Chicago Cubs: Bargain buy Brian Duensing pays huge dividends

DENVER, CO - MAY 09: Pitcher Brian Duensing
DENVER, CO - MAY 09: Pitcher Brian Duensing /

Considered an afterthought at the time, LHP Brian Duensing has proven to be among the most consistent, and valuable, Chicago Cubs’ relievers.

One month removed from the Chicago Cubs World Series clincher, did you think the signing on Dec. 2 for reliever Brian Duensing would be of any considerable significance?

It’s okay if you didn’t.

Who, me?

Apparently, even Duensing himself couldn’t figure out what a team in the defending champion Cubs saw in him. According to Duensing who was on CubsTalk Podcast recently, he said “I asked my agent, ‘What are we missing? I don’t understand.'”

According to Joe Maddon, via CSN Chicago:

"“I know our scouts in the offseason felt really strongly about him. Coming into this season, that’s all I heard about. Our guys loved Brian Duensing.”"

Just like few expected Mike Montgomery would be the pitcher earning the save in Game 7 of a World Series, especially given their other flashier mid-season acquisition was the heralded Aroldis Chapman, likely few expected Duensing would be arguably the most consistent pitcher in the Cubs bullpen, alongside closer Wade Davis.

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Most probably thought Duensing would spend time in the minors or even be off the roster altogether.

Let alone holding down a valuable piece in the Cubs’ pennant-chase plans here in August.

For one year, $2 million, the 34-year-old veteran has been a bargain-buy delight.

In 51 appearances spanning 50 innings, Duensing has a 2.52 ERA, a 9.90 K/9 against a 1.80 BB/9. He spent most of 2016 in the minors for the Royals and Orioles, only making 14 appearances at the major league level for Baltimore.

He’s got the stuff

In 2017 and on the surface, Duensing has numbers comparable to the likes of Pedro Strop; he has nine fewer walks than Strop. Before the All-Star Break, Duensing had a 2.79 ERA in 35 appearances. In the second-half, his ERA is more than a full run better in half the appearances so far.

In those 16 appearances since the break he has a 1.59 ERA — only allowed two earned runs — and a .158 OPP BA. His OPP BA before the Break was .243.

FanGraphs illustrates the low to high leverage situations to help depict how pitchers do in certain situations. For low leverage situations, Duensing has faced 151 batters over 38.0 innings and has only allowed seven earned runs. Hitters are batting .210 against him.

In medium leverage, just 7 1/3 innings, hitters have hit .281 against him, and he has allowed four earned runs. In high leverage, 4 2/3 innings pitched, .250 BA. While these are relatively small samples, it’s a barometer to quantify the pressure a pitcher faces.

To contrast Strop:

23.1 Low leverage innings: .236 OPP BA.

16.0 Medium leverage innings: .132 BA.

8.1 High leverage innings: .188 BA.

Increased opportunity?

While Duensing has entered a game more often with no one on base (111 AB), he has had his share of moments with runners on.

With none on, he has allowed five earned runs, all home runs. When he has faced runners on base, nine runs have scored. Batters are hitting .165 in that situation versus .270 when he enters with none on.

When facing hitters with runners in scoring position batters are just .186 off him over 43 AB. Just .174 with runners in scoring position and two outs over 23 AB.

Duensing has struggled in the 7th inning as a whole (4.15 ERA, 13 IP). Against nearly the same amount of batters in 13 IP for the 8th (2.08 ERA). Strop’s 8th inning numbers look a tad ugly, yet his 3 ER allowed in yesterday’s game would contribute to that.

As of today, per FanGraphs, Duensing is second among Cubs relievers in WAR (0.8). Davis is first (0.9). Who would have guessed Duensing would be ranked this high on the NL leaderboards, or leading the bullpen in innings pitched at this juncture of the season?

Nice guys don’t finish last

What’s the underlying ingredient to Duensing’s success? Maybe it’s a bit of humble humility.

“We keep telling him his stuff is no good and he stinks,” said Davis.

And that’s just the way Duensing prefers it.

“He doesn’t want to hear none of it, which is good. That’s how you should think,” Davis went on to add.

Duensing has fit in well with the team, and Maddon has described him as quiet with a great personality. Duensing once referred to a time he was walking with Addison Russell. “Obviously, everybody’s yelling for Addy and then as you walk by, you hear, ‘Hey, who was that guy?’

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“Maybe I’ll start wearing my jersey out in public or something. I think I’m one of the most generic-looking human beings of all-time or something” said Duensing on CubsTalk Podcast.

Even though Duensing might not be the flashiest guy, none of that matters to him. All he cares about is getting guys out.