The Chicago Cubs Have Managed to Build Another Great Bullpen

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The Chicago Cubs Have Managed to Build Another Great Bullpen

Chicago Cubs

Last night, Keegan Thompson saw his MLB-leading scoreless streak come to an end (16.1 IP) just two innings before Mychal Givens gave up a late, game-tying 2 RBI single with two outs in the 8th inning.

So naturally, it’s time to give the Cubs bullpen the love it deserves. 

Thompson may have finally given up a run, but he remains one of the most valuable relievers in MLB. And Givens may have allowed the Braves back in the game late, but before a walk and three singles spoiled his night, his ERA trickled down to 1.17 for the year. And even this morning, he still sports a solid 3.52 ERA with a spectacular 39.4% strikeout rate.

And you can go down the list with deserved recognition: David Robertson still hasn’t given up an earned run in his 8.2 innings of work and has already recorded 4 saves this season (t-6th most). Rowan Wick has a 1.35 ERA and a 31% strikeout rate. And Chris Martin (66.7 GB%, 6th in MLB) and Scott Effross (62.5 GB%, 13th) are generating more groundballs than almost any other reliever in MLB.

Even the “weaker” spots of the group have something to offer: Daniel Norris has a 30% strikeout rate and 5.0% walk rate, Michael Rucker is getting a lot of bite on pitches out of the zone leading to some extra grounders (okay, fine … this one was a stretch, but I wasn’t just going to leave him out), and Ethan Roberts has as about as much promise as anybody listed above. He just needs some more time to develop fully.

The point here is simple: The Cubs front office has done it again. They’ve built an impressive, productive bullpen with some unassuming players without breaking the bank. It is truly their speciality and something we can probably just stop worrying about each offseason. Plainly put, they’ve earned the benefit of the doubt on this front, at least.

Just check out some of these statistics and league-rankings across the board.

Cubs Bullpen Stats/Rankings

IP: 77.1 (10th)
ERA: 2.56 (5th)
WAR: 1.2 (2nd)

Walk Rate: 8.5% (8th)
Strikeout Rate: 
29.3% (1st)

Barrel Rate: 5.3% (4th)
Groundball Rate: 
49.2% (3rd)
Avg. Exit Velocity: 87.7 MPH (9th)

You like groups that cover a lot of innings? The Cubs got you covered. You like contact managers? They’re top of the class. You need whiffs? They’ve got the highest collective strikeout rate of any group in the league. Not a lot of free passes or elevated hits, either. And remember, these numbers are including the blown work last night, as well as 5.2 unproductive innings from Jesse Chavez (6.35 ERA, 12.5% strikeout rate), who’s now with the Braves.

Oh, and they’re also doing all of the above without Codi Heuer and Brad Wieck, both of whom projected to be key late-inning contributors before injuries held them out. And although this bullpen could be blown up at the trade deadline, the Cubs should still get Wieck back at some point this year, and with Alec Mills, Adbert Alzolay, Wade Miley, and potentially/eventually Caleb Kilian all expected in Chicago at some point this summer, even more quality arms could soon join the group. So while we can jump on the Cubs organization for all sorts of missteps and shortcomings, building a quality bullpen is not one of them.


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Author: Michael Cerami

Michael Cerami covers the Chicago Cubs, Bears, and Bulls at Bleacher Nation. You can find him on Twitter @Michael_Cerami