Today, I will summarize, and essentially eulogize the Cubs 2019 Bullpen. It was ugly all year long. I've put together several articles on the top already, which I will reference.
Is about the 8 guys that were in the bullpen on 2019's opening day. It covers the struggles of mainstays like Strop, Edwards, Cishek, and Montgomery.
: Covers some of the players the front office had lined up in AAA as depth, the first line of defense for struggles at the big league level. Theo Epstein has had success with dice roll players int he past. How did he do this year?
: Covers the in season trades and signing of Craig Kimbrel. Once there was a problem, did the front office do enough to try and stop the bleeding?
: A look at the big move, the obvious move. What went wrong for Kimbrel in 2019 and how he looks going forward.
Cubs bullpen team stats, year over year:
2018: 3.35 ERA. 588.1 IP. 1.297 WHIP. 8.6 K/9. 51 HR allowed. 273 BB allowed Hitters slashed: .225/.317/.341/.658
2019: 3.98 ERA. 554 IP. 1.352 WHIP. 9.1 K/9. 72 HR allowed. 268 BB allowed. Hitters slashed: .234/.330/.394/.725
Right from the getgo, there was some major regression in a couple of regards.
-ERA rose by .63, almost 2/3rds of a run.
-WHIP rose by .55, nearly an extra half baserunner per inning.
-Home runs allowed increased by 21, despite the bullpen throwing 34 less innings. This rate is .78 per 9 to 1.17.
-Overall hitter OPS allowed rose by nearly .75. batting average and on base rose slightly, but slugging allowed was a major .50 jump.
What killed the Cubs pen in 2019 was how hard they got hit. RPs can ill afford extra base hits in critical spots, and it was a major downfall.
Individual Player Performances:
Here's a quick look at the Cubs bullpen stats for 2019. The line at the bottom is the overall team total.
Kimbrel: was a major disaster in 2019. he only got into 23 games, yet allowed 35 baserunners and 9 home runs. While summing up a RP in just the 6.53 ERA might not tell the whole story, the 8.00 FIP and 1.597 show that it could have somehow been worse. He was brought on to stop the bleeding, and totally backfired.
Strop: was also a disaster for the season. A 4.97 ERA was worse than his FIP of 4.53, but for someone who's role was the 8th inning, that just can't happen. He allowed a few too many baserunners, but got hit hard at times.
Morrow: Is missing from the above chart. For someone penned in with a late inning role and 9 million dollar salary, 0 appearances is a lot for the rest of the pen to overcome.
Montgomery: Only pitched 27 innings, way down from the previous year. Mainly because you can't pitch someone with a 5.67 ERA, allowing nearly 2 baserunners per inning and 2 HRs per 9.
Carl Edwards Jr: Another disappointment and disaster. He struggled with his windup, and it blew up his performance.
Cishek: Was worse in 2019, but overall stable. The 4.54 FIP was concerning (nearly the same as Strop's), but he ultimately got away with it.
Ryan: Was a stable piece of the pen. Someone had to eat innings with all the aforementioned terrible performances. he wasn't great, but was good enough.
Wick: Came on strong in the end of the year. He didn't chew up a ton of innings, but thrust himself into a late inning role by the end of the year. That 2.43 ERA was the best mark on the team.
Kintzler: Was probably the top performer in the pen. 2.68 ERA in 57 innings, with good peripherals.
Brach: Was terrible and pitched himself out of the pen. As the biggest addition to the pen of the offseason, you just can't have this happen.
Chatwood: Was much better in 2019, and kept his walks to a more reasonable level. He filled in with 5 starts, and became a solid swing man. The 4.28 FIP wasn't great overall, but it was enough at times.
Holland: Stank. Sorry.
What sunk the pen? The terrible performances of Kimbrel, Strop, Montgomery, Edwards, and Brach. Morrow being MIA. Out of the top 10 guys, 5 pitched themselves nearly off the team. Chatwood, Kintzler, Cishek, and Ryan were good. Some of the other dice rolls just didn't pan out much. Ultimately I think this is a lesson in depth. A team can survive a couple of bad performers, but if 6 of your top RPs can't get it done, there's just no stopping that level of bleeding.
RIP in peace 2019 Cubs bullpen.
A look ahead: a lot of these guys may be back for 2020, so let's see where we are at.
Kimbrel: We all better hope he bounces back. I don't think it happens though.
Ryan: Is under contract, and should be back. I'm not sure he'll be the guy to come in with a 1 run lead and bases loaded in the 7th, but he seems to be a reasonable middle reliever.
Wick: Looked great at times. I want to see him back.
Chatwood: Maybe? I'm not sure if he's going back to the rotation or if he'll stick in the bullpen. With the Cubs trying to save money, they may try to trade him, or throw him into the rotation instead of spending money on another free agent to be the 5th starter. I think he's earned a shot at least, but him in the rotation takes him away from the pen.
Wieck: Didn't pitch much in 2019, but had success when he did. I think he can be a decent lower RP, but I wouldn't want to see the team bet big on a repeat performance from him.
Others: Maples, Mills, Underwood. I think they maintain their AAA depth status for 2020. I think Mills has a chance to stick with the team out of spring training as a long reliever/spot starter. Maples and Underwood could contribute if they figure out how to throw strikes. Not bad depth options though.
Strop: I'd like to see him come back on a cheap deal for old times sake, but I'd likely consider him the 6-8th best arm in the pen at this point. Maybe he figures it out, or maybe he's over the hill. He's 35 now.
Cishek: He might be begging to hit the wall. He's got a lot of mileage on that arm now, and is 34. I wouldn't be opposed to a cheap deal, but something tells me his best days are over.
Kintzler: is 35. He had a good year, but I don't think he can repeat that performance. I suspect he'll command a higher deal than he's worth, so pass.
Looking at the current situation, things aren't great. There's essentially 2 guys I think the Cubs can count on, in Ryan and Wick. Kimbrel is a Pandora's box. Chatwood could be a decent long man again, but may have more value in the rotation. If he starts again, that leave another hole in the pen. In terms of dice rolls, there's decent depth already between Mills, Morrow, Maples, and Underwood. But as we saw with the sheer number of players riding the bus from AAA, depth will be tested at times.
Ideally, I think the Cubs need to get 2-3 stable arms. Someone who can back up Kimbrel as closer especially. If Kimbrel is good, you've got reasonably the 7th-9th covered, but no depth at the moment. The cubs will need to add, one way or the other.