Cubs have a new late-inning shutdown arm in young Brandon Hughes

(Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
(Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images) /

Easily the most shocking move of the trade deadline for the Chicago Cubs was the surprise trade of elite setup man Scott Effross. In the heat of the moment, it was a bit of a shock to the system seeing the team’s emerging young sidearmer dealt with so many years of control left. That deal has certainly looked more understandable with time and perspective, but more importantly, someone has risen to take up his mantle – Brandon Hughes.

Hughes came up earlier this year with a stellar performance that went under the radar thanks to Christopher Morel’s home run in his first career big league plate appearance. His debut made history as he struck out five of the first six batters he faced. Since then, he’s remained one of the team’s most reliable relievers with a 3.19 ERA and 1.036 WHIP.

