Everybody already knows the importance of having a strong bullpen, particularly in October, but I’m guessing the Milwaukee Brewers’ extreme reliance on relievers this season might continue to push the needle in that direction.
After all, the Brewers starting rotation was in the bottom half of the league during the regular season in terms of the value it generated (9.4 WAR, 17th), but thanks to an extremely strong bullpen (7.1 WAR, 4th in MLB), their combined staff ranked just outside the top 10 – and, of course, they just swept the Rockies out of the NLDS with 14.0 bullpen innings in only three games.
With that said, it’s not as though the Cubs didn’t have a quality pen this season, either. In fact, despite injuries to their top two relievers, Brandon Morrow and Pedro Strop, they managed to finish with the lowest bullpen ERA in the National League (2nd in MLB) and just outside the top ten in WAR. Much of the success can be credited to a bounce back season from Justin Wilson, a strong first half from Morrow, yet another solid overall season from Strop, and some really impressive Minor League shuttle contributions.
But there’s really no doubting Jesse Chavez’s impact to the Cubs’ overall success (1.15 ERA, 2.39 FIP in 39.0 IP). Because of that elite production – and the fact that much of it came after some notable changes to his delivery and pitch mix – a lot of focus has been given to the Cubs’ ability to retain him, as he plans his next steps via free agency. Fingers crossed that the Cubs can retain him on a reasonable deal.
For as much as I want Chavez to return, though, it’s important to remember that he wasn’t even the only versatile, veteran, bounce-back reliever who dominated for the Cubs this season!
You may have missed it, but lefty Jorge De La Rosa, 37, absolutely killed it for Chicago after joining the team in mid-August: 21.0 IP, 1.29 ERA, 2.40 FIP. And it wasn’t just the results that should make the front office’s eyebrows raise, it was the underlying performance, as well:
- 23.5 K%, 9.4 BB%
- 49.1 GB%, 17.5 LD%
- 22.8 Hard%, 22.8 Soft%
So … yeah, the Cubs should look into getting him back, right? I think so, yes! De La Rosa was good, is versatile, could come cheap, and, as of today, the Cubs sure-fire 2019 bullpen options look something like this:
- Brandon Morrow
- Pedro Strop
- Steve Cishek
- Carl Edwards, Jr.
Also of note, but with obvious questions: Mike Montgomery (in case he’s in the rotation), Randy Rosario, Brandon Kintzler, Dillon Maples, James Norwood, Alec Mills, Allen Webster, Brian Duensing.
And even those four locks come with plenty of questions, including Morrow’s health, Strop’s ability to produce in yet another season, Cishek’s heavy usage, and Edwards’ frustrating loss of command. So, yes, the Cubs could stand to add an arm (or three).
Why not De La Rosa?
Well, if we play devil’s advocate for a second, it’s worth pointing out that De La Rosa will be 38 years old next season, was far more effective against lefties (3.87 FIP) than righties (4.75 FIP) as a whole last season, and wasn’t exactly a model of command (11.1 BB%) in a bullpen riddled with pitchers who weren’t great at throwing strikes. He was great with the Cubs, but you can’t necessarily totally ignore his poor performance with the Diamondbacks.
But to counter, he did lower his walk rate upon joining the Cubs (9.4 BB%) and got his FIP against right-handers down to a stellar 2.88. He’s going to be older and his success did come in a relatively short window (21.0 IP), but there’s a lot there to like – including the fact that all of the questions could suppress his price in a free agent market loaded with quality candidates.
Neither De La Rosa nor Jesse Chavez should be the Cubs’ biggest or only bullpen addition of the winter, but if De La Rosa joins Chavez in his public desire to stay in Chicago, it sure feels like something the front office should be willing to explore.