Cubs: Diagnosing the Bullpen Woes on the North Side

Heading into the 2017 season, many considered the Chicago Cubs as World Series contenders mainly because of their potent offense and extremely strong starting pitching. The only thing that would hold the Cubs back from achieving another deep playoff run would be their bullpen.

Before the season, I wrote, yelled and cried about the Cubs bullpen, constantly labeling it as the teams achilles heal.

Now, I totally understand that we’re only 15 games in the 2017 season and really don’t have the adequate sample size to judge or even predict the rest of the season. But where’s the fun in that? With the Cubs having an off-day today, what better time then now to dive into the Cubs pen and take a look at what, or who, is the problem.

It’s also important to consider the entire MLB when it comes to bullpens struggling this season, as the Cubs aren’t the only team facing some issues. Here’s a good stat to put things into perspective:

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Bullpens across the majors are facing much higher ERAs when compared to 2016, specifically in April – 4.10 in 2017 vs. 3.76 in 2016. MLB teams are also converting save opportunities 60 percent of the time, a seemingly low percentage. For the Cubs, Wade Davis is doing an excellent job as our new closer, even when compared to his predecessor Aroldis Chapman.

So far this year, Davis has appeared in eight games picking up two wins while saving three games. His ERA remains at 0.00 and his WHIP is 0.68, a club low. Carl Edwards Jr. is also having a fantastic season for the Cubs and appears to be the Cubs go-to reliever when in a tough situation. Edwards Jr. has pitched 6 games, amassing 5.2 IP while maintaining a 0.00 ERA and 0.71 WHIP. It’s safe to say that Edwards Jr. and Davis tend to be the most consistent relievers in the Cubs pen.

Hector Rondon has only allowed 1 ER so far this season, putting his ERA at 1.42. As the Cubs premier set-up man, Rondon seems to be doing quite well. Koji Uehara, one of the new faces on the Cubs, allowed three runs without recording an out last Sunday, but there’s no need to panic. Prior to those runs, Uehara hadn’t given up a single run since last July, the longest such streak in Major League Baseball.

Mike Montgomery was poised to take on a larger role with the Cubs this year, following his strong 2017 Postseason and second half of the season, for that matter. Montgomery has pitched in almost 10 innings (9.2 IP), and has accumulated a 2.79 ERA. Montgomery’s value increases due to his southpaw identity and Joe Maddon seems to favor Montgomery when needing a lefty.

This is where things become murky. Who are the three relievers who have struggled mightily this season? You guessed it: Pedro Strop, Justin Grimm and Brian Duensing. Pedro Strop has allowed four runs though 5.1 innings this season, earning a 6.75 ERA to go along with a 1.50 WHIP. Three of the four earned runs came on a Andrew McCutchen home run over the previous weekend, however.

Coming into the the 2017 season, Grimm had a 3.29 ERA in 213 games with the Cubs. But things are a little different thus far, as Grimm has struggled while posting a 8.13 ERA in only 6.2 IP. Brian Duensing has only appeared in three games this season, following stint on the disabled list. In 3.1 IP, Duensing’s ERA remains at a team high 10.80. Before the season, the question facing the Cubs bullpen was simply, Duensing or Rob Zastryzny? I think it’s almost time to go with the latter and call up Zastryzny.

There’s no problem to diagnose as of right now and only time will tell whether or not the Cubs bullpen will rebound. The 2017 Cubs will only go as far as their bullpen allows them. But I think by this time next month, the Cubs will have lamented themselves as one of the top bullpens in the league – or at least I hope.

For the record, I still believe some of the woes are caused by the new bullpen locations. I mean, c’mon, would you want to be stuck under the bleachers in a brand new, state of the art bullpen, instead of on the third base line? I know I wouldn’t. No more fan interaction, deadly foul balls, or having to worry about people breathing on your neck, etc.

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