Chicago Cubs 2016 NL Central Championship Gear

pedro strop cubsPedro Strop, who has been as reliable as any Cubs reliever since being acquired in 2013, struggled mightily in his four appearances before a nice two-inning appearance on Sunday in Milwaukee. We’ll see if that appearance marks a turnaround for the previously-fantastic reliever, or a good day in an otherwise concerning stretch.

The following analysis was written just before Sunday’s appearance, so keep that in mind as you read.

Friday represented Strop’s latest stumble as he allowed an eighth inning run-scoring double to Brewers left fielder Khris Davis after battling some command troubles.

It was a rough week for Strop, who, before Sunday, allowed 13 of the last 18 batters he has faced reach base by either hit (7), walk (4) or hit by pitch (2). During the stretch, he has allowed six earned runs, boosting his ERA to 4.26.

Strop has been leaned on heavily to start the season, appearing in a team-leading 16 of 28 games and facing 53 batters, which is the second most out of the bullpen behind Hector Rondon’s 57. Strop told ESPN Chicago he didn’t want to use his usage rate as an excuse for poor performance. However, he did note he was struggling with his fastball, saying: “I feel like my fastball doesn’t have that life that I need.”

More so now than any previous point in his career, Strop is relying heavily on his slider, throwing it 48.3 percent of the time. Since last Sunday, Strop has thrown his slider at a 53.3 percent clip — with his fastball thrown at a 46.7 percent rate. That, indeed, could be a sign that he has not been feeling his fastball.

Strop has been prone to these issues in the past. In Baltimore, he found success throwing his fastball, but also struggled when he relied heavily on his slider.

Between the time he debuted with the Cubs on July 4, 2013 and the 2014 season finale on Sept. 28, Strop threw his fastball 61.1 percent of the time, while his slider was only thrown 36.3 percent of the time.

This is a noticeable shift in pitch selection.

Strop’s recent struggles are troubling, considering he opened the season with a dominant stretch of 12 scoreless appearances over 10.1 innings. He struck out 13 of the 35 batters (37.14 K%) he faced, walked only two (5.7 BB%) and limited batters to an .061 average (2-for-33).

Prior to his May 3 outing — in which he allowed two runs on three hits, a walk and a hit batter — Strop had tossed 106.1 quality innings out of the bullpen since being acquired on July 2, 2013. He had a 29.9 strikeout rate (126 of 422 batters), 2.20 ERA (2.40 FIP) and had stranded 75.6 percent of runners who reached base, which ranks as above average. Sixty-four percent of the pitches he threw were strikes. Fifteen percent were swinging.

In his week of struggle, Strop has seen his strike percentage dip to 53 percent, with only 12 percent coming on swings and misses. This season has also seen the percentage of runners Strop has left on base dip to 64.7. Even in his two scoreless innings on Sunday, Strop struck out just one of the six batters he faced (though he did throw 14 of his 22 pitches for strikes).

While Strop might not want to blame usage, it might be wise to give him some days off to circle the wagons, work on what has been ailing him and allow his arm to get some rest in what could be a long season of high-leverage usage.

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