The Chicago Cubs are proving it takes more that the guys you break camp with to get through the grind of a season. The team’s reliever merry-go-round continues to impress.
Competitive Major League teams need arms that don’t cost $20 million annually. We’re talking about innings eaters and prospects getting a cup of coffee at the big league level throughout the season. For the Chicago Cubs, it’s become an integral success of the team early in 2018.
Inevitably, Triple-A pitching depth will be called upon to fill in for an injured and struggling pitchers. Someone from a team’s Triple-A pitching depth might get called up to be a fresh arm after the bullpen has been used heavily for multiple games in a row. Sometimes, one of these pitchers is called up to make an emergency start or be the extra man on the roster for a doubleheader.
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Often managers of competitive teams try avoid using these pitchers in meaningful innings. After all, these are the pitchers that weren’t good enough to originally make the 25 man roster.
For most of last season, the Cubs had only two pitchers bounce back and forth between the Cubs bullpen and triple-A Iowa. Felix Pena pitched 34 1/3 innings with a 5.24 ERA. Dylan Floro pitched 9 2/3 innings and had a 6.52 ERA. I wouldn’t say that either one of them pitched very well.
2017 – quality was lacking
The Cubs called up three prospect toward the end of the season. Rob Zastryzny missed most of last season due to injuries. But he did pitch 13 innings with a 8.31 ERA. Dillon Maples pitched 5 1/3 innings with a 10.13 ERA. Jen-Ho Tseng made a six-inning start in which he gave up five runs for a 7.50 ERA. I wouldn’t categorize any of those performances as successful in total.
As if that isn’t bad enough Seth Frankoff had a 9.00 ERA in two innings and Jack Leathersich had a 27.00 ERA in less than an inning. Pierce Johnson and Zac Rosscup both had 0.00 ERA, but they pitched less than two innings total.
The best contribution by a pitcher who was called up from Triple-A last season was without a doubt Eddie Butler. Butler made 11 starts and two relief appearances totaling 54 2/3 innings pitched and a 3.95 ERA. The positive signs he showed last season are part of the reason Butler beat out Justin Grimm to earn a spot on the Opening Day roster this season.
So, for the most part Joe Maddon needed to manage around the Cubs Triple-A pitching depth last season.