Chicago Cubs: Carl Edwards is starting to show fatigue

CHICAGO, IL - JULY 21: Carl Edwards Jr.
CHICAGO, IL - JULY 21: Carl Edwards Jr. /

 For the Chicago Cubs’ Carl Edwards, two things seem to be working against him. He’s at a new high in innings pitched each time out, and he’s walking batters at a high rate. Are all the innings and pitches catching up to him?

There’s no doubt that Chicago Cubs‘ reliever Carl Edwards went from a trusted set-up man to a danger to put in almost over night. Is it simply the number of innings that he’s pitched? Not necessarily, as he once was a starter throwing 116 1/3 innings in 2013. But that was several years ago in A-ball and the competition was slightly different back then. It’s possible that Edwards is starting to wear down a bit, and it has more to do with the situations than the innings.

As recently as June 7, Edwards was cruising along with a 0.79 ERA. The “string bean slinger” had become one of Joe Maddon‘s best weapons out of the bullpen, especially with the struggles of Pedro Strop and Hector Rondon at the time. Now, walks have been the knock on the Cubs’ bullpen all year, not just in Edwards case. But we’ve slowly seen it get worse for him, and now there’s a concern that maybe the innings are catching up with him. I think it goes deeper than just the innings, but the high-leverage situations he’s been put into.

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His 44 2/3 innings are his top mark since coming to the big leagues. He threw 36 last season, and since coming to the Cubs he’s averaged around 40 innings/year, give or take in the minors. So take that into account, and then add the fact that he’s coming into higher leverage situations, and Edwards might simply be out of gas.

High leverage wearing him down?

In 2016, in his 36 games pitched, Edwards entered into a high-leverage situation just 10 times. For the aLI (average leverage index), a 1.5 is considered high, 0.7 to 1.5 is medium, and 0.7 and under is considered low. This year he’s entered into a game 23 times with a high-leverage index. And last season he had an aLI of .950. This season? 1.284. His appearances are coming in tough spots, and it may be starting to show.

Another issue is the walks. While his K/rate is at a career-high at 12.6, his BB/rate is up from 3.8 to 4.9 this season. He’s walked 47 this season and has seen a 3-0 count 12 times. That’s seven more than he saw all of last year. He’s falling behind, and things aren’t ending up in his favor in recent weeks.

Pitch after pitch

In all, Edwards has thrown 798 pitches this year. That’s up from 623 in ’16. Every pitch he throws is one on top of a career high. So is it possible that Edwards is starting to “break down”? It’s a question that won’t have a direct answer and one that Edwards will most definitely tell you no, he isn’t.

Next: Walks have been a thorn in side of Cubs' pen

Most fans don’t think much about relievers. That’s apparent by how they say “send him down”, or “DFA this guys” when they struggle. That’s not how this works. A starter comes into a game at the beginning, gives up a few runs and then might settle down. Two runs over six innings? That’s a good start. But if a reliever comes in and gives up just one, he’s terrible. The expectation for a reliever to be perfect is simply silly. But when he starts to pitch poorly more often than he pitches well? Then you have to start asking the tough questions.

Edwards has been one of the key pitchers in this bullpen, but the cracks may be starting to show with him. Will easier appearances–similar to how Rondon was used in low leverage–be the best thing for him? Or will he just need some rest? Time will tell, but the Cubs don’t have a lot of it to use.