What would you say….you do here?

In Commentary And Analysis by berselius64 Comments

While the Cubs position players have had a fantastic first half, returns have been less than great on the pitching front. With ~60% of the season in the books, Jon Lester leads the pitching staff with 1.0 fWAR. I’ll go into individual player recaps below, but one thing I’ve been wondering for a while is why there has been so little criticism of Cubs pitching coach Jim Hickey.

Chris Bosio was let go in part because of a sense that he had a tough time integrating new pitchers into the Cubs system (e.g. Justin Wilson). This year, new acquisition Tyler Chatwood has taken a giant step backward, and new-ish acquisition Jose Quintana has taken a regular step backwards from his 2017 Cubs  half season numbers, especially when it comes to his walk rate. Yu Darvish has been very successful in the past, but the team tinkered with his mechanics and pitch mix and saw him end up ineffective and injured.

As far as player who have been here a while, Kyle Hendricks is giving up a zillion home runs, and Jon Lester’s peripherals are not great. Some of these are easier to explain away than others (Lester getting older, injuries being injuries), but as a whole it’s hard not to come to the conclusion that the pitching staff has been a disappointment.

To be fair to Hickey, there have been successes on the margins. Unlike past years the Cubs AAA shuttle bullpen members have actually been pretty solid, and Anthony Bass in particular looks like a success story (though small sample sizes abound). But so far it’s hard to see a specific impact that Hickey has made to this pitching staff.

The rotation

Some of this I mentioned above, but eh.

Jon Lester is getting older and his strikeout rate is down considerably this year. However he has the fourth best ERA in the National League, mostly in part to a .253 BABIP. Just above him on that list is Max Scherzer, who has a nearly identical BABIP and strand rate, but I have a good feeling who is the better pitcher. Lester is getting a lot less soft contact this year (15.4%) compared to a rough average of his last few seasons (~21%). On the plus side Lester is pitching slightly deeper into ballgames this year, and is on pace for 190 or so innings. Not great when compared to innings eaters of old but not bad for a guy in his 30s in today’s quick hook game.

Jose Quintana has seen his walk rate nearly double from his time with the Cubs last year, and his strikeout rate is down. Whatever weird criticism existed over Darvish losing his cool in the middle innings seems to be glomming onto Q now, and it’s tough to tell what exactly is wrong. Like Lester he’s also been hit harder, and in his case it’s not like there’s any particular velocity drop or something similar to point to.  Sounds like a job for a pitching coach.

Kyle Hendricks has also seen his numbers slide this year, especially his home run rate. He’s struggled with some mechanical issues this year but his walk rate hasn’t suffered nearly as much as I would have expected. It’s right in line with what it was the last two seasons. His strikeout rate however is way down, and anecdotally I seem to remember hearing one of the color guys talk about how his curveball wasn’t working for him this year. I’m not sure if this is the same one that he added this spring, but it’s allowed hitters to sit on his Molina-esque fastball more than usual, which has led to fewer strikeouts and more homers.

The less that is said about Tyler Chatwood, the better. What a mess

Yu Darvish has morphed into the human form of the shrug emoji even before he left due to injury back in late May. He could be back soonish, but who knows what will be up with this triceps injury. His walk and home run rates took a big leap when he was able to pitch, and some of his pitch sequences seemed pretty bizarre in the early going. The Cubs are on the hook for another 1 or 5 years of Darvish, so hopefully he comes back strong.

Mike Montgomery has filled in admirably in Darvish’s stead. Despite the fact that he got the save in the Cubs first championship in over a century (people for get that), he might be the most forgettable Cubs pitcher of consequence since I started following the team on a daily basis over a decade ago.

Bullpen highlights

Brandon Morrow has been pretty solid, assuming he remembers how to put on/take off pants. The Cubs have tried to use him relatively sparingly given his injury history, which has been a little frustrating at times. Nevertheless he has still appeared in 35 games, which is maybe 10 more than I would have guessed. He has a 1.47 ERA and a 2.95 FIP and at least his DL stint was unrelated to the act of throwing a baseball.

Carl Edwards Jr. looked fan-freaking-tastic over the first two months of the season, though there was some worry that Joe might be over using him. When he went on the DL at the end of May, I thought there was a chance that it was just the Cubs gaming the 10 day DL to give him a little rest. Thanks, Dodgers, for making me doubt any vague injury report out there. Edwards ended up missing an entire month. He still issues a few more walks than one would like but he’s not Carlos Marmol out there, and when you have a 41% strikeout rate that goes a long way toward erasing those negatives.

Steve Cishek is the Shawn Camp Memorial MVP of the bullpen this year. He has appeared in 45 games with an ERA of 1.88, and he’s clearly the guy Joe trusts the most in the pen. It’s seemed like Joe has used him a lot, but there have been 70 relievers this year who have at least 40 appearances so maybe it’s not so out of line as it feels.

As far as the rest of the pen goes, Pedro Strop has appeared in 40 games and has been so quietly reliable that I almost forgot to write about him here. Justin Wilson‘s ERA has bounced back from last year’s dreadful numbers but somehow he’s walking batters at an even higher pace. His walk rate is still better than Brian Duensing‘s, who has been injured and/or awful all year. Randy Rosario doesn’t strike many batters out, but has a solid ERA and seems to have taken over from Duensing as Joe’s trusted lefty who can get you an inning or two in middle innings. Retreat Anthony Bass looked surprisingly good in fourteen appearances before going down with some sort of virus. The rest of the AAA taxi squad has mostly managed to not embarass themselves while getting their cups of coffee, save for maybe Dillon Maples.

