Balancing Starting Pitcher Usage and Reliever Usage and Other Bullets

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Balancing Starting Pitcher Usage and Reliever Usage and Other Bullets

Chicago Cubs

My foot hurt more yesterday than it has since maybe the first week after my surgery, so that really bummed me out. Overnight was pretty good, though, so I’m hoping it was just a flukey stretch where some particularly painful nerves were healing.

  • Cubs starting pitchers, lead by a vocal Jon Lester, want to once again hit that 200-inning mark in 2018 (Tribune). It has become increasingly less common in MLB to get there, but I do like the way Lester thinks about it: “I’m not an 180-inning pitcher. I’m old-school on this. I get paid to pitch. I get paid to pitch innings. Hopefully the day I pitch is the day the bullpen thinks they can get a break.” In theory, the Cubs have an entire rotation of guys who could do that, but the reality is that the starters will still be somewhat protected, especially in the early going. I wish we’d see a six-man rotation at times, but it’s at least as likely that it will instead just be earlier yanks for the starting pitchers. With eight relievers in the bullpen, and the ability to shuttle up and down that 8th guy, the Cubs can limit starter innings without necessarily using a sixth starter.
  • … however, as I wrote in greater detail in the Cubs essay for the BP Annual this year, one of the biggest problems for the 2017 Cubs was the dramatic decrease in innings for their starting pitchers, and attendant spike in usage for their relievers. Nearly across the board, Cubs relievers threw considerably more innings in 2017 than they had in 2016: “Consider that Cubs bullpen staple Pedro Strop threw just 47.1 big league innings in 2016, and then went 60.1 innings in 2017. Hector Rondon threw 51.0 innings in 2016, and 57.1 in 2017. Carl Edwards Jr. threw just 36.0 big league innings in 2016 (and 25.1 at AAA), and then went 66.1 in 2017. Brian Duensing had 13.1 big league innings in 2016 (and 32.1 in the minors), and bumped that all the way up to 62.1 in 2017. Mike Montgomery threw 100.0 innings in 2016, and then shot up to 130.2 in 2017. Wade Davis missed time with injuries in 2016 and threw just 43.1 innings – in 2017, he went back up to 58.2 in the regular season, and was leaned on heavily in the postseason. On the whole, the Cubs’ 559.0 bullpen innings in 2017 were 6th most in the NL, and an absurd leap from the 470.2 innings they logged in 2016 – least in the NL.”
  • It is not a stretch to figure that played a part in their diminished effectiveness by the end of the season. Ironically, the entire goal of limiting starter innings early on was to ensure those pitchers’ health and effectiveness later in the year … but if doing so comes at the cost of your relievers being unhealthy and ineffective, there may have to be a rebalancing, if the starting pitchers stay healthy enough to go a little deeper with more consistency. (Or, again, a month or two stretch where the Cubs let Mike Montgomery be a true sixth starter in the rotation. (Of course, injuries happen, and that can blow up your best laid plans.))
(Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images)

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.