Cubs: Rex Brothers has rediscovered the Fountain of Youth

(Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
(Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images) /

Ask Cubs southpaw Rex Brothers about his beard, and he’ll probably tell you it possesses magical powers. Maybe that is a bit of a ridiculous notion. However, it seems to be a driving force behind the start to the lefty’s season as he has found a new level of his old self. After all, baseball is full of mysticism, so why not?

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Joking aside, the resurgence of the former first-round pick has been a welcomed boon to the Cubs, who entered the weekend with a top ten bullpen collectively and lead the pack in strikeouts and fall behind only the San Francisco Giants in hard contact rate with a 26 percent rate. Brothers have contributed in many ways as one of this season’s unicorns in the game as he is finding a new wind.

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Brothers was a force to be reckoned from the minute his feet touched a major league mound with the Colorado Rockies. He somehow navigated the chaos of Coors to put together some strong years in the purple pinstripes. Through Brothers’ first three years in the league, the lefty notched a 2.82 ERA with a 3.27 xFIP and a 29.1 percent strikeout rate.

The Cubs originally acquired Brothers back in 2015 from the Rockies before his release a year later. After struggling with the Braves and a few years away, Brothers returned on a minor league contract, and the changes have been staggering.

Prior to allowing a run in Saturday’s extra-inning loss, Brothers had worked to a 2.77 ERA with an xERA of 2.80, a 2.41 FIP, and a 2.99 xFIP — all superb numbers and one of the most surprising beginnings for any player this year. The left-hander had also been striking batters out at a 42.6 percent clip and has a walk rate north of ten percent for the first time in his career.

Per Baseball Savant, the premier source for all Statcast-related numbers, Brothers entered the weekend with a 96th-percentile whiff rate and a 98th-percentile strikeout rate. Additionally, his percentile rankings in xSLG, xwOBA, xERA, and xBA all ranked in the top 15 percent.

Opposing hitters have also struggled mightily in striking the iron hot in the proverbial sense with barrel rate. Last year bats found the barrel at a rate of 25 percent. This season that number has improved dramatically at just an 8.7 percent rate.

Of the many improvements from Brothers, the change in his fastball has been one of significance. Last year the opposition annihilated it to the tune of a .469 average and an xSLG of 1.168. This year those numbers have decreased to a .231 average and .490 xSLG. If the slugging percentage was a bit more modest, things might be different. A significant accomplishment, however, to improve so largely.

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Since rejoining the Cubs, Brothers has held a 44.9 percent strikeout rate and has held opponents to a .172 average, and apropos to expectation, has been an above-average arm. The first two months have been a positive script and will hopefully continue to trend in the right direction for the veteran hurler.