Summary

The Cubs might go out and get some kind of mid range starter at the deadline (J.A. Happ?), but their best bet will probably be to hope that their starters bounce back/regress to their projections in the second half. They invested money in this pitching coach, and it sounds like it’s time for him to get to work.

 

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  1. Ryno

    It’s only 9 games, but second-round pick Cole Roederer is killing it in the AZL. He’s slashing .371/.488/.657 with 6 Ks against 8 BBs and probably needs to be moved up.

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  2. Rice Cube

    I’m gonna suggest that a systemic command issue in the pitchers is indicative of either…

    1. Every pitcher just sucks at command
    2. Willson is that bad at framing

    I don’t have the analytical skills to back this up but those are two hypotheses that should probably be tested.

    Also Bosio was probably let go not because he’s a bad coach but because he might potentially be a trash human being.

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  3. myles

    Zack Short is still my favorite story of the Cubs’ minor league season. He’s still raking in AA, and I’d like to see him get promoted to AAA before the year is up (sorry, Mike Freeman).

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  4. Ryno

    myles,

    Seems like every time I check, he went 1-4 with a 2B and a walk. He and Alex Lange are pretty much the only guys in the upper levels I follow.

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  5. Author
    berselius

    Rice Cube: Also Bosio was probably let go not because he’s a bad coach but because he might potentially be a trash human being.

    I’m not comfortable give the Cubs too much credit on that front. If anything, if Bosio did similar stuff to what allegedly got him fired from the Tigers and the Cubs knew about it, it reflects poorly on them for not mentioning it as part of their justification.

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  6. Perkins

    Rice Cube:
    I’m gonna suggest that a systemic command issue in the pitchers is indicative of either…

    1. Every pitcher just sucks at command
    2. Willson is that bad at framing

    I don’t have the analytical skills to back this up but those are two hypotheses that should probably be tested.

    Also Bosio was probably let go not because he’s a bad coach but because he might potentially be a trash human being.

    I’ve been kind of wondering if the Cubs had figured something out about Bosio and got ahead of letting him go before it blew up. They seem to stress high character as important to organizational fit, though obviously they have made exceptions in the name of winning (e.g., Aroldis Chapman).

    Also they should see if they can hire David Ross as a full time coach to help Willson learn how to frame pitches better. Or maybe even Miguel Montero, assuming there’s no more bad blood over the “blame Jake Arrieta for not being able to stop the running game” thing.

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  7. Ryno

    myles,

    It’s interesting to me what two years of Hand were worth to CLE compared to what a half year of Chapman was worth to CHC two years ago.

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  8. Ryno

    Josh Hader’s offensive tweets as a teenager created a media firestorm

    Was MLB’s response of sensitivity training without a suspension the right move? (by @jackdickey) https://t.co/cDCb5tvGpE

    — Sports Illustrated (@SInow) July 19, 2018

    Is this a real question? I know sports have antitrust exemptions, but it seems like Hader would have grounds for a lawsuit if he were suspended now (especially without pay) for conduct that is/was not illegal while he was a minor and not employed by MLB.

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  9. Ryno

    Today at the #Ravens first open practice, there was a play where Joe Flacco and Lamar Jackson both touched the ball. Crowd went NUTS. (The very next snap, Jackson and RGIII both touched the ball. Ravens are clearly going to be able to keep teams guessing.)

    — Aditi Kinkhabwala (@AKinkhabwala) July 19, 2018

    Seems like a REALLY bad idea, but it’s not my team, so ¯\_(ツ)_/¯.

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  10. Ryno

    Leonard Fournette @_fournette
    Treadmill fat ass 😭😭😭😭😭

    Ezekiel Elliott @EzekielElliott
    Birthday around the corner. What y’all getting me ?👀

    #burn

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  11. Ryno

    Cutcliffe: "People forget the punt is actually an offensive play. You average more on a punt than any other play."

    — Joe L. Hughes II (@JoeLHughesII) July 18, 2018

    The stressed syllable in the word offensive is VERY important to this tweet…

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  12. Ryno

    Bleacher Nation wonders what it would take to land deGrom and throws out this package: Russell or Happ, Montgomery and any two prospects the Mets want (imagine it being Alex Lange and Miguel Amaya).

    I’d trade Russell, Montgomery, Lange and Amaya for deGrom in a heartbeat. The Cubs have a 2-3 year window of being competitive, so go for it. If they were geared toward sustained excellence (like HOU, maybe), I’d hesitate to make the trade.

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  13. Rizzo the Rat

    Ryno: Is this a real question? I know sports have antitrust exemptions, but it seems like Hader would have grounds for a lawsuit if he were suspended now (especially without pay) for conduct that is/was not illegal while he was a minor and not employed by MLB.

    I also find it odd how the fans calling for a suspension tend to be the ones who consider themselves “pro-labor.”

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  14. Perkins

    They’d better hope for a long start out of Lester tomorrow or the bullpen will be pretty chewed up by Sunday.

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