Fans left a wet Wrigley Field on Saturday dejected after the Cubs squandered a late 4-0 lead and lost in extras, 7-6. While the loss was a punch in the gut, we cannot forget about the impressive outing from Justin Steele. The 26-year-old lefty struck out nine batters and surrendered zero runs on one hit and two walks in five innings of work.
On the season, Steele now has the lowest ERA (3.82) and FIP (2.73) among starters who have started at least five games and leads the pitching staff in strikeouts (38). He has been on a nice run lately and he looks to continue to grow.
Cubs: Let’s take a closer look at Justin Steele’s success in the month of May
Steele entered May with a 5.50 ERA and 1.9 WHIP in 18 innings pitched. While he was missing bats with 16 strikeouts, he was giving up a lot of hits and walks. It’s also worth noting that in April he only made it through five innings one time. In three of his five April starts, he failed to make it past the third.
In three May starts so far, Steele sports a 1.80 ERA, 1.36 FIP, 0.87 WHIP, 22 strikeouts (13.2 K/9) and six walks in 15 innings. Opponents are hitting .135/.220/.173 against him with a 15 OPS+ this month. Compare that to April when hitters were slashing .307/.391/.387 against him with 11 walks and a 132 OPS+. Huge difference.
His start last week in Arizona was the first time he completed six innings. His pitch count was in decent shape to probably go one more on Saturday, but David Ross opted not to. Either way, Steele has taken a step forward, and we can hope he will continue to grow and progress. This season he is using his slider more (11.5 percent more compared to 2021), which is currently his highest value pitch per FanGraphs. Commanding that pitch and getting swings and misses is key to his success.
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Steele could be proving that he is indeed a starting-caliber pitcher in the Cubs’ long-term plans. It is important to not brush him off too early and let him see how he works this year with nothing to lose. This is his opportunity to start 20+ games for the first time in his career at the MLB level.