Baseball

We’re rounding out the White Sox 2020 previews with the bullpen…in the middle of a global pandemic!

The Sox pen was a middle of the league unit in 2019, with some very solid returns on a few previously relative unknowns (Aaron Bummer(at least to the national stage), Evan Marshall), a stinker from at least one big signing (Kelvin Herrera) and a tale of two halves from the incumbent closer Alex Colome. Along the way we also got acclimated with storylines about Jimmy Cordero‘s guns and the Ballads of Carson Fulmer and Jace Fry.

So what should/could be expected from a 2020 bullpen that saw very little turnover, a single addition in Steve Cishek, new paper for few of the higher leverage fellas…and a potential 80 game season/29 or 30 man roster? TO THE MOUNTAIN TOP!

2019 Stats

536 appearances over 574 innings

24-21 W-L 33/49 Save/Opp 73 Holds

4.33 ERA  4.69 FIP

8.48 K/9   4.25 BB/9  1.40 WHIP

48.1% GB-rate  73.0 LOB%  15.3% HR/FB

96 ERA-  2.7 WAR

Last Week on Nitro: Bummer rode his nasty sinker to a very respectable 1.7 WAR, on par with the top RP in the league. If he had a K/9 over 11 instead of under 8 he’d probably have added another .5-1 WAR and been discussed as an elite RP, easily usurping Colome on his way to a nice raise and term. He settled for simply obtaining a new 5-year, $16M extension and I have to believe he’s fine with it. Marshall wasn’t quite as electric or outstanding on the eye test, but he was used in bigger and bigger spots as the season wore on and earned his spot in the 2020 discussion. Colome was a force in the first half saving 20 games before the ASB, albeit with some alarming underlying stats that would catch up to him for a much more average 10 save second half.

2019 was not all sunshine and rainbows for the relief corps on the South Side. Fry had a great SO rate of over 11/9IP, but couldn’t keep the ball in the yard enough (22% HR/FB). Herrera and Fulmer were flat out bad, with the former posting a 1.40 HR/9 rate and the latter just atrocious in every facet…yet again. Juan Minaya was fine? Jose Ruiz was solid? Really everyone needs to thank Bummer for buoying the RPs GB rate as no one else broke 60% (Bummer was nearly 73%).

TOO SWEET (WHOOP! WHOOP!): Things are different now than they were a month ago. This post would have hit in late March, and the best case scenario would have involved a four-headed monster closing out White Sox wins with Colome/Bummer/Herrera/Cishek operating as the go to bridge/closer committee and Marshall coming in to keep the other fresh. Fulmer/Cordero/Fry…and Minaya or Ruiz or Ian Hamilton or any number of solid minor league arms would have made up the remaining four spots, in what would be seen as how many contending, successful teams run a bullpen:an innings eater or two and then best arm up with a short leash for awfulness. But what does this look like in our new world post-virus…

The same four make up the go-to options for Rick Renteria to close out games, but the roster behind them is one with a lot more strength. All of the sudden he’s going to have Carlos Rodon and Gio Gonzalez as options, and likely an 11th RP option in the event that rosters expand to near 3o for a shortened season, and especially if we see 7 inning double headers as part of this season. Bummer/Colome are a nasty tandem depending on how the handedness of batters shake out in the 8th/9th, and Cishek, Herrera and Co. build the bridge without issue on most days. Rodon and Gonzalez become serious game changers for the shortened outings/double headers and the White Sox pen is as formidable as any in the AL despite the lack of a true strikeout RP.

YOU FUCKED UP! YOU FUCKED UP!: The shortened season could work against the bullpen just as easily, seeing a plethora of options for Ricky to go to but none with enough trust or ability to translate leads into wins. Bummer sees a slight regression, but so does Colome. Herrera does not bounce back in year two, Fulmer/Fry/Ruiz/Cordero stall in place and Gio and Rodon translate terribly to shorter outings. An arm or two from the minors show out, maybe 1-2 of Zack Burdi, Tyler Johnson, Matt Foster or Codi Heuer to be precise, but that’s the silver lining in a frustrating, disjointed campaign out of mostly underperforming pen.

Colome hits FA on a sour note, Bummer makes people (stupidly) question his extension and the 2020 offseason becomes a quest to fix the relief problem. The biggest talking point out of the pen remains Jimmy Cordero’s arms vs. his jersey sleeves.

