The Chicago Cubs hardly had the most active offseason in terms of free-agent spending, but they have hit on a few one-year deals.
Unfortunately, the likes of Jake Arrieta and (before his appendectomy) Trevor Williams have struggled for the Cubs at a vital area of need. Still, Jed Hoyer and Co. deserve credit for hitting on some of their other deals.
Fans might not remember two key members of the bullpen both took cheap, one-year deals to return to the Windy City.
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Left-hander Andrew Chafin re-upped with the Cubs on a one-year, $2.75 million deal (with an option in 2022) after Chicago acquired him from the Arizona Diamondbacks at last year’s trade deadline. Chicago also re-signed Ryan Tepera for one year and just $800,000 after the fiery right-hander impressed during his brief stint with the club in 2020. Those moves are among the best one-year deals any team handed out this past season.
Chicago Cubs: Andrew Chafin and Ryan Tepera have been two of the most valuable relievers in baseball in 2021
No, that’s not an overreaction.
Cubs closer Craig Kimbrel has been about as dominant as any reliever in the game and ranked second in the majors in fWAR heading into Wednesday’s action. Tepera and Chafin are not all that far behind, though.
Tepera ranks 14th with 1.0 fWAR, which is actually the same value as Cincinnati Reds standout Tejay Antone and just 0.1 WAR behind Chicago White Sox closer Liam Hendriks.
Tepera had a phenomenal 20.1 consecutive scoreless innings before giving up a run during Tuesday’s win over the Cleveland Indians. Opponents hit just .045 against him between May 12 and June 20, and he also struck out over 38 percent of batters faced. That’s just phenomenal and speaks to Tepera’s sheer ability as a power arm.
Chafin’s advanced numbers are not quite as dominant. He has been worth 0.7 fWAR and a 3.83 xFIP thus far. Yet, the left-hander has been every bit as effective and important as Tepera.
The mustachioed Chafin has a 1.72 ERA and 0.83 WHIP in his first 33 appearances. The strikeouts per nine innings are down from 11.6 in 2019 to 8.3 this season.
However, Chafin has made up for a lack of swing-and-miss by consistently inducing soft contact. He ranks above the 90th percentile in average exit velocity hard-hit rate and xSLG and is in the 95th percentile in xERA.
The most important element, for both guys, is how each has performed in leveraged situations. Chafin is holding opponents to a sub-.500 OPS in high leverage and .388 OPS in situations deemed “Late and Close.” Tepera has been even better, holding opponents to a sub-.200 OPS in high leverage and dominating with two outs and runners in scoring position.
Chicago’s bullpen has been a major story in the team’s success this season. Chafin’s and Tepera’s successes have been enormously impactful in holding that unit together.