Chicago Cubs: What does 2017 hold for Justin Grimm?

(Photo by Justin Berl/Getty Images)
(Photo by Justin Berl/Getty Images) /

The Chicago Cubs decided to tender right-hander Justin Grimm a contract, meaning he will remain a Cub in 2018

Justin Grimm was acquired in 2013 as part of the Matt Garza trade and the same deal that saw Carl Edwards get shipped to the North Side. After making the transition from the rotation to the bullpen following the 2013 season, Grimm thrived as a latter-inning reliever for the Chicago Cubs.

From 2014 to 2015, Grimm appeared in 135 games and recorded an excellent 3.03 ERA over 118 2/3 innings pitched. In that same span, Grimm allowed just eight home runs and struck out 10.4 batters per nine innings.

Coming off a dominant 2015 season in which he posted a 1.99 ERA over 49 2/3 innings pitched, Grimm was set up to be a crucial part of the Cubs’ bullpen in 2016.

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Despite his early success with the Cubs, Grimm struggled in 2016. In 68 appearances, Grimm amassed 52 2/3 innings pitched and posted a 4.10 ERA. Even though Grimm averaged 11.1 strikeouts per nine, he issued an average of eight hits per game. That drove his WHIP up from 1.148 in 2015 to 1.329 in 2016.

With a rough 2016 season behind him, Grimm looked to bounce-back in 2017. Despite that, things only got worse for the right-hander. In 50 appearances, Grimm amassed a lofty 5.53 ERA.

Along with that, Grimm averaged just 9.6 strikeouts per nine and issued 4.4 free passes per game. In addition to that, Grimm’s home run rate doubled from 2016, and his WHIP climbed to 1.337.

Due to his inability to get outs, Grimm was demoted multiple times and made ten appearances in Triple-A.

What went wrong for Grimm?

The 2014 season was the first season that Grimm pitched exclusively from the bullpen. He posted a sub-4.00 ERA and more importantly proved he could get left-handed batters out. In 85 at-bats against lefties, Grimm held them to a .188/.293/.235 slash line and allowed just one home run. In contrast, Grimm allowed right-handed batters to slash .250/.318/.366 with three home runs.

The 2015 season followed the same tape as Grimm held lefties to a .140 batting average. Grimm also struck out 25 left-handed batters in 57 at-bats. After posting two solid seasons against lefties, the wheels fell off for Grimm in 2016.

In 86 at-bats against southpaw batters in 2016, Grimm allowed a .267/.337/.395 slash line. Compare that to right-handed batters’ .209/.300/.339 slash line, and it’s easy to tell that Grimm lost his touch a bit in 2016.

Last season, Grimm narrowed the gap between left and right-handed batters. Still, lefties hit at a higher clip, but just eight points higher. What proved to be a big difference was the .475 slugging percentage Grimm allowed against lefties. That mark was 65 points higher than against right-handed batters.

In 2017, Grimm also had his struggles against right-handed batters. The 28-year-old Grimm issued 20 walks in 122 at-bats, pushing right-handed batters’ OBP to .340.

Grimm needs a bounce-back season in 2018

There is no doubt that Grimm is fighting for his life as a Chicago Cub in 2018. After falling from his 2015 grace over the last two years, his leash is getting short in Chicago.

At just 29 years of age, Grimm still has a lot left in the tank. With that being said, if Grimm does not cut down on his walks and get back to striking out guys like he was in 2015, he will be out of a job before the All-Star break.

In 2018, I could see Justin Grimm’s role staying what it has been for the last couple of seasons. In the previous four seasons, Grimm has finished ten or more games in each campaign while only recording four saves.

That means Grimm is pitching with a big lead, one that Joe Maddon feels Grimm can protect in the final innings. In addition to that, Grimm has found a role in going multiple innings to finish a game, so Joe does not have to burn multiple relievers. Thirteen times in 2017 Grimm recorded more than three outs, even pitching as much as 2 2/3 innings in one outing.

Next: Chicago Cubs: Making the case for free agent Lance Lynn in 2018

Yes, Grimm will have a role with the Cubs in 2018. How significant that role is will hinge on whether the offense can open up big leads, because, without a big lead, Grimm will not be in the game.