The Cubs' Bullpen May Have Been More Dominant Than You Thought and Other Bullets

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The Cubs’ Bullpen May Have Been More Dominant Than You Thought and Other Bullets

Chicago Cubs

hector rondon cubsI’m told the Grammys happened recently. It’s strange how far that event seems to have been removed from public, cultural consciousness. The last time I watched the Grammys was four years ago, because it was the night after our daughter had been born, and it was just the thing that happened to be on the hospital TV while snuggled. I couldn’t tell you the last time I made a choice to watch or even become aware of it.

  • It’s no secret to Chicago Cubs fans that the team is relatively loaded with exciting relief options heading into 2015, and was utterly dominant at the back end last year, particularly after the first month and a half (see the Jose Veras Bullet below). But, because of the team’s low profile around the game last year, coupled with its increasing profile this offseason, pieces like this interesting one from August Fagerstrom at FanGraphs should be expected. In it, Fagerstrom looks at the “surprisingly dominant” back end of the Cubs’ bullpen last year (Fagerstrom focuses on Hector Rondon, Pedro Strop, and Neil Ramirez), which was among the best five in baseball. Even if the dominance is not surprising to Cubs fans (we’ve discussed Rondon and Strop and Ramirez many times), it is still interesting to see the pitchers directly stacked up against the other back ends around the league, because I’m not sure I knew they were statistically among the top five. That’s awesome.
  • Also awesome? The discussion didn’t even include Justin Grimm, who was arguably the best of the bunch in the second half last year. Obviously we can’t expect all four of these guys to be as effective and healthy as they were in 2014, but having four hard-throwing, dominant options for high-leverage situations is quite a luxury. And I didn’t even mention Jason Motte, who could easily be right there with those four if he’s totally healthy.
  • The Pirates lost their arbitration case with pitcher Vance Worley, but, since they’re a file-and-trial team (i.e., if the two sides haven’t agreed by the time salary requests are filed, they go to arbitration without anymore negotiations), the spread on what the Pirates filed ($2 million) and what Worley won ($2.45 million) was not enormous. Worley was fantastic for the Pirates last year in over 110 innings after he successfully came back from having bone chips removed from his elbow. Worley, 27, was arb-eligible for the first time as a Super Two, so his $2.45 million salary is actually pretty healthy, and would stand to net him nice paydays over the next three years if the Pirates hold onto him. Right now, the Pirates’ rotation projects to include Worley, Gerrit Cole, A.J. Burnett, Francisco Liriano, and Jeff Locke. It’s not a significant strength, though they’ve got some great young arms working their way up (and, in the case of Jameson Taillon, working his way back from TJS). And if Worley repeats, if Liriano keeps his control in check, and Burnett returns to his Pittsburgh-era effectiveness level, then, hey, maybe it could be a nice rotation.
  • Ben Lindbergh writes about the Padres’ James Shields signing, which was not a bad move at all, but which you wouldn’t expect to provide huge value as Shields enters his mid-30s. If you start to feel a twinge of regret about the Cubs preferring to wait on the next crop of younger/better/more plentiful starting pitchers unless they could get a steal on Shields, read Lindbergh’s piece and feel better.
  • Jon Lester is an early-arriver to Spring Training, and he believes it’s important to bond with his new team (
  • A very interesting piece from Robert Arthur at BP, suggesting that batters are more likely to expand their own strike zone when there’s a good framing catcher behind the plate.
  • Jose Veras – remember him? – goes to the Braves on a minor league deal. Best of luck to him, but he’ll always stand out in my memory as the most perfectly-encapsulated example of how (1) reliever performance is unbelievably volatile, and (2) one struggling reliever in a high-leverage position can cost a team multiple wins in a very short stretch. You’ve gotta have tons of quality depth, and a quick hook.
  • Tony Campana – remember him? – tore his ACL, according to the White Sox, and is likely to miss the 2015 season. It’s a bummer for the non-roster invitee who was hoping to make the club with his elite speed. Whether you liked him as a fit on the roster or not, it was always easy to root for Campana.
  • Well, I guess the bright side is that he wasn’t just whiffing constantly in the zone:

Author: Brett Taylor

Brett Taylor is the Editor and Lead Cubs Writer at Bleacher Nation, and you can find him on Twitter at @BleacherNation and @Brett_A_Taylor.