Heralded early in the season, the 2015 Chicago Cubs’ bullpen ran into a spot of trouble a couple weeks ago. After suffering some key injuries and experiencing some serious ineffectiveness, we were reminded that relief pitcher performance is notoriously fickle, and just as susceptible to player injury as any other position. Yes, the bullpen has been met by some adversity, but that often means an opportunity for new arms to emerge.
After Justin Grimm and Neil Ramirez hit the disabled list a couple weeks back, we’ve seen several fringy pitchers (Brian Schlitter, Edwin Jackson, Gonzalez Germen, etc…) get a shot at proving they belong in a key bullpen role. Each has had his moments (Germen look very good at times), but none has inspired a great deal of confidence in high-leverage situations.
Zac Rosscup, on the other hand, has.
Called up on April 14 to aid an ailing bullpen after not making the team out of Spring Training, Rosscup has done everything he could have to make a solid second impression on the men in charge of roster decisions. On the year, and after another clean inning last night, Rosscup has pitched 8.2 innings in relief, boasting a stellar 11.42 K/9, 1.04 BB/9, 1.04 ERA and a 2.45 FIP. Although all of those numbers are more than solid, the key take away for Rosscup is the increased control.
For a guy without elite velocity and with just two primary pitches (fastball, slider), control and command has always been critical for Rosscup, even though he has great raw stuff and deception. Unfortunately, that has been his greatest challenge. In 2013, Rosscup was first called up to the Cubs and pitched 6.2 innings with an unacceptable 9.45 BB/9. In 2014, he followed that up with 13.1 innings of 8.1 BB/9. Needless to say, no one can be successful in the big leagues issuing so many walks.
2015 has been different though, and it isn’t without explanation. Over at BP Wrigleyville, Rian Watt took a look into the new and improved Zac Rosscup to try and determine what may have changed. According to Watt, Rosscup has been using his slider far more in 2015 (36.96%) than he ever did in 2014 (23.02%) or 2013 (25.44%). Furthermore, that slider has come in at roughly 3 miles an hour faster in 2015 (86.38 mph) than it did in 2014 (83.22 mph) and 2013 (83.73 mph). There is a whole lot more in Watt’s article, so I urge you to take a look, and let yourself get a little excited. If nothing else, Rosscup deserves the attention.
It’s true that 8.2 innings is a small sample, so all of the necessary caveats apply. Still, the eyes see a quality reliever, and the numbers say there’s something there. Rosscup’s always had elite strikeout totals in the minor leagues, so there are reasons for optimism here.
For now, I am glad to see the 26-year-old lefty find some success, and even happier that he found it exactly when the Cubs needed it most. Hopefully, he can keep it up throughout the season and be a big part of the bullpen going forward.