While the season ended sooner than we would have liked, it did indeed end. So now there’s nothing left but to hand out report cards for the players of each team. We’re continuing this series today with Cubs bullpen.
Jason Adam (13G, 13.2 IP, 3.29 ERA, 0 SV)
In both the Garden of Eden and alphabetical listing of 2020 Cubs relief pitchers, we begin with Adam. The Cubs were his third team in three years, and he added a slider into his pitch mix for this season, and it was a decent one – he had a 13.83 K/9 this season. However, his 1.24 WHIP was bolstered by his averaging 5.27 walks every nine. One thing you’re going to read a lot here is, he was bad early, then got better. He allowed an earned run in each of his first three outings before going nine straight with none allowed. And in the year of small sample size, his putrid outing to end the season (1.1 IP, 2ER, 3BB) kind of skew his overall numbers – it tacked more than a full run onto his ERA. Barring a trade, he’s a guy who can get some low-leverage work out of the Cubs’ pen next season.
Rex Brothers (3G, 3.1 IP, 8.10 ERA, 0 SV)
Brothers signed with the Cubs after recovering from Tommy John surgery as a low-risk/high upside project. His first outing was ugly but effective, as he pitched a scoreless inning against Milwaukee, despite throwing 8 strikes out of 18 pitches. He then got rocked against the Reds 4 days later, prompting a trip to South Bend to sort things out. He had one final outing with the big club, striking out the side on September 19 against the Twins and showing better control. He looks like he can get a gig next year as a middle inning guy. The question will be, will it be here or elsewhere?
Andrew Chafin (4G, 3.0 IP, 3.00 ERA, 1 SV)
After a rough start to the season in Arizona, the Cubs picked him up at the trade deadline, despite his being on the Injured List. His second outing for the Cubs he gave up a home run and took the loss. He was solid in his other three games. While his crumb catcher is certainly Swansonian, nothing about anything he’s done on the mound will make it either a huge win if he stays or a tragedy if he leaves.
Matt Dermody (1G, 1.0 IP, 0.00, ERA 0 SV)
I dunno, man. He pitched one inning in one game, and I completely forgot he existed until now. Good on him for getting to the Show again, I guess.
Jeremy Jeffress (22G, 23.1 IP, 1.54 ERA, 8 SV)
Jeffress’ numbers looked consistently good all year, and David Ross depended on him to the point that he led the team in relief appearances and saves. He managed to get bailed out twice by the Cubs’ anemic offense, as two of his four blown saves on the year turned into wins. He had an ugly outing in game 1 of the Wild Card series, but overall was the Cubs’ most reliable guy out of the pen.
Craig Kimbrel (18G, 15.1 IP, 5.28 ERA, 2 SV)
(cracks knuckles) OK, here we go. Whatever happened in South Bend with Kimbrel should be bottled and shared with every pitcher in the Cubs’ organization. After four rocky outings to start the year that looked like every rocky outing he had last year, the Craig Kimbrel Experience was looking like a complete bust. Then, suddenly…he got good. In the 14 appearances that followed his trip to South Bend, where his mechanics on his breaking ball got fixed, he had exactly one where he allowed any earned runs. More impressively, no baseballs left the yard. His breaking ball once again became a swing-and-miss pitch, and he picked up almost one full mile per hour on his fastball. It looks like the Cubs will enter next year with a real live, honest to Gord closer.
Brailyn Marquez (1G, 0.2 IP, 67.50 ERA, 0SV)
He appeared in the last game of the season, after much clamoring (including a plug from Dakota Mekkes on the “From The Compound” podcast) from everyone wanted to see what the kid could do. And as it’s been said, the devil doesn’t appear with horns and a cape, he appears as wishes come true. Marquez was a hot mess, as you’d expect a guy who has never faced bitters in games at a level higher than A ball. Still, we caught a glimpse of what lies ahead – an effortless fastball topping 99, and action on the breaking ball. He’s on the 40 man roster now, which means he’ll get to see big league hitters in spring training. He probably won’t get onto a big league mound again until 2022, but for one inning in a disappointing season we got a quick glimpse into the future.
Dillon Maples (2G, 1.0 IP, 18.00 ERA, 0SV)
In the early going of this short season, the Cubs were playing the Royals, and Kansas City reliever Josh Staumont came out to face the Cubs. As Staumont was striking out the side on high 90s heat and nasty breaking stuff, Jim Deshaies said almost wistfully, “This is what Dillon Maples could be if he threw strikes”. And that’s been the rub throughout Maples’ career. His stuff isn’t electric, it’s nuclear. But his last outing of the year, and most likely as a Cub (he’s now out of options), he allowed three runs (two earned) on one hit and four walks without getting anybody out. He spent all of August and September in South Bend, and wasn’t able to figure it out at all before the season ended.
