler on strategies to improve both his command and arsenal. It is also well-known throughout the league that Butler has a quick temper and in the past has allowed his anger to spill over on the field. So while Butler does need to be fine tuned, the fact that he was once a number one draft pick and top prospect only a few years back convinced Cubs management he was a risk worth taking. Hopefully we will see a consistent long reliever for several seasons.

These guys of course, join holder overs Carl Edwards Jr. (2.98 ERA in 73 appearances), Pedro Strop (5-4, 2.83 ERA) and Brian Duensing, who signed a two-year deal after his solid 2017 (2.74 ERA in 68 appearances). They also are hoping for improvement from Justin Wilson (4-4, 3.41 with Detroit and the Cubs).

While you may not have heard of him, remember the name Dakota Mekkes. Tucked away in Tennessee the Cubs are grooming a 6’7 reliever who last year dominated 2 levels, not giving up a run for 2.5 months. He had a 0.98 ERA in 74 IP. The 23-year-old right hander was a 10th round draft pick in 2016. He is not going to blow you away with speed but this multi inning reliever has a deceptive delivery and will continue to improve. If he can gain more command look for him to be fast tracked through the system and brought up early 2019 or possibly fall 2018.

And since we are talking about the bullpen, who remembers the bullpen carts? Those cute little golf carts with the ball cap on top are making a comeback this year. The illustrious Mr. Manfred believes this will help with his pace of play cause. The Arizona Diamondbacks are the first team in major league baseball using the cart but talk is other teams will follow suit. MLB’s only rule regarding the bullpen cart is that it must be offered equally to both the home and visiting pitchers and that using the cart doesn’t grant the pitcher any extra warm-up time. Joe Maddon has said he has no objection to the carts and always thought they were cool. Pitchers do have the option to use the ride or walk to the field.   

 

 

 

 

 

 

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