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Cubs: Pedro Strop, the Consistent Bullpen Stalwart Everyone Loves to Hate

Despite his impressive resume statistically during his time in Chicago, fans just seem to enjoy thrashing the high-energy reliever.

On a good team, full of likable personalities, there is always going to be some unfair hatred directed toward a player that doesn’t necessarily deserve it. Every team can’t have 25 elite players, so naturally the weak link will normally be the one that gets lambasted on Twitter after a sub-par performance, whereas an MVP candidate can have a rough week and escape his slump without too much criticism.

In the case of the Chicago Cubs, the public seems to consider Pedro Strop as that weak link. They see a rough outing against the hated St. Louis Cardinals, and the memories of the five scoreless outings prior are forgotten. They see Strop’s hat tilted to the side and his excited celebrations, and call him cocky and unprofessional. They see Strop quick-pitch and say that he has to rely on tricks to get batters out because he can’t do it with skill.

We live in a world where anyone can publish their thoughts in just moments on the internet, where the world can see them. It is a world of impulse and emotion, and negative thoughts seem to make their way to social media more often than positive ones. So it’s natural, when you consider the public opinion of Strop; that a high percentage of tweets about him end up being negative.

The thing is, when you look at what Strop has done since coming over from the Baltimore Orioles in the same trade as Jake Arrieta back in 2013, you see that not only has he been good; he’s been elite. That’s right, elite. Let’s look at a couple statistics from those five seasons:

  • ERA – 2.72; no season over 2.91; the only Cubs reliever in team history to have five consecutive seasons with an ERA under 3.00. (League average was over 4.00 for these five seasons.)
  • WHIP – 1.027; no season over 1.177; better WHIP than new Cubs closer Brandon Morrow in four of those five seasons; only 0.066 worse than the “elite” Wade Davis since Davis converted to a reliever and became elite (League average was over 1.307 for these five seasons.)

Strop pitched in 69 games in 2017. He gave up no earned runs in 58 of those appearances. Strop gave up multiple earned runs in just five games.  This is typical of a Strop season.

Source: Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images North America

2016 – just four appearances resulted in multiple earned runs.

2015 – seven games.

2014 – just three games.

Over the course of Strop’s time with the Cubs, 93 percent of his appearances have been either scoreless or resulted in just one earned run, and he’s had multiple stretches of over 20 innings pitched scoreless.

Strop has evolved over his time with the Cubs as well. He was a hurler who relied on his velocity and stuff when he first arrived in Chicago. Since then, he has learned to utilize the quick pitch to throw off the batter’s timing and added a plus cutter to his arsenal, all while holding down a key spot in the bullpen.

Strop has his downsides. He can occasionally be wild. He is emotional, and can rub people the wrong way. He wears his hat in his own way and has idiosyncrasies that truly make himself unique in baseball. But Javier Baez is the same way, and he is considered a fan-favorite and one of the most exciting players in baseball.  That difference in public view may be in part because of the position they play.

Being a relief pitcher in baseball is one of the toughest positions in sports. More than any other athlete, a relief pitcher is expected to be at their best every time out and not give up a run. If they give up even one, it is considered a failed appearance. A pinch hitter can come in and strike out, and it’s not given an extra thought. A substitute in other sports can come in and make a mistake, but help the team out elsewhere. Because of this, when a relief pitcher does well, it is simply expected and the appearance doesn’t stick in viewers’ minds. When they fail, it is remembered and the Twitter-verse does their thing.

Fans remember Strop, despite his statistical dominance, more for his emotion and uniqueness than for his pitching. When this is combined with his position, it is natural that he, instead of someone in another position, becomes the target of fans’ ire.

Fortunately for Strop, he is now in an enviable situation. He has Brandon Morrow, Steve Cishek, Carl Edwards Jr., and Mike Montgomery around him in the bullpen to take attention and pressure off of him. If Justin Wilson gets back to his old form, that is at least five other good arms available in the bullpen to allow everyone to be put in the most advantageous matchups possible, which should yield positive results.

Strop will look to extend his franchise record of consecutive seasons under a 3.00 ERA for a relief pitcher to six seasons in 2018.  We will see if that will help him earn some more respect from Cubs fans.

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7 comments on “Cubs: Pedro Strop, the Consistent Bullpen Stalwart Everyone Loves to Hate

  1. Chris — the stats have a lot to do with Strop’s likeability. How many first pitch balls? How many 2-1 and 3-1 counts? Inconsistent and untrustworthy.

    • Christopher O'Neil

      Last season, as compared with Wade Davis:

      Strop: 67 of 250 plate appearances had a 3 ball count. 31 of those still resulted in an out.

      Davis: 68 of 242 plate appearances had a 3 ball count. 35 of those still resulted in an out.

      And 2017 was the worst season Strop has had as a Cub.

      • Thanks for those stats. I’ll look for first pitch stats.

      • For the record I’m not a hater just wouldn’t give him high leverage unless he can pump in strikes. Mgmt went looking for strike throwers for a reason.

  2. Comparing Strop to Morrow; Strop Bb% 10.4%, Morrow 5.3%. So-BB %Strop 15.6%, Morrow 24.1%. They had similar roles last year.

  3. Christopher O'Neil

    Of course. There was definitely room for improvement for the bullpen overall.

    One thing to consider when comparing Strop and Morrow is how their stats have been over the long run.

    Morrow was a relatively mediocre starting pitcher for the majority of his career. He only switched over to being a reliever in 2016, and that was when he started performing better. He’s only appeared in 63 games as a reliever over the past 2 years, and his WHIP wasn’t good at all despite the good ERA in 2016. I believe he can be a very effective late inning reliever for the Cubs, but he was worked very hard in the playoffs last year, which he isn’t used to. I hope he doesn’t have a hangover similar to what Aroldis Chapman had early in 2017 with the Yankees after the Cubs rode him hard.

    Strop isn’t going to be a closer for the Cubs this year, because they don’t need him to be. I think he is going to post some of his best stats of his career this year, however, because Maddon will be able to use him (and everyone else) in situations that are better matchups.

  4. Good point regarding long-term comparison.

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