It was a fantastic year. After nearly winning it all the year before they won the World Series. No, not the 2016 Chicago Cubs. The 2015 Kansas City Royals.
So what does that have to do with the Cubs now? The Royals’ bullpen ate up a whopping 539 1/3 innings. If they held a lead going into the seventh inning, you lost. They had a three-headed monster in Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis, and closer Greg Holland.
Chicago Cubs: 2021 Bullpen is piling up innings, great stats
Meanwhile those same Royals labored with a very mediocre rotation. 24th worst ERA in MLB, 26th in total innings. Their best starter was 36 year old Chris Young with a 3.06 ERA and 1.086 WHIP. But he barely pitched over 120 innings and by 2018 was out of baseball.
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All Cubs starters to date have thrown 380 2/3 innings, out of 690 innings played though June 25. That means so far the Cubs bullpen has picked up 309 1/3 innings.
At that rate less than half way into the season the Cubs bullpen will accumulate well over 600 total innings by the end of the season. That’s 70 more innings than the vaunted 2015 Royals bullpen.
Chicago Cubs: Now, to be sure this is the trend in baseball
In 2015 the average team relief appearances was 504. By 2019 it was 552. League average innings pitched in relief in 2015? 509 innings. By 2019 it was 636 innings.
Where does the Cubs bullpen rank right now? The Cubs rank second in number of relief appearances in 2021 and in the top five in relief innings pitched. They lead all of MLB in ERA, LOB percentage, and are second in K/9.
The Cubs have their own three headed monster in Ryan Tapera, Andrew Chafin, and super closer Craig Kimbrel. Is there stress? Yes. Are they performing? Absolutely. The ultimate question though is can they keep it up?
Dillon Maples and Justin Steele are due back soon and that will help lighten the load. However they are in another long stretch of 17games with just one off-day before the All-Star break provides relief to the whole team. Friday night’s game might have been bump in the road. Let’s hope it wasn’t a wall.