The Cubs Bullpen Has Collected Some Truly Weird Stats So Far (in Both Directions)

Social Navigation

The Cubs Bullpen Has Collected Some Truly Weird Stats So Far (in Both Directions)

Chicago Cubs

This is not one of those posts that’s going to make any grand pronouncements about the potential future success/failure of the Chicago Cubs bullpen. We’re far too early in the season for anything like that, and that goes double for April, when David Ross and the Cubs are still trying to sort out roles and usage. But I was perusing the tables of FanGraphs this morning, when a handful of numbers caught my eye.

I found these collective Cubs bullpen stats interesting — and frankly extreme in both directions — so I thought you would, too.

For one, the Cubs’ bullpen has thrown the second fewest innings in baseball to start the year (28.2). That’s lowest in the National League and ahead of only the Twins (27.2 IP). That’s not particularly crazy because of the rain out, but I just wanted to set the stage for this next fact: The Cubs bullpen currently has the third highest fWAR (0.7) in MLB, behind only the Pirates (1.0, 34.0 IP) and Yankees (0.8 36.0 IP), who’ve each seen a lot more action already. More than just one more game’s worth, at least.

Now, fWAR is not necessarily a great stat for evaluating relief pitchers, let alone this early in the season. And frankly, I don’t like it much even in a statistically significant sample (fWAR uses FIP as a foundation, which I don’t think properly weighs the contact side of the game (Kyle Hendricks was always beating his FIP, for example)). But still, the numbers led me somewhere strange as I dug down.

The Cubs’ bullpen is leading all of MLB with a 2.63 FIP thanks in large part to their 30.6% strikeout rate (1st in the NL and 2nd in MLB) and their 0.31 HR/9, which ranks 3rd in the NL and 5th in MLB. Anyone who’s been watching knows the walks have been out of control (10.7%, 8th worst in MLB), but the Ks and lack of long balls are apparently making up for it. And yet … the Cubs bullpen has a god-awful 5.02 ERA (9th worst) to show for it!

So to recap the silliness before digging further:

Technically “Great”

  • 0.7 fWAR (3rd in MLB)
  • 2.63 FIP (1st in MLB)
  • 30.6 K% (2nd in MLB)
  • 0.31 HR/9 (5th in MLB)

Technically “Awful”

  • 10.7 BB% (23rd in MLB)
  • 5.02 ERA (22nd in MLB)

So what about the underlying performance beyond walks and strikeouts? Well, it’s more of the same. Which is to say, there are some great numbers and some that look just downright awful. All of it is just so weird to me (and confirms the small sample-ness of it).

The Cubs are just middle of the pack in terms of groundball rate (45.1%, 16th), but they’re top-10 in launch angle (9.2 degrees, 9th) and they’re downright elite in terms of exit velocity: 86.4 MPH, 3rd best in baseball. Unfortunately, those numbers are misleading! While the Cubs clearly do generate some weak contact and are generally able to keep the ball down, their opponents have been finding times to barrel the relievers up in between: 9.9% barrel rate, 8th worst in MLB!

What the heck. That is such a weird and uneven performance.

And it’s not even like one or two pitchers are skewing all of these numbers. Everyone has weird stuff going on. For just a couple examples:

  • Michael Fulmer, who has looked dominant, has yet to give up a run, has struck out 50% of the batters he’s faced, and has an excellent xERA (1.06) and FIP (0.10) … but he also has a 16.7% barrel rate and 23.5 degree launch angle, both of which are quite bad.
  • Javier Assad, meanwhile, has 12.46 ERA and a .316 batting average against … despite allowing an average exit velocity of just 83.7 MPH with a 5.8 degree launch angle, both of which are quite excellent.

Obviously, a lot of this nonsense is just the effect of statistical variance in small samples, but it was just all too weird not to bring up. And the takeaway here is pretty simple: ignore the results of these relievers right now and focus on how they look. That’s sometimes tough to do, but that’s what you get when you load up on a bullpen full of relievers without much of a track record on which to base your analysis, and you have just a small handful of games to look at thus far. Weirdness!

Author: Michael Cerami

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