Here’s something cool: The Chicago Cubs won the 2016 World Series.
They won it after being down three games to one in the World Series. They won it on the road. And they won it against one of the best starters in the American League.
Pretty neat, eh?
But that was over a week ago now, and our attention is going to quickly (and rightfully) refocus on the 2017 season and beyond. HOWEVA, before we do so, I want to take one final, statistical, and three-part look at the heroes of the Cubs 2016 postseason.
You can find the first (the position players) and the second (the rotation) parts of the series by clicking right there. In part one, we discovered that some of the biggest contributions came from relatively unexpected sources. In part two, however, Jon Lester shined brightest, as expected. This, then, is the third and final part, in which I’ll focus entirely on the bullpen. Any guesses whose name stands out by the end?
One small note: I included all of Jon Lester’s innings, including his Game 7 relief appearance in the rotation, in part II.
Unlike the regular season, the Chicago Cubs’ postseason bullpen wasn’t used quite as evenly, although that is mostly to be expected. All in all, they rostered eight relievers, but only Rob Zastryzny didn’t actually make an appearance. For the NLDS, NLCS, and World Series, those names were as follows (alphabetical):
Carl Edwards Jr.
Together, those eight pitchers accounted for 58.2 innings in the 2016 postseason, but, like I said, those innings were not distributed very evenly. Aroldis Chapman and Mike Montgomery led the pack by a wide margin, and everyone else (besides Rob Z.), had roughly the same number of innings.
Like last time, I’m going to use some of the more traditional/counting statistics that directly led to Cubs’ victories, because 1) the small sample of the postseason and 2) the fact that we’re looking back on their performances not tying to project them going forward. But, I will add one additional statistic, Win Probability Added (WPA), because I think it can be uniquely useful for relievers. And I’ll also just rank all seven relievers, every time, instead of sticking to just the top five.
Let’s start by simply examining how many innings each pitcher threw.
Most IP in 2016 Postseason:
1. Aroldis Chapman: 15.2 IP
2. Mike Montgomery: 14.1 IP
3. Carl Edwards Jr.: 6.1 IP
3. Travis Wood: 6.1 IP
5. Hector Rondon: 6.0 IP
6. Pedro Strop: 5.2 IP
7. Justin Grimm: 4.1 IP
Right away, I think the number of innings each pitcher threw tells us a whole lot about the Cubs bullpen in the postseason. Riding heavily on Chapman, given his talent and rental-status with the Cubs, was completely expected. But for each of Hector Rondon and Pedro Strop to appear less than Travis Wood and Carl Edwards Jr. is pretty revealing. Clearly, both were still struggling to return to form from their late-season injuries, and/or Joe Maddon did not trust them.
I think had Rondon been 100% healthy and effective (aka the guy he’s been the past few seasons with the Cubs), he would have blown past just 6.0 innings pitched.
As a former starter who seemed to dial things up in the postseason, Montgomery was probably always going to pitch more innings than many of the other relievers, and a huge chunk of those innings came in one long appearance in Game Three of the NLDS.
But who allowed the most damage? Let’s pivot towards rankings the lowest OPS allowed in the postseason. Obviously, like all of these stats, they come in small samples, so don’t use this to analyze any of the pitchers. BUT, if you allowed some hits, walks, and extra-bases in the postseason, it counts, it was measured, and it’s listed right below:
OPS Allowed in 2016 Postseason:
1. Travis Wood: .593 OPS
2. Carl Edwards Jr.: .598 OPS
3. Aroldis Chapman: .635 OPS
4. Mike Montgomery: .654 OPS
5. Pedro Strop: .697 OPS
6. Justin Grimm: .900 OPS
7. Hector Rondon: .902 OPS
Almost exactly like the part one of this series, Maddon gets a bit of credit. The four pitchers with the lowest OPS allowed were the same four pitchers who were used most prominently. Maddon certainly had some head-scratchers near the end of the World Series, but on the whole, he had the right guys in the most often.
Let’s break that down, though, and see who allowed the most for free:
Walk Rate in 2016 Postseason:
1. Hector Rondon: 4.0%
2. Justin Grimm: 5.0%
3. Travis Wood: 7.4%
4. Pedro Strop: 9.1%
5. Aroldis Chapman: 9.7%
6. Mike Montgomery: 11.1%
7. Carl Edwards Jr.: 15.4%
Well this is fairly interesting, isn’t it? Arguably the least two effective pitchers (Rondon and Grimm) allowed the fewest walks throughout the postseason, while arguably the three most effective pitchers (Edwards, Montgomery and Chapman) allowed the most. But if you’re thinking, well, sure, but they might’ve all had the highest strikeout rates too, you’d only be partially right (but mostly wrong!).
Strikeout Rate in 2016 Postseason:
1. Aroldis Chapman: 33.9%
2. Travis Wood: 25.9%
3. Hector Rondon: 20.0%
4. Mike Montgomery: 17.5%
5. Carl Edwards Jr.: 15.4%
6. Justin Grimm: 15.0%
7. Pedro Strop: 13.6%
Ah, the postseason, where nothing you’ve ever done before seems to matter. Obviously, there should be no surprise to see Chapman’s name at the top of the list. In fact, he should probably have an even higher strikeout rate (but I won’t complain about that). But Travis Wood’s name pops up once again near the top, while our other two high-walk rate friends, Edwards and Montgomery, appear with shockingly low strikeout rates (Edwards especially).
Small samples can mess things up so much, but I still would have never bet that Wood would have a higher strikeout rate than any of Edwards, Grimm, Strop and Rondon. I don’t know how you could have predicted that, even factoring in match-ups.
So what did it all lead to, in terms of runs scored?
ERA in 2016 Postseason:
1. Travis Wood: 2.84 ERA
1. Carl Edwards Jr.: 2.84 ERA
3. Mike Montgomery: 3.14 ERA
4. Pedro Strop: 3.18 ERA
5. Aroldis Chapman: 3.45 ERA
6. Hector Rondon: 4.50 ERA
7. Justin Grimm: 12.46 ERA
Well how about that Travis? Who would have thought that Travis Wood would have finished top three in usage and walk rate, top two in strikeout rate, and led the relievers in OPS against and ERA. In terms of your postseason surprises, he is most definitely the guy. He also hit a home run, naturally.
But … I don’t think he’s quite our postseason hero from the bullpen. Let’s take a look at one last stat, Win Probability Added, to see whose appearances actually came at the most important time. FYI: A win probability of +/- 1.00 would indicate one win added or lost, entirely attributable to that player.
WPA in 2016 Postseason:
1. Mike Montgomery: 0.411
2. Aroldis Chapman: 0.305
3. Justin Grimm: 0.135
4. Carl Edwards Jr.: 0.020
5. Travis Wood: -0.056
6. Pedro Strop: -0.062
7. Hector Rondon: -0.108
Well this paints quite a different picture, doesn’t it? Well, except for Strop and Rondon who were – sadly – two of the least helpful relievers in the Cubs bullpen this postseason, after multiple great regular seasons in a row.
Justin Grimm appears to have had his best moments at the right time [Brett: remember that double play ball?], while Chapman clearly did a lot to help, despite some Game 7 struggles, too. But it’s Mike Montgomery who shines the brightest in the end, with nearly half a win added to the Cubs over the course of just 14.1 postseason innings. Plus, he recorded the final out of probably the most famous baseball game in recent history.