Again, the same caveat. I did not go to journalism school. I am just a Cubs fan, with a pair of eyes, a keyboard, and good internet connection. I am looking back at 2018 and seeing if anything stands out as exceptionally good or exceptionally bad…
In other words: Does it pass my eye test?
In this installment, we will address the most maligned players in the game of baseball: The Bullpen…
This is a tough analysis, in short because so many players pitched in relief this past year. I’m counting 28 players who made relief appearances this year. For the sake of you, the reader, I’m going to only touch on the significant contributors. So my apologies to Jen-Ho Tseng and Jaime Garcia. Apologies also go to Rob Zastryzny, Alec Mills, Eddie Butler, Dillon Maples, and a half dozen others. Their contributions were negligible (at best) or forgettable (at worst) and just don’t warrant the look. But let’s see who made the cut…
Mike Montgomery (My Rating +): I covered Monty as a starter, but half his appearances in 2018 were in relief. This meant the obligatory mop-up duty and the LOOGY match-ups as well. Overall, he seemed to hold his own, but the numbers might not bear that out. Still had good WHIP and ERA, and he is a very affordable option going forward. He is the Swiss Army knife of this staff.
Tyler Chatwood (My Rating: –): Worse out of the bullpen than as a starter. This is going to be trouble going forward if Tyler can’t find his Happy Place. Still hopeful, but hope fading.
Steve Cishek (My Rating: ++): This is the guy that has the “funk” that Joe Maddon likes to utilize. In fact, he utilized him 80 times in 2018, and Cishek answered the bell damn near every time. Fantastic WHIP and ERA, Cishek has high value and one more year under contract. Should be invaluable come 2019.
Pedro Strop (My Rating: ++): Hats to the left? Stropy made 60 appearances and delivered a 0.99 WHIP and 2.26 ERA. In fact, in his 5 years with Chicago, his highest ERA is 2.91. One + is his rating for this past year, the other + is for the past 5 collectively. Remarkably consistent, although he could use some more time in the batting cages. Oh, and who could ever forget Pedro Strop Travel Day?
Justin Wilson (My Rating: Meh): Had the kind of 2018 that we originally traded for in 2017. At first, he really looked like he was doing great. Turns out he was just better than he was in 2017. Currently a free agent.
Carl Edwards, Jr. (My Rating: +): Again CJ started the year strong. Again CJ garnered national attention. Again CJ lost the ability to pitch down the stretch. His downturn affected the team’s end results, as Maddon had a shorter bullpen than he would have liked. Great overall stuff, but 32 walks in 52.0 innings is death to a reliever. Whether a change in conditioning or usage is warranted, hopefully the Cubs can address it this off-season.
Jesse Chavez (My Rating: ++): Picked up in a July trade, Chavez was nails when called upon. Posted the best season of his career in WHIP, ERA, and opponent batting average. Sustainable going forward? Who knows, but he was a great contributor to the Cubs in the second half. Supposedly said after that last game, “If I’m not a Cub [in 2019], I’m done.”
Brian Duensing (My Rating: –): Duensing had a great 2017, so much so that the Cubs booked him for the next two seasons. Unfortunately, the best laid plans sometimes go awry. Duensing pitched poorly. No other way to say it. Bloated WHIP, bloated ERA. Opponents teed off on him to the tune of a .286 average. He has one season left under contract, so here’s hoping 2018 was the outlier…
Brendan Morrow (My Rating: Meh): When healthy and when on the mound, Morrow was solid. He pitched in all 7 WS games the prior season, and that usage could factor into why he broke down. Joe used him three straight games in June, and suddenly his season was over. That left a big hole in the team’s plans. Under contract for 2 more years, so hopefully we figured out how and when to use him. Hopefully we don’t need to keep the bubble wrap handy.
Brandon Kintzler (My Rating: –): I am not trying to be vindictive when I say that I can’t recall a single performance where Kintzler knocked my socks off. In 18.0 innings of work, he gave up 27 hits and 9 walks. That’s 2 baserunners per inning of work. However, in 9 years, he has had 6 very good seasons. Unfortunately, we didn’t get one of those in 2018. Currently under contract for 2019.
Jorge De La Rosa (My Rating: +): For the Cubs, he was excellent. For every other team he’s ever played for, he is kinda “Meh.” In 15 seasons, he has posted a sub-4.00 ERA three times. For the Cubs, he was at 1.29 in 17 appearances.
Randy Rosario (My Rating: +): This kid seemed to get thrown into the fire quite a bit in 2018, and he responded well. Ended up getting 4 wins in relief against 0 losses, and showed that he belongs at this level. He should be valuable going forward, as he has talent and he doesn’t hit arbitration until after the 2020 season.
Position Players (My Rating: Are You Kidding?): Why did the position players make the list? Because they provided great distraction (and a little entertainment) during a few blowouts this season. Vic Caratini pitched 2 innings and gave up three runs. Tommy LaStella pitched 1.1 innings. Chris Gimenez pitched an inning and gave up three. Ian Happ pitched an inning and gave up a hit but no runs.
That’s pretty good, but he’s no Anthony Rizzo…
Anthony Rizzo (My Rating: ++): On the night of July 23rd, Anthony Vincent Rizzo made his pitching debut against the Arizona Diamondbacks. Arizona’s batters had hit us hard that night and held a 7-1 lead in the top of the ninth. Maddon had deked Rizzo in the top of the 7th inning when he handed the ball to Victor Caratini. But with two out in the ninth, Rizzo got the call. It took him 2 pitches to send the crowd home smiling, despite the Cubs losing by 6 runs. After the game, Rizzo announced his retirement from the bullpen, with a lifetime 0.00 ERA.
So what did the bullpen give us this year? A lot of ups-and-downs, to be sure. Some of our worst bullpen performances seemed to come in games that we were already trailing. So those weren’t as costly as they felt. There were not a lot of memorable, excruciating blown saves, so that’s good news also. There were actually some damn solid performances throughout the year. And there were some injuries.
OK, there were lots of injuries… and all at the wrong time.
All in all, new pitching coach Jim Hickey did well to keep this bullpen intact. By the numbers? The starters had an overall record of 58-43, which means a 37-25 record for the bullpen. And that is something to hang your hat on as the Cubs build for 2019.