Chicago Cubs: Ryan Tepera may be the bullpen’s hidden gem

(Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
(Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images) /

New Chicago Cubs signee Ryan Tepera showed he still had it on Monday against the White Sox

If you watched either of the two Chicago Cubs exhibition matches on Sunday and Monday, you probably didn’t come out with a good taste in your mouth. The team left very much to be desired as the offense fell back into its 2019 ways against, struggling against “superstar” like Ross Detwiler, all while ace Yu Darvish completely imploded early in Monday’s matchup.

Still, these matches don’t matter, aren’t entirely indicative of how the season will play out, and, despite appearances, weren’t all bad. If your name is righty reliever Ryan Tepera, you’re one of the few players that could come out of the exhibition sweep from the Sox with something good to say.

In his lone appearance Monday, Tepera baffled the South Side with slider after slider, a pitch that, as Bleacher Nation notes, was not as commonly used by the righthander when he was with Toronto.

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Tepera typically relied on his sinker (37.1% last year) and cutter (32.6%) while rarely using his slider (4.7%). This is somewhat odd considering that his slider, despite a smaller sample size, was by far his best pitch in both 2019 and 2018, with an xwOBA of .015 and .085, respectively.

Going even farther back, Tepera’s slider never had an xBA over .200 in his entire career, meaning that it’s possible he simply just needed someone to tell him to utilize it more.

Tepera was never a bad pitcher in Toronto, but he wasn’t outstanding either, posting a career ERA+ at 120 and a WHIP at 1.156. However, last year he suffered from a right elbow injury, substantially cutting down his innings, leaving him to struggle to a 4.98 ERA and a significantly lower strikeout rate from a year prior. This puts him in the same boat as former Brewers reliever Jeremy Jeffress who may also be primed for a bounceback.

To me, this seems like another case of the Cubs pitch lab once again improving on a low-cost signing of an arm on the rebound. If Tepera’s slider is as good as the numbers indicate (and as his exhibition performance showed), he could quickly become a late-inning weapon out of the bullpen with a big-time swing-and-miss pitch. This will be sorely needed if Kimbrel’s struggles continue into this season and David Ross needs outs.

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Though the Cubs haven’t made any big signings, don’t be surprised if some of the minor guys step up when it matters. Tepera is just one of the team’s many budget signings that could work out in the end. Given the 60 game sprint and the competitiveness of the central, the team needs as many breaks as it can get to win the division this year.