[The following is a guest post from BN'er Josh, who had a strong reaction to the Cubs losing Jeff Beliveau to the Rangers just before Christmas ... but not the strong reaction you might expect. The piece was written before the Cubs snagged Hisanori Takahashi on a minor league deal, but the points all remain. Thought-provoking stuff, whether you agree or disagree.]
In light of the Cubs DFA’ing Jeff Beliveau and subsequently losing him on waivers to the Rangers, and a slew of comments following with upset posters now looking to J.P. Howell or others to provide a lefty arm out of the pen, I decided to look at the splits of the guys already in contention for spots in the Cubs’ pen.
First, looking at just lefties in comparison to what Beliveau brings to the table versus lefties, alone, his stat line sits at an uninspiring ERA of 5.06 (ALERT: small sample size) in 5.1 innings of work against lefties in 2012. However, in that same 5.1 inning framework, Beliveau also gave up 3 HR and walked 4 batters while hitting one with a pitch. That rather uninspiring line gives him a WHIP of 2.44 against lefties – not exactly a desirable lefty/lefty matchup guy out of the pen. Pair that against Chris Rusin’s 2012 campaign against lefties and you see a similar type of guy in the stats. Rusin has a worse ERA at 6.00, but a superior WHIP at 1.11, while keeping the home runs and walks to a minimum.
Enter Brooks Raley. Here is a guy who might just better the previous two as a lefty/lefty candidate for the Cubs pen. He has a 4.91 ERA against lefties, which doesn’t scream “awesome,” but betters the previous two fellas by a sizable margin. He also has 1.36 WHIP which would leave him in the range of mediocrity, not as good as Rusin but far better than Beliveau. Again, sample size is an issue, but you’re getting the picture.
We all know what James Russell brings to the table for the Cubs: a very serviceable arm out of the pen to both lefties and righties. However, lets break down his lefty/lefty splits to get a grip on how good this guy could be in that role. In 2012 he threw to lefties to the tune of an ERA of just 2.67 and a WHIP of 1.22. Both of those shout “good if not great” as a lefty/lefty guy.
And the final piece of our left-handed hurlers who could be considered for the pen in light of the rotation pieces that have been added this offseason let us take a look at what Travis Wood could contribute to the bullpen. In 2012 against lefties, Travis put up fantastic numbers by posting a 3.00 ERA while holding a stellar WHIP of 0.91 against left handed hitters. Put that together with a less than desirable stat line against righties, and maybe this FO sees a potential shutdown lefty out of the pen in Travis Wood? Or at the least maybe a very good matchup guy, with the ability out of the pen to go some innings in an injury or bad start situation?
All those things considered, we have some reasonable left-handed pieces that more than fill the shoes of a soon-to-be-26-year-old thrower who is yet to really learn to pitch.
But the conversation gets more interesting when you consider the stat line some of the righties in the Cubs’ pen posted last year facing left-handed batters. Shawn Camp posted a 2.83 ERA with a 1.43 WHIP, placing him near the top of our list of candidates to face a left handed bat late in a game. Similarly, Michael Bowden sported a 2.40 ERA with a 1.33 WHIP against lefties, which would place him amongst the top of our candidates to face lefties. And maybe the most surpassingly effective bullpen arm versus lefties is the one attached to the body of Rafael Dolis. Against righties Dolis looks just plain bad with a 11.29 ERA with a 2.40 WHIP, but dig deeper and you see peak effectiveness out of Dolis. That effectiveness comes against lefties as Dolis posted a 1.83 ERA with a 0.97 WHIP against them.
Breaking it all down, then a piecing it together, maybe the front office has the lefty matchup guys in place in the way of Camp, Dolis, and Bowden together with the possibility of Wood joining Russell in the bullpen. There is a common thought that a lefty/lefty matchup brings the advantage to the guy on the mound. But in the case of some of these guys we have briefly looked at, we can see there are a number of times when you can eschew the common thought, and look more at the numbers. Because as we know, numbers don’t lie.
So the Cubs may very well look to add a man like J.P. Howell yet this offseason, but, if they don’t, it isn’t necessarily because they couldn’t. It could simply be a statement to the production they can get out of the guys who throw from the right side against lefties. And, all things considered, maybe the FO ought to look more into a bullpen arm that can effectively shut down right-handed hitters instead?
So, while the Beliveau departure is an easy one to get frustrated in at the onset, if you look at the numbers, his didn’t play well against the rest of the arms on the team. Also, factor in this front office’s extreme demand and desire to get control guys who can pitch and not just throw, and it is easy to see why Jeff Beliveau had become so expendable for this team. While Jeff was a promising arm, he was nearing the stage of not being young anymore, and a 26-year-old bullpen prospect screams oxymoron to me. At 26, if a guy is only a bullpen arm and he still can’t solidify himself in that role, maybe the upside and prospect status have run their course. The Cubs lost a guy in Beliveau that could someday figure it out and be a lights out type pitcher, but someday starts to mean less and less once a prospect from the bullpen crosses the age line of 25. Those are the types of guys you expect to have figured it out at that point. The Cubs have much more effective options already in the bullpen in a group of righties that are uncharacteristically dominant against lefties, and they are paired with a lefty who is darn good in his own right in James Russell. Does it sting? Yeh. Wish we could have kept the kid? Yeah. Would he have made the bullpen anyway or be a key guy in a good bullpen going forward? Probably not. It is a fickle business this sport, but this loss is one that will most likely not see the Cubs grimace once at the waiver claim by the Rangers.
Best of luck to Jeff and the Rangers, but ladies and gents, this was not a hit to the bullpen or to the future plans in anyway.