Chicago Cubs: Brad Wieck could be key bullpen arm in 2020

(Photo by Quinn Harris/Getty Images)
(Photo by Quinn Harris/Getty Images) /

Brad Wieck was a pleasant surprise out of the bullpen for the Chicago Cubs down the stretch in 2019. He could be a key contributor in 2020.

The Chicago Cubs‘ lack of moves this offseason could have the most impact on the bullpen, where four key arms from 2019 have departed via free agency. Somehow, new manager David Ross will have to replace the innings given by Steve Cishek, Pedro Strop, Brandon Kintzler, and David Phelps last year.

With no one brought in so far to replace them, it does provide an opportunity for some internal candidates to step up and take on a big role in 2020. One such pitcher is big left-hander Brad Wieck.

The 28-year-old Wieck came over from the San Diego Padres in a seemingly meaningless trade during the 2019 season, when the Cubs sent struggling right-hander Carl Edwards, Jr. the other way. Wieck gave up 18 earned runs in 24 2/3 innings with the Padres in the first part of 2019, but Joe Maddon gave Wieck a chance in September, and he took advantage, allowing just two earned runs in ten innings before giving up two without recording an out in his final appearance.

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Wieck had shown a brief flash of effectiveness in 2018, allowing just one run in seven innings of work in San Diego. While walks were still a bit of an issue with the Cubs in 2019, the hit rate was way down from his time in San Diego, while strikeouts were up to an astonishing 16.2 per nine innings.

Why was Wieck so much more effective in Chicago than in San Diego? One possible reason could be pitch selection. According to FanGraphs, Wieck used his slider a lot less and his curveball a lot more. Slider use in San Diego was 14.8 percent, down to 1.7 percent in Chicago; curveball use went from 5.3% in San Diego to 27.1 percent in Chicago. FanGraphs rates his curveball higher than his slider.

So what can we expect from Wieck in 2020? Coming into the season, as of right now, Kyle Ryan figures to be the main left-hander out of the bullpen. Yet with so much uncertainty, Wieck could step up and play a prominent role. After impressing in September last year, he figures to have the inside track on a bullpen spot, though given the relatively small sample size, he’ll likely have to earn it in spring training.

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It will be interesting to see what Brad Wieck can do for the Chicago Cubs in 2020. Was last year a fluke? Or has he really found it at this point of his career, and is he ready to contribute in big situations? We’ll have to find out when the season starts.