Yesterday, Luis shared and commented on some words from Cubs President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein on the state of the Cubs bullpen, the trade market, and the necessity of a move.
The Cubs bullpen, you’ll note, has straddled the line between luck and skill all year, amassing the 10th best ERA, but 20th best FIP and WAR; a top ten strikeout rate, but a bottom five walk rate.
So in short, yeah, the Cubs could probably stand to make a move in the pen.* But to that end, Epstein indicated that there’s no rush and no pressure felt, despite a trade market that has already begun to heat up.
*[UPDATE: And note, a flurry of internal moves in the bullpen tonight.]
In the wake of the Epstein’s comments, GM Jed Hoyer opened up on the trade market – in specific reference to the bullpen – and the Cubs’ needs in a series of comments of his own (CSN Chicago, Chicago Tribune).
Like Epstein before him, Hoyer acknowledged that the Cubs have weaknesses to address – and that they’re evaluating them every day – but that they aren’t going to sell the future to address them, give up on the guys they already have, or be blind to potential future weaknesses because of some flukiness now. Importantly, the Cubs are constantly talking internally about trying to be ahead of the next thing that can go wrong.
And therein lies the half of the battle we tend to ignore. Sure, the bullpen may look like a weakness right now, but it’s possible that the Cubs’ internal metrics are confident in the pen’s collective second half, but see much bigger issues or risks elsewhere. Either way, the Cubs are simply not going to completely mortgage the future on any one move.
When asked whether the Cubs will simply “go for it” at the deadline, acquiring an impact reliever (or two) to leave as little to chance as possible in the playoffs, Hoyer tempered expectations, but kept the door open.
“I wouldn’t state anything quite that aggressively,” Hoyer told CSN. “But there’s no doubt we’re going to spend the next 40 days before the deadline trying to evaluate where we are.” Later adding that it’s something you constantly address, not something you decide upon once and zero in on the rest of the way. In many ways, he intimated, every single team in baseball is worried about at least 1-2 pitchers on their staff, it’s just the nature of baseball.
But even if we are slightly worried about the Cubs biggest perceived weakness, Hoyer preaches caution in casting those guys aside. After all, bullpens are an entirely different animal, and guys do go through ebbs and flows. Moreover, bullpen struggles can sometimes be magnified due to the nature of their usage. When a guy struggles in a few high-leverage spots, Hoyer pointed out, you’re going to notice it a whole lot more than if a guy is struggling at the plate for a little while.
HOWEVA, Hoyer’s point there actually cuts both ways, and echoes something Brett’s actually been kicking around for a while now: (as far back as December there, with respect to recent-rumoree, Andrew Miller): true back-end, high leverage relievers may have inherently more value than we’ve previously assigned them, specifically because teams can reserve them for only the highest leverage situations.
In other words, the struggles of high-leverage relievers may be magnified in the minds of observers, sure, but not artificially so. Although these kinds of relievers can affect just a handful of innings a week, those innings may be the most important ones of the month – ones where an entire game can turn so easily – so better performance in those moments may be especially important. Resting on what the Cubs have in the pen, then, won’t necessarily be the best approach in the coming weeks.
But don’t let this discourage you. Hoyer and Epstein are well aware of what’s going on in this season, and will not let this roster go to waste. If they believe a significant move in the bullpen is the way to go, they’ll pull the trigger.
Remember, this is the duo that sent their two biggest trade pieces in Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel away in the same package, for Addison Russell (and others) almost four weeks before the trade deadline. They aren’t afraid of the big move. They just want to ensure that it’s the right one.
Brett Taylor contributed to this post.