Tyson Miller (2G, 5.0 IP, 5.40 ERA, 0SV)
Miller has been a starter throughout his career, and he had one start this year in a bullpen game. I don’t think that was the intent, but after two innings where he walked three and gave up a home run, he looked a little out of his depth. His next time out he went three innings at the back end of a bullpen game in a doubleheader, and looked a lot more together. He’ll start next year in Iowa in their rotation.
James Norwood (3G, 1.2 IP, 16.20 ERA, 0SV)
Norwood always looks like a guy who can become a formidable bullpen guy. He throws hard and strikes guys out. But his problem has been control, and he starts taking something off his fastball to get it over, and his career hard hit rate of 36.1% shows it. Like Maples, he’s out of options.
Josh Osich (4G, 2.2 IP, 10.13 ERA, 0SV)
Josh Osich pitched in four games for the Cubs. He won’t pitch in any more.
Colin Rea (9G, 14.0 IP, 5.79 ERA, 0SV)
Colin Rea’s numbers got a little skewed from two starts in bullpen games where David Ross left him in a little too long. After his last start he was sent to South Bend where he spent the remainder of the season. Next year he can be a middle-of-the game innings eater.
Kyle Ryan (18G, 15.2 IP, 5.17 ERA, 1SV)
When Kyle Ryan was good this year, he was good. When he was bad, things got downright grisly. Up until this season he was able to find success as a LOOGY, but with the three batter rule he now has to get more than one out. He basically lives and dies with his power sinker (If you listen to A-Rod call games, every pitch that drops is a “power sinker”, but in Ryan’s case it happens to be one), and if the sinker isn’t a swing and miss pitch, he’s forced to come in with his very hittable fastball. Overall though? Not a bad guy for the 6th or 7th inning.
Casey Sadler (10G, 9.1 IP, 5.79 ERA, 0SV)
Did you forget about Casey Sadler’s Cubs tenure? Casey probably prefers that you did. One reason the Cubs’ bullpen turned from a liability to a strength this season was the team’s willingness to cut bait with guys like Sadler (who caught on with the Mariners and had equally lackluster results), and upgrade accordingly.
Ryan Tepera (21G, 20.2 IP, 3.92 ERA, 0SV)
Tepera came to the Cubs after several years of okayness in Toronto. He continued that okayness with the Cubs, basically being the first guy out of the pen after the starter was done. He had three holds against one blown save, and had a 13.9K/9 rate, which is pretty damn solid. Hopefully the Cubs can convince him to stick around.
Duane Underwood Jr. (17G, 20.2 IP, 5.66 ERA, 0SV)
If you asked me at gunpoint how many games Duane Underwood Jr. appeared in this year, my last words would have been, “about ten?” He was the guy Ross would go to when the Cubs were trailing and he didn’t want to use any of his regular guys – the Cubs were 6-11 in games where he took the ball. He actually managed to put together an 8 game run of scoreless appearances before it all went kablooey at the end of the year.
Rowan Wick (19G, 17.1 IP, 3.12 ERA, 4SV)
Wick picked up where his 2019 left off, being a guy that could be counted on to take the ball in any situation and generally not have it bite you on the ass. He had two rough goes in a row, one in the series in Wrigley where Jose Abreu hit a thousand home runs, then after that in Detroit, he gave up a couple runs but didn’t blow the lead, so he got a Hold. If Jeffress doesn’t return next season, he can slide into the setup/occasional closer role.
Brad Wieck (1G, 1.0IP, 18.00 ERA, 0SV)
Man, it sucked to be Brad Wieck this year. He missed a large part of spring training due to a heart issue that was repaired with surgery. Then when things got going again, he wound up injured again – this time his hamstring. Hopefully he comes back in the spring and is able to do the things he was doing at the end of 2019 with that curveball of his.
Dan Winkler (18G, 18.1 IP, 2.95 ERA, 0 SV)
Every time our favorite Lovin’ Spoonful bassist came in to pitch, I thought, “Not Winkler – he sucks!” He never really passed the eye test, but he never had an outing where he really got rocked – although, a 2.95 ERA looks a lot less gaudy next to a 5.32 FIP. Still, he gets results.
As previously stated, the Cubs’ bullpen was looking like a liability early in the season, and by the end of the season it was a real strength for the Cubs – largely due to the transformation of Kimbrel back to being the Hall of Famer that he had been in years gone by. The pitching staff as a whole was the reason they won the division, and certainly not the reason the postseason lasted the minimum amount of games.