The Cubs bullpen was a sore spot in 2019. Many argue that Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer (Thed) did not do enough to supplement it before the season got underway. I previously unpacked that theory here: In depth Look At What Happened. Then I looked at Thed's dice rolls, where I looked in closely at the AAA depth that the front office had lined up ready to go back up the big league bullpen. To summarize both, it pretty much explains how Edwards, Montgomery, Brach, and Strop basically all pitched themselves off the team. Then how only 2 out of 10 additions significantly contributed at the big league level in 2019. The bullpen was a sore spot of 2019. Today, I'd like to look at some of the moves Thed made in season to try and rebuild the shambles.
After a brutal first week, Thed fired up the bus from AAA which included names like Alec Mills, Tim Collins, Kyle Ryan, Rowan Wick, Dillon Maples, Adbert Alzolay, James Norwood, and Allen Webster. Par for the course, Thed's 2018 offseason included a bunch of dumpster dive dice roll players they stashed in the minors for when the storms hit. I'll look at those dice rolls another day, as today we are focusing on the in season moves for 2019.
There were 4 in season additions to the bullpen: Craig Kimbrel, Derek Holland, David Phelps, and Brad Wieck.
Craig Kimbrel: The big one. I listened to his first Cubs appearance on the radio. Pat made a point to say "we are not going to talk when he comes into the game so you can hear the roar of the crowd clearly." And the roar was LOUD. It was a huge move, bringing in one of the best RPs of our generation. Kimbrel was signed as a free agent on 6/7/19, after the draft so he did not come with draft pick loss. He was hurt several times, and never found a groove in the '19 season. That might be putting it lightly.
His stats look like this: 0-4 record, 13 saves in 16 chances. 6.53 ERA, 23 games pitched, 20.2 innings. 1.597 WHIP, 5.2 BB/9 (just a tad lower than his career high), 13.1 k/9 (down 1 from career), 9 HR given up with 96 batters faced, FIP of 8.00, 36% HR fly ball (1/3rd of all fly balls went out of the park). career FB/HRrate was 10%. WOOF.
I don't know how to call 2019 anything but a disaster for Craig Kimbrel. Between allowing a baserunner and a half and home run allowance rate that basically meant every other inning he was giving up a home run (3.9 per 9), he was arguably the biggest disappointment of the 2019 Cubs team. That 6.53 ERA was second worst on the team (among players with 10 or more appearances)
We'll talk about how good he "should have been," as well as his future predictions, contract status, etc. Most of his numbers were far and away career worst. For a legendary RP, there was a reason he wasn't signed until after pick compensation disappeared. I'm tempted to say that he nearly single handedly sunk the Cubs season, but that's not entirely true.
Derek Holland: Traded from the Giants to the Cubs on 7/26/19 for cash. He had struggled for the Giants overall, but was relatively solid against LHB, so there was some value.
Holland put up these statistics: 15.2 innings, 6.89 ERA 1.532 WHIP 20 games played, with 1 start. He had the worst ERA on the team (10 appearances or more). In a year of bad performances, that's the worst one. Granted Joe had him wear a few bad outings when the team just needed a body to throw pitches. He was decent ina few other outings, but ultimately just wasn't enough.
David Phelps: traded 7/30/19 for Tom Hatch. He was a rental, is now a FA.
Phelps's 2019 reads: 3.18 ERA, 1.8588 WHIP, 24 games, 17 IP, 76 BF, 9 h/9, 5.3 bb/9, 9.5 k/9, 4.39 FIP
Not a bad performance overall. But holy terrible hits allowed Batman! He helped plug a gap, but ultimately really should have been better. He was certainly better than other performers at times.
Brad Wieck: traded for Carl Edwards Jr. from the Padres on 7/31/2019. He was a struggling arm dealt in a bad performers swap.
Before (With SD): 6.57 ERA 1.419 WHIP 5.61 FIP in 24.2 IP
After (With Cubs): 3.60 ERA, .600 WHIP, 2.71 FIP in 10 IP, 14 games, 38 BF, 1.8 h/9, .9 HR/9, 3.6 BB/9
Wieck was a pleasant surprise. Sometimes baseball players just need a change of scenery to put it together, and arguably that was Wieck. Batters had a really hard time getting hits off of him, and that fuelled a resurgence. Apparently he's under control until 2025, so the Cubs might have something good on their hands.
In terms of swings and misses, Thed basically went 2/4 on in season acquisitions. Phelps and Wieck helped stabilize the ship, but Kimbrel single handedly undid any positive contributions others made. Considering the struggles of Strop, Edwards, Brach, and Montgomery, there was no margin of error. Unfortunately, the misfire of Craig Kimbrel pretty much completed the sinking of the bullpen. It was such a high profile move that we'll need to take a much closer look at what happened.
The other moves were decent, but also were just not enough to fix the problem. It's not like Thed didn't try, and really their moves should have garnered better results. Disappointment is the word I'd use to describe the bullpen of 2019.