BAH GAWD, THAT’S (THE BULLPEN)’S MUSIC: The 2020 season will be a success if it’s simply played at this point, IMHO. The White Sox 2020 bullpen will be a success if the BIG FOUR can be passable to above average on a nightly basis, Rodon comes back firing in small sample sizes and at least one of the bottom four/minor league four turn in a 0.1 WAR or above season.

IF we have baseball in 2020, pitching is going to be paramount to success. There will be a ton of variables and I think many can agree that pitching is going to be harder to re-ramp up and succeed at than hitting. A solid Sox pen could be the real difference to a positive springboard off a short season into the 2021 and beyond contention era.

Baseball

There’s such a defeated feeling when talking about on-field matters with the Cubs. They don’t seem too interested in making the actual play on the field all that inspiring, so why should we feel all that inspired about it. Cubs Insider’s Evan Altman kind of nails it here, where the Cubs haven’t chosen any path this or last offseason and hence it’s hard to get excited about a team that’s sitting in the middle of the sidewalk like a tired and whiny toddler.

But you know, it’s better than talking about what size tomato I’d throw at Tom Ricketts these days, so I’m going to try again before we actually get to spring training, which is very close. I’ve gone over how the lineup could actually be good, even really good, if Ian Happ can be more what his numbers look like after his last week of the season than just being what he was before that last week. It’s not a great idea to have an entire team’s offensive fortunes hinge on a barely third-year player, but this is where we are.

The rotation…should at least be solid. Everyone hates Jose Quintana, which makes me empathize with him because hey, been there, but he’s a solid piece at worst. Darvish and Hendricks are good, if not better than that, and Lester is at least going to take the ball and sweat. But even with his contact-rates against starting to turn ugly, it’s hard to believe the Lester will go through another season with a .347 BABIP against. He should be, basically, fine, especially as a #4 starter.

So the Cubs have a hole at #5. And I’m fairly sure what they’re going to do is the very easy, uncreative, stuff Tyler Chatwood there and pray he doesn’t walk a marching band to first. But it doesn’t have to be this way, especially with teams most likely carrying 13 pitchers for the whole season with the rosters going to 26 now.

The Cubs should use that fifth day as an “opener” day, because it keeps some pitchers as available the rest of the schedule which the Cubs will need. I’m looking at the model for this, which is Tampa. Granted. Tampa has to use an opener and be creative in their usage because they might actually not be able to afford a whole rotation whereas the Cubs simply won’t afford one. But hey, again, here we are.

So last year, the Rays used Ryan Yarbrough, Yonny Chirinos, Jalen Beeks, as multi-use and multi-inning weapons out of the pen. The first two has more than 10 starts, and sometimes were just used as starters but sometimes just once through the lineup. Basically, what we’re looking for is two or three guys who can throw 100 innings, both from the bell and out of the pen. And the Cubs have these guys.

I’ve bleated on about Chatwood, and the only way the Cubs could keep Adbert Alzolay healthy is to use him for no more than 100 innings. But using him as a simple one-inning guy also seems a waste. Duane Underwood Jr. is another candidate, as he threw 100 innings combined last year between Iowa and the Cubs, though he very well might be the definition of a “4A” guy. Alec Mills or one or two other punters the Cubs trot out in Mesa/out of their system might find success merely burning through a lineup once.

It would also be how you sequence this. Lester is unlikely to pile up six and seven-inning starts, so you might want to slot him between Darvish and Hendricks for the season (if you assume that Darvish is going to gobble up the innings, which you shouldn’t). That way your multi-inning pieces can get a couple days between Lester’s start and that fifth slot that is nebulous at this point. But they have enough to get through that fifth spot by just throwing shit to the wall.

The whole roster is going to need creative use to maximize what it is even to just get to July 31st and force the front office into some decisions. Heyward can’t play against lefties, but then really Schwarber shouldn’t either (though you can get away with it), so who the fuck is gonna play the outfield then? When do you use Bote? What happens if Hoerner isn’t ready? Now my head is spinning.

One of the (few) disappointments with Joe Maddon was that he was pretty straight-laced when it came to managing a pitching staff. Starters, then set-up guys, then closer. Sure, he didn’t have a problem shuffling the lineup and rotating guys in and out, and that’s cool. But it would kind of suck if the Cubs punted Maddon aside only to bring in Ross to be as boring, especially when they clearly have a hole they need to cover up.

