Chicago Cubs’ bullpen has been a mixed bag early on


Apr 4, 2014; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Cubs relief pitcher

Wesley Wright

(53) delivers a pitch during the seventh inning against the Philadelphia Phillies at Wrigley Field. Mandatory Credit: Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports

Despite the fact that Chicago Cubs starting pitchers have turned in a quality start 56 percent of the time this season (right on par with the league average), the team enters the series finale against the White Sox a season-worst 10 games below .500, losers of four straight.

The starting pitching has, by and large, been solid for first-year skipper Ricky Renteria, but his relief corps has been anything but reliable and consistent, converting just half of its save opportunities and struggling with control issues that have put the team on the wrong end of several close contests.

One may suggest that relievers have simply been used unfairly – perhaps in too many high-pressure situations. Well, according to the aLI sabermetric measure, which details the amount of pressure pitchers face in their appearances, Cubs relievers have avoided too many intense situations, with an aLI of 1.048, just above the league average of 1.00.

Matchups are something that Renteria has already become well-known for amongst Cubs fans, both with hitters and pitchers. So, in theory, both should enjoy more success in those given matchups. Unfortunately, that has not been the case.

Two Chicago relievers – injured former closer Jose Veras and utility pitcher Carlos Villanueva – have allowed opponents to hit over .300, with Veras allowing hitters to come in at that mark exactly, while Villanueva has been hammered to the tune of a batting average of .387.

It’s not so much the hits that have been breaking the backs of Cubs pitchers as it has been the walks and other control issues.

The club, as a whole, ranks in the top half of Major League Baseball in terms of base-on-balls allowed, but three pitchers – Villanueva, Justin Grimm and Pedro Strop – come in well above the league average OBP of .310. Hitters have posted a .405 OBP against Villanueva, a .365 mark against Grimm and a .345 clip against Strop.

Keeping these struggles in mind, there have also been some bright spots of late in the form of first-year Cub Wesley Wright and newly-annointed closer Hector Rondon.

Wright has appeared in a dozen ballgames for Chicago this season, posting a 1.64 ERA and a 6.00 SO/BB ratio – with a dozen punch outs and just a pair of walks. Rondon has appeared in 15 contests, pitching to the tune of a 1.69 ERA with three saves and a 10.1 SO/9 ratio – a promising sign in a still-limited sample size.

The injury bug has been a major issue for this team’s relief corps all season long, with Strop, Veras, Kyuji Fujikawa and James McDonald all currently on the disabled list. This has opened opportunities for the club’s young arms – the only question now is whether or not this group can realize its potential and help the Cubs claw their way back to .500.