Even when Brandon Morrow returns in late April or early May, Pedro Strop should be the team’s closer if the Chicago Cubs want this pen to be a strength.
If you don’t like Pedro Strop because of how he wears his hat, stop reading right now. No, really, I’m only interested in engaging with Chicago Cubs fans who form at least semi-informed opinions and disliking a guy for how he wears his hat is anything but.
Since joining the Cubs in the same trade that netted future Cy Young winner Jake Arrieta, the fiery right-hander has been arguably the most reliable reliever in team history. Over the last five-plus years, Strop carries a 2.63 ERA across 361 appearances. He’s never posted an earned run average higher than 2.91 in a Cubs uniform. And he’s coming off another incredible showing last season.
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No matter what Joe Maddon asked of Strop last year, he delivered. He eclipsed the 60-appearance threshold for the fifth consecutive campaign, turning in a 0.989 WHIP and 190 ERA+. While some indicators, namely FIP, weren’t quite as high on his body of work, Strop kept opponents off the board in big spots – which, at the end of the day, is what really matters.
And when Cubs closer Brandon Morrow went down halfway through the season, it was Strop who stepped into that ninth-inning role and notched a career-high 13 saves. And after he popped his hammy hitting for himself in an utterly inexcusable move by Maddon? He somehow came back to pitch in the NL Wild Card game, pitching through the injury while recording some big-time outs in the extra-inning affair.
Talk about stepping up when your team needs you most.
That same gritty, do-whatever-it-takes mentality is why Strop deserves the shot to be the Cubs’ closer this season. And I’m not talking about on an interim basis while Morrow works his way back from offseason elbow surgery.
Two years ago, Morrow proved how effective he can be in a fireman-type role. He made 45 appearances, his most since 2008, pitching to a 2.06 ERA, 1.55 FIP and 10.3 K/9 for the Dodgers, playing a critical role in their capturing the National League pennant. His performance netted him his current deal with the Cubs, presumably as their closer.
Don’t get me wrong. When Morrow was healthy, he was lights-out for Chicago last season. He notched 22 saves and dispatched opponents in the ninth with relative ease on a pretty regular basis. But he missed the entire second half – and betting on his health heading into 2019 seems like a pretty big, and ultimately unnecessary, gamble.
It’s time to give Pedro Strop his due – and give him the big job. In doing so, you can split the workload in the seventh and eighth innings between Steve Cishek, Carl Edwards and Brandon Morrow, allowing Maddon to let the latter rest when needed and have a go-to option on a day-in, day-out basis come the ninth inning.