Don’t look now, but the Chicago Cubs might have a serious Pedro Strop problem on their hands.
One game does not a season make. But several games? Well, that’s a different story. Pedro Strop – the longest-tenured member of the Chicago Cubs bullpen and by most measures, one of the most successful relievers in team history – hasn’t been anywhere near the guy we’ve seen to this point.
Let me be clear – I’m not just talking about coughing up a go-ahead, game-winning blast to former Cubs prospect Eloy Jimenez on Tuesday night. Strop simply hasn’t been reliable and with Brandon Morrow sidelined for who knows how long, it’s been a major issue for Joe Maddon this year.
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On the heels of Tuesday’s loss, Strop carries a 5.52 ERA and equally unsavory 5.08 FIP across 18 appearances. That’s a far cry from his career 2.76 ERA in a Cubs uniform – and you can largely chalk it up to two big issues: the long ball and walks.
His home run rate has tripled year-over-year – with Jimenez’s blast just the latest example. Last year, in 59 2/3 innings of work, Strop allowed just four home runs. This year, in just 14 2/3 frames – let’s call it one-quarter the body of work of last season – he’s already allowed three – putting him on pace to obliterate his previous career-worst mark of five.
As far as walks, Strop is allowing free passes at a rate he hasn’t seen since 2012 – when he was still teammates with Jake Arrieta on the Baltimore Orioles.
Those two things obviously jump out when you look at what’s gone wrong for the 34-year-old this season. Given the fact he’s in his last year of team control, he may very well be working his way out of the team’s good graces long-term if his struggles continue. But it’s too early to write him off – but definitely time to dig in and see what’s changed for Strop.
For years, Strop has relied almost exclusively on his fastball/slider combination. When he can hit his spots with both pitches, he’s near-unhittable. But this year, he’s down a full MPH on his fastball from 2018 (95.4 to 94.4 MPH) – and down dramatically from 2017, when he averaged 96.1 MPH on his heater. Both his medium and hard-hit rates have sharply increased, as well.
According to Fangraphs, his swinging strike rate is down – due largely to the fact that hitters aren’t swinging at pitches outside the zone, which is where he’s made his living – getting guys to hack at sliders off the plate.
With his velocity down and fewer guys chasing his breaking stuff, Strop will have to quickly figure things out. In his mid-30s, we could be looking at a new reality for the right-hander. But with the Cubs in a heated battle for the National League Central and eyes set on October, everyone at Clark and Addison are hoping this is a mere blemish on the resume of their longtime fireman.