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Round Robin: The Bullpen

Pic: Getty Images

Trying your best to ignore the results and consider the process, did Thed drop the ball on the bullpen going into the 2019 season?

Brooke: Carlos Marmol, Kevin Gregg, Hector Rondon x3, Wade Davis, Brandon Morrow, are all the Opening Day Cubs closers 2011-2018. Wade Davis is the only one out of all them that was an established closer when he was acquired. Generally, I think the bullpen was constructed in the normal Thed way. This year was the year that things didn't work out so well....(or worked out about as well as the 2011-2014 teams).

Matt: They did not drop the ball. The Free Agent relievers were mostly meh. Everything just imploded at the same time. I think they expected quality innings from Morrow. No one expected Edwards to implode, or that Strop wouldn't find his way back, or that Kimbrel would blow chunks. On the plus side we found some gems in the Wi(e)cks and Kyle Ryan. I consider it a push.

Pronk: They did not drop the ball. They were a little over-reliant on past performances and should have added another decent arm before the season began. They counted too much on Morrow coming back. But I'm not going to fault them for not having a contingency plan for all of Strop, Edwards, Montgomery, Kimbrel, and Brach being completely terrible.

Staci: Absolutely. The bulk of the pen was fine, but "closer by committee" rarely works, and not giving Maddon a closer proved to be a disaster.

Steven: Yes. I was not a fan of the way the team has constructed the past few bullpens. Aiming for guy's who get ground balls over strikeout guys is just not what I want in a bullpen. Ground balls have ways of finding holes and if you happen to walk a batter, the defense positioning changes and now there are more holes in the infield. Bring me heat and guy's who strikeout batters.

On paper, should the in season moves have been enough to stabilize the pen?

Brooke: No, I don't think so, because on paper the 2019 bullpen had more pitchers utilized than three most successful seasons (2015-2017). Using five more pitchers in 2019 than they did in 2017 doesn't stabilize a bullpen.

Matt: Based on available assets, yes. They got Kimbrel, traded for Phelps, and brought up the Wi(e)cks. Sometimes stuff happens.

Pronk: Yes-ish. I think they counted too much on Kimbrel and there should have been more caution rather than thinking he'd be the one to just fix all the bullpen ailments.

Staci: Eh. The best in-season moves turned out to be the development of the Wi(e)cks, so it depends on whether you think that counts. Kimbrel was not good, but I have hopes he'll rebound in 2020.

Steven: The Cubs drastically needed a closer and when you can get a guy like Kimbrel for just dollars you do it. Kimbrel probably needed a little more time to get ready and you can never predict injuries. After Kimbrel, the Cubs did the best they could.

Were there any individual player struggles that the front office should have seen coming?

Brooke: Poor CJ, started the year so excited to have a new pitch delivery only to have it almost immediately be called illegal. How did the front office not see that coming?

Matt: Man, I thought Brach was going to be a steal. Solid reliever for terrible O's teams, and then a dominant 1/2 season with Atlanta. Came into spring throwing harder than ever and then CLUNK. Also, there are only so many quality relievers. So, there are going to be duds. I think they did what they could.

Pronk: Brach should have been treated as more of a dice roll than thinking he'd be a stable piece. Strop and Cishek in the regard that there was no way they'd repeat what they did the year before. Kimbrel in regards to his struggles late with Boston then had low interest.

Staci: I think the club knew that Strop had some sort of nagging injury that was impacting his performance, and kept running him out there anyway. They needed to give him more time on the IL to heal up from whatever was ailing him and just refused, for whatever reason. Also, the fiasco with Thickburger's delivery was fairly embarrassing and should've never happened.

Steven: Daniel Descalso. I mean 1 inning pitched and an ERA of 18.00 (OOF!). On a serious note, any of the older guys are always at risk to struggle. Brach, Strop, Kintzler, and Cishek all had a good chunk of miles on their arms and could become ineffective or injured at any time.

Did the front office screw up, or were they just unfortunate?

Brooke: From 2014-2017 when they had a stable closer they used 26, 26, 25, 24 pitchers (I excluded postion players). In 2018 and 2019 they used 30 and 29. If Kimbrel had worked out maybe we wouldn't be having this conversation but since Kimbrel was already plan B, next time they need a plan C!

Matt: Yes.

Pronk: The only big mistake they made was counting on Morrow at some point in the year. They should have assumed he was out from the getgo, and planned accordingly. That said, they were very unfortunate with a lot of bad performances all just happening to come in the same year.

Staci: I think it was a combination of the two. They were too in love with Brach and too stubborn with Strop, and probably should've been more proactive in fixing some of their misfortune.

Steven: It's a combination of both. Hard to predict Kimbrel's home run rate balloon like it did but it's easy to see Strop's struggles when they rush him back from the Injured List.

Does Joe Maddon deserve any blame for the poor bullpen performance of 2019?

Brooke: 2018 and 2019 were really similar bullpen years with lots of guys, but it just didn't work this year. Not sure that even Joe could convince 30 guys to do simple better.

Matt: A little. I think he ran Strop out there when he wasn't 100%, and threw Kimbrell into the fire immediately after coming off DL stints. But, he only can use what he has on the roster. So, you gotta go to your best options.

Pronk: I don't think so. There are times he brings in RPs in non-guaranteed situations, but you should be able to rely on a big-league reliever to get more than one person out. I wouldn't call him great, but there wasn't much he could do to fix the situation.

Staci: Joe worked with what he had. Bullpen management isn't his strong suit, and he also wasn't set up for success, so it was a bad combination all around.

Steven: Yes and no. He had to work with what he had but at the same time we saw him run out Strop in high leverage situation and high leverage situation only to lose each time. Maddon has never been the best at managing bullpens so hopefully this is an area Ross can improve in.

How does the front office fix the bullpen for 2020?

Brooke: Every year there are at least 8 guys that throw 20 + innings. The bullpen relies on these guys. It would be really helpful if Kimbrel is one of them. If it's not, then they need to replace him with someone that can.

Matt: They need a backup for Kimbrel. Right now it's Wick, and he's unproven and it would obliterate our depth.

Pronk: Have a plan B for Kimbrel. Try to find some guys under 30 with strikeout upside. I think there are enough pieces to be successful (Kimbrel, Ryan, Wick etc), but some depth boosting is in order.

Staci: Definitely need to identify some high K guys. Unless they can't find a better fit for the 5th spot in the rotation and pull Chatty, I think he could be a big key to the success of the bullpen.

Steven: Bring in guys who throw some heat. The hardest thing to do in sports is hit a baseball. The faster a guy throws, the less time a batter has to hit it. Make the impossible harder, please.


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