Here’s hoping.

Baseball

I finally wrap up our Cubs season review, perfectly timed with snow on the ground and the World Series now over and waking up every day from here until March thinking, “Today is the day the Cubs are going to do something stupid, isn’t it?” Anyway, I didn’t feel like giving everyone in the pen or bench a full write-up, so let’s just speed through them and get on with our lives, shall we?

Craig Kimbrel – Jesus God. It was a desperation move, and it played out exactly like one as Kimbrel couldn’t overcome the delayed start to his season, and then the rush job to the Majors. He was bad, he was hurt, and then he was bad. His velocity was down a full two MPH from 2017, the last time he was some galactic creature batters couldn’t handle. He was good in ’18 but the walks had crept up, and that didn’t stop in 2019 either. Perhaps with a full spring training and a clean bill of health, Kimbrel can recover a portion of the lost velocity. He’s never going to be CRAIG GODDAMN KIMBREL again, but there’s little reason to think he can’t be a good to very good reliever. David Ross might want to think about talking to him about moving into something other than a strict closer role so the whole pen can be fluid, but I won’t hop on one foot waiting for that to happen.

Kyle Ryan – Pleasant surprise, of course after I declared he was a new suckbag. Hard to know if he can be counted on again, because he’s the type of reliever that just turns into discarded hygiene products for no reason other than he’s just a reliever. Gets a ton of grounders. Worth taking another look at.

Steve Cishek – Thanks for everything, but remember when you leave your right arm is probably staying here.

Brandon Kintzler – Returned to being the solid reliever he’s been most of his career. Probably worth a one-year deal if he’s willing, but also used earlier in the game and not counted on as a prime set-up guy. Gets lefties out, so hopefully Ross isn’t afraid of using him that way like Maddon was if he’s still here.

Tyler Chatwood – I have this dream where Chatwood and Alzolay are used as multi-inning weapons once or twice a week each, maybe more. That shields the rest of the pen, takes some pressure off the starters, and lets Chatwood come out and blow 97-98 MPH past guys like he was later in the year. It’s probably what he’s best at. The reality is he very well might have a chance at the fifth spot in the rotation. It’s hard not to notice the near 4-to-1 K/BB ratio in the last two months when he became accustomed to the role. It might not be what he wants, but he is good at it.

Rowan Wick – The Pitching Lab’s first success? Probably could have been slotted into a prominent role much quicker than he was. Strikeouts faded laster in the year as he was used more and more, which is a concern. Still gets a ton of grounders. Has a job to lose come Arizona.

David Phelps – Get the fuck outta here with this.

Derek Holland – Great entrance song. Everything else sucked.

Brad Wieck – See, this is really how you’re supposed to find relievers. You find something in a pitcher that his current team doesn’t, or that can be changed or harnessed, you pick him up for nothing and get him firing upon arrival. This big lummox isn’t there yet, but there were signs of hope and is definitely worth another spin. Struck out nearly 17 hitters per nine innings as a Cub.

Dillon Maples – It’s just never going to happen, is it? There is an absolute monster in there somewhere, but it’s buried in fastballs that hit the screen or the mascot. Might be time to wave the white flag on this one.

Duane Underwood Jr. – Yeah sure, let’s see more.

Clearly there need to be upgrades here. You can’t go into next season with questions hanging over Kimbrel and unknowns like the Fabulous Wick-er Boys and some kids. I would say two solid vets, not too expensive, is the prescription here. We’ll get into our shopping list next week.

Baseball

Game 1 Box Score: Phillies 5, Cubs 4

Game 2 Box Score: Cubs 3, Phillies 2

Game 3 Box Score: Cubs 8, Phillies 4

Game 4 Box Score: Phillies 9, Cubs 7

The Cubs should have won on Monday, but didn’t. The Phillies should have won on Tuesday, but didn’t. And each scored over eight runs in their other wins, so a split is just about right. In the words of Gennaro Gattuso, “Sometimes maybe good, sometimes maybe shit.” And considering these are two of the three first-place teams in the NL, splitting seems about right that way as well. And because everyone else in the NL East is intent on doing a damn fine Mets impression, or is the Mets, you get the feeling the Cubs and Phils might do this more than a few times more before the boxes are packed. Let’s clean it all up.

The Two Obs

-The big story of the series is the bullpen, and I suppose that’s only right. Darvish was a touch unlucky to give up three runs over six, and I thought Brad Brach was a touch unlucky to give up a run in the ninth. Segura fists one over the head of Rizzo, and that seemed to be the theme for the rest of the series. The Cubs seemed to get their fair share of BABIP Kung Fu treachery all series. Kintzler got a grounder from McCutchen in the second game, it just happened to find a hole. Happened again today too.

Still, the pen gave up runs in all four games, though the last two it was asked to go for five full innings. Chatwood took all of them yesterday, so two runs over five innings is fine for one pitcher. For some reason it’s not fine for multiple, and I thought Not John Wick was Kung Fu Treachery’d as well today for one of the runs.

We all know that the return of Pedro Strop isn’t going to fix anything, especially because he won’t be used anywhere but the 9th. Moves will have to be made. So let’s not harp on it.

-While we’re on the pen, Carl Edwards needs to drop the slide-step. He’s not Pedro Strop, who can control it. He struck out the side today, so it seems odd to nitpick. But his velocity drops when he uses it, which he was with no one on base today for some reason. He also loses most of his pitches high to arm-side because his arm can’t catch up. For someone who has such trouble repeating his delivery, just have him worry about one.

-Lester’s last two starts comprise 8.1 innings and nine runs, 17 hits. There’s going to be market corrections like this, because Lester is giving up an obscene amount of hard contact. 41% to be exact. He’s been able to raise his Ks and lower his walks, and up his grounders, but he’s going to have to find a way to limit the loud noises he’s surrendering. It was thunderous today. A quarter of the contact today was line-drives, half in the air, and with the wind blowing out that’s a problem.

-The Cubs have been through a dicey turn of the rotation, and they went 3-3. Hendricks was iffy on Sunday, with Lester iffy the day before that. Darvish and Quintana were good, but Hamels and Lester were not. You’ll take breaking even when you didn’t break even on good starts.

-The War Bear has four hits in his last two games, eight in his last seven, and has been on base 11 times in that stretch. Nothing definitive yet, but the start of something?

-Almora took the plaudits last night, as he should, but when he came up with the bases loaded today you kind of knew it had to be a soft grounder. Even in this upturn in May, he’s still nearly at 60% grounders. You can’t find success that way.

-Javy sure made it look easy, didn’t he? If he’d got backspin instead of topspin on that ball in the 8th today, the Cubs probably tie it.

Onwards…

 

Baseball

As I watched the Cubs bullpen fritter away another lead last night, the second game in a row they’ve done so even if it came on a collection of bleeders and excuse-me’s, I have to admit I get the fans’ angst. I might not be there with them, but I can’t tell them they’re wrong. And you know how I love telling people they’re wrong, especially when I’m from the same side. The bullpen this year is perhaps the biggest spot of neglect the Theo Epstein regime has infected the team with since they slammed back into relevance in 2015.

And it of course comes back to this winter. They kept telling us they didn’t have the money for Harper or Machado, and you didn’t have to squint all that hard to see the arguments about why signings like that didn’t make sense for the Cubs. I may not agree with that assessment, but I can understand the argument. However, fixing a bullpen is far cheaper, and for the Cubs to turn their pockets out at the thought of adding the cheapest part of a baseball team was as bewildering as it was infuriating.

And yet, as the winter dragged along and the Cubs made nary a move outside Brad Brach and casting a net to find whatever various flotsam would fall into it, there wasn’t a peep out of the Cubs front office. For a team as savvy with the media (at least on baseball matters) as the Cubs are, surely there would be a leak somewhere or a nudge that Theo and Jed were as surprised with the budget closing as we were. They talked of major changes in the wreckage of a two-day slump last October, and then nothing. Surely if things had changed between then and when the markets opened up, someone somewhere would know. And yet nothing. No whispers of fidgeting anywhere.

That doesn’t mean to cast the front office as perfect. Far from it. No matter their plans, they were counting on Brandon Morrow, which was a poor choice. Perhaps they couldn’t have predicted that Carl Edwards would run farther from competence than toward it, given his age, but he wasn’t in a position to be counted on either. You can’t account for Pedro Strop getting hurt…except he has the last three seasons. While this front office has had its problems identifying and collecting pitching, this seemed an egregious error. It is not like them to stock a complete component of a team with hunches and wildcards. And yet, here we are.

