Cubs: Which Brandon Workman will team get in 2021?

(Photo by Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)
(Photo by Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images) /

The Chicago Cubs did not make too many moves to improve the relief corps, but one move in particular could have major implications at the back end of the bullpen.

Chicago signed right-hander Brandon Workman to a $1 million deal that can reach $3 million with incentives. Workman offers the Cubs a track record of success. But he is also coming off an implosion sort of season in 2020.

Which version of Brandon Workman will the Cubs be getting in 2021?

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Workman’s success is mostly defined by the ability to throw the curveball in almost any count. He does not have a ton of velocity, but uses the curve to get swings and misses while also setting up the hard stuff and fighting hitters inside with the cutter.

However, that curveball failed Workman in 2020. Opponents hit over .400 off the pitch, per Baseball Savant. Some of that could be due to the fact he averaged over a full tick less on the pitch than he did in 2020, in spite of some added vertical movement.

Interestingly, Workman struggled with command and hitting his spots even as far back as individual summer camps last July. It is no wonder, then, that more of his pitches found the strike zone in 2020, while the chase rate saw a seven percent decline. Neither of those are good signs for a pitcher who relies on craftiness and breaking stuff to generate whiffs and induce soft contact.

Workman was hardly the only pitcher to struggle after having their spring interrupted. Maybe a full camp and traditional ramp up period will help him settle in and get a gauge for his processes. If that’s the case and Workman more closely resembles his 2019 self, the Cubs could be getting a steal.

The former Red Sox reliever excelled in 2019. Workman had a 1.88 ERA and struck out 13.1 opponents per nine innings. He ranked in the 100th percentile in both expected slugging and barrel percentage, per Baseball Savant, also ranking in the 93rd percentile in whiff rate. He repeatedly peppered right-handed hitters with curveballs down and away while throwing front door breaking balls to lefties.

If the above represents the guy the Cubs see in 2021, the complexion of the bullpen is wholly different.

Workman could be a guy who eventually commands the ninth inning, which might loom large given Craig Kimbrel appeared far more comfortable getting the ball in the eighth than he did closing out games.

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Now, for as dominant as he was in 2019, Workman still blew six saves. He, too, might be better off as a setup guy. But if nothing else, Workman – much like left-hander Andrew Chafin – might offer the Cubs a guy who can miss bats late in games, which is tremendously valuable for a team whose bullpen is generally lacking in terms of quality depth.