The Chicago Cubs (6-1) have gotten off to a great start in 2016, after the hype train left the rails in the offseason.
Of course, there have been some setbacks (Kyle Schwarber’s season ending injury) and some ineffectiveness (John Lackey’s weak debut against the Diamondbacks), but largely the team has been as good as advertised (how about their league leading +29 run differential).
For the most part, the Cubs are firing on all cylinders.
One such fully operational cylinder is the bullpen. Regarded by some as the biggest question mark heading into the season, the Cubs bullpen has been lights out early on. Through 17 innings pitched, the bullpen has allowed just 2 earned runs and 1 walk. In the meantime, they’ve struck out 20 batters and have allowed just a .121 batting average against. So, in the spirit of giving credit where credit’s due, let’s see where the Cubs bullpen ranks (on a variety of statistics) among the other bullpens in baseball.
Earned Run Average (ERA):
- Yankees – 0.84
- Cubs – 1.06
- Rays – 1.31
Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP):
- Cubs – 1.09
- Yankees – 1.72
- Mets – 2.55
Batting Average Allowed:
- Cubs – .121
- Rays – .157
- White Sox – .159
- Yankees – 37.7%
- Cubs – 33.9%
- Cardinals – 32.7%
- Cubs – 1.7%
- Athletics – 2.4%
- Rays – 4.1%
Ground Ball Rate:
- Cardinals – 55.8%
- Rays – 54.5%
- Cubs – 54.1%
- Yankees – .8
- Cardinals – .7
- Cubs – .6
You can play with the various statistics here, but you’ll just find more of what I’ve shown above: the Cubs bullpen has been, simply put, excellent. But, it hasn’t been just one or two relievers carrying the rest. Instead, the Cubs have gotten solid contributions from seven of their eight relievers (Clayton Richard has yet to get in).
Check out the early results:
- Hector Rondon: 3.0 IP, 0ER, 0H, 0BBs, 7Ks,
- Pedro Strop: 3.1 IP, 1ER, 2H, 0BBs, 4Ks
- Justin Grimm: 3.0 IP, 0ER, 1H, 0BBs, 3Ks
- Adam Warren: 2.1 IP, 0ER, 1H, 0BBs, 0Ks
- Travis Wood: 2.1 IP, 0ER, 0H, 1BBs, 2Ks
- Trevor Cahill: 2.0 IP, 1ER, 3H, 0BBs, 2Ks
- Neil Ramirez: 1.0 IP, 0ER, 0H, 0BBs, 2Ks
Up and down the bullpen, the Cubs relievers are dealing. No one has given up more than one run, and, collectively, they have a 20:1 K:BB ration. That is just insane. Of course, it is very early in the season, but a strong start is a strong start.
And just look at that top four of Rondon, Strop, Grimm and Warren. According to ZiPS, the highest projected ERA from that group in 2016 is Warren at 3.01. If those projections came to be, the Cubs may well end up with the best bullpen in baseball by the end of the year.
Moreover, this all goes without mentioning Travis Wood, who was lights out as a full time reliever in 2015, and Neil Ramirez, who was one of the very best relievers in baseball just two years ago. If, for example, Ramirez can stay healthy and continue to hit 94+ MPH on the radar gun, the Cubs bullpen will be down right gruesome.
But, in the interest of openness and full disclosure, it’s not all rosy. The Cubs batted ball data is far from perfect. Collectively, the bullpen has allowed the fifth highest hard hit rate (36.8%), and just the 10th highest soft hit rate (21.1%). However, they’ve managed to limit the damage done with those hard hit balls, by limiting line drives (13.5%, 3rd best in baseball) and fly balls (32.4%, 10th best in baseball).
So far, suffice it to say the Cubs bullpen has
not been a liability been downright awesome.