Which I guess perhaps lends credence to this story from Patrick Mooney about the Cubs and Marquee. Now, no one is going to buy this hook, line, and sinker, and nor should they. There are still more than enough variables to fuck it all up, like if no one actually picks up Marquee which Crane Kenney seems so sure of. And anything Crane is sure of you best bet you should take with a whole shaker of salt.

Still, perhaps the lack of any itching or antsy-ness from the front office over the limitations this winter stems from knowing it was a one-year deal? That they would simply have to grit their teeth through this winter knowing with the money coming off the books in the form of Hamels and Zobrist, combined with greater income would turn next winter around? Perhaps they knew with the room they’ve left for midseason acquisitions they’ll be fine? We’re essentially talking about two arms here. And if Kimbrel is going to wait until after the draft to drop the compensation, a prorated salary for half a season is probably only $5 or $6M, no? Half of a Ken Giles will cost $2M. Alex Colome a little over that. I guess I shouldn’t worry.

I don’t want to be that guy who blindly trusts what he’s being told, especially by the uber rich. Still, the complete lack of agitation in the front office, apparently, makes me think something is afoot. And the Cubs being on top of the division only buys them more time. But the answers need to be relatively soon.

Baseball

It only ended up being a two-game series, as Game Of Thrones marketing has gone completely overboard and unhinged and decided to promote tonight’s season premiere with THUNDERSNOW. It was a series that saw Mike Trout stay home, Trevor Cahill not take the bump, and yet the Cubs only got one win. It doesn’t quite feel like enough, as two wins were certainly on offer. Let’s run through it.

The Two Obs

-No point in moving any farther along without addressing the bullpen, once again. The Cubs will have a streak soon, or they will need one to get back comfortably over .500. And yet it feels like to do that, they’ll have to overcome a “bullpen game,” or two, like they almost did yesterday.

I’m something of a hypocrite, which you knew by now. I’m a proponent of not really breaking the bank for relievers, because the scenery is layered with palookas and punters who throw 95 and show up for 45 pitches per week. You can find them anywhere. You’re supposed to be able to produce them relatively easily, because your system is littered with hard-throwers who can’t find a third pitch or the stamina to be starters. The Cubs so far have produced only Carl Edwards Jr. and his mind full of spiders, but that’s another talk for another time.

But it’s still galling the relievers the Cubs have tried to move forward with on the cheap. Brad Brach has been declining for three years. Randy Rosario was terrible last year, and pretty much just given a job this year even though there’s no discernible stuff. Tim Collins is the name the EA generator gives to some player that’s too far in the future in franchise mode to be real. At least he appears to have stuff, somewhat, unlike Rosario.

These aren’t guys the Cubs thought they saw something to unlock that other teams didn’t. Pitchers that if they leaned on a pitch or hadn’t before or a tweak to a motion to get more movement or velocity. They’re seat-fillers. Rosario is especially galling, because he didn’t strike anyone out or get grounders last year and yet here we are still trying to make fetch happen.

There’s not much Joe can do, because these are the guys he has to go to.

-Hendricks’s slow start continues. He couldn’t find his fastball at all, and when he has to throw only change-ups that pitch isn’t as effective as it’s not playing off anything. He also hasn’t mixed in his curve at all which he said he wanted to do, but that just might be a good thing. Nothing to see here, yet.

-On the opposite side, Cole Hamels put on his second-straight strong start, never in trouble after the Cubs gave him three runs in the firs. His velocity wasn’t where it was last year, but with a good mix of changes and curves and cutters, and dotting that fastball, it doesn’t matter.

-Fuck off forever, Pujols.

-Contreras carried them on Friday, but he had a woeful AB in the ninth yesterday. With a base open and your run not mattering at all, you have to know you’re not getting anything in the zone. Especially as the Angels had been going to sliders out of the zone on him all day with Stratton. Know time and place and all that.

-Schwarber can’t catch a break, but he also looks as lost as he has in his career. He was just fighting off fastballs yesterday, and still ahead of the breaking stuff. In the end, it only amounts to a bad week, and now a new one.

Onwards…