Sunday, August 14, 2022

Saving The Day: Cubs Bullpen Off To Strong Start


As baseball’s first month soon enters the rear-view mirror, the Chicago Cubs find themselves in a bit of a swoon, losing seven of their last nine games, with a daunting schedule still on tap that features the Milwaukee Brewers, Chicago White Sox, and Los Angeles Dodgers.

In the season’s first few weeks, the Cubs’ offense has been one of baseball’s biggest surprises. The Cubs continue to sit atop the leaderboard in team batting average with a .260 mark, on-base percentage (.344), and are second in OPS (On-base Plus Slugging percentage) with a .747 mark.

Another nice surprise that most people are not talking about is the bullpen so far.

Nearly 20 games into the 2022 season, the Cubs’ bullpen ERA sits at 2.79, fifth-best in all of baseball. They are second in baseball with 94 strikeouts from their bullpen arms and have allowed only 27 walks, seventh-fewest among all Major League bullpens. They have the fourth-best groundball percentage rate (48.8%) as well, helping to keep their opponents’ hits in the ballpark.

Per, two of the Cubs’ best performers, according to WAR (Wins Above Replacement), have been pitchers out of the bullpen. Keegan Thompson (1.2 WAR) leads the team, while closer David Robertson (0.7 WAR) is No. 6.

Keegan Thompson has been incredible in 2022

The versatile 27-year-old has made five appearances so far as a long reliever or “piggy-back” option after a starter gets pulled early and has dominated. His 16.2 innings pitched have yielded just one earned run, which translates to a 0.54 ERA, and Thompson has allowed only nine hits. He’s struck out 17 batters, issuing five walks along the way.

Thompson showed similar promise in 2021 as a reliever with a 2.43 ERA in 37 innings as a Cubs reliever. Thompson may wind up as a starter one day, but Manager David Ross must enjoy the comfort of having him available as the swing-man, or 6th starter option.

Robertson strong in the early going

Robertson, 37, is a perfect 4-for-4 in save situations so far and has yet to allow an earned run so far in 8.2 innings. He’s been close to unhittable, in fact, with just one base hit allowed. His 11:4 strikeout-to-walk ratio also looks solid.

In Robertson, a former All-Star and one of the game’s best relievers from 2011-2018, the Cubs may have their answer for who will close the door in the 9th inning.

Other arms show promise

Other standouts in the early going for the Cubs’ bullpen are Scott Effross (2.00 ERA in nine games), Mychal Givens (3.52 ERA in eight games), Chris Martin (3.86 ERA in eight games), and Rowan Wick (1.35 ERA in seven games).

The group above is striking out batters at impressive rates, with all of them averaging better than a strikeout-per-nine innings. Effross (11.0 K/9), Givens (15.3 K/9), Martin (12.9 K/9), and Wick (12.2 K/9) are joined by Thompson (9.2 K/9) and Robertson (11.4 K/9) to form the strikeout-heavy Cubs bullpen that fans have enjoyed so far. The Cubs’ overall 10.49 bullpen K/9 is the fourth-best of all 30 teams in baseball.

While it is still a small sample size in the big picture of a 162-game season, this was a group that had more questions than answers in early March, as the team began to make preparations for the year ahead. They have performed well, especially given the fact that the Cubs starting pitchers have not been pitching deep into games. Cubs’ starters have thrown just 83.1 innings so far (4.3 innings per start), the seventh-fewest in all of baseball.

Hopefully, the team can begin to get more length out of its starters as the weather warms up and their arms get stretched out more. In the meantime though, the bullpen is willing (and able) to get the job done and keep the Cubs in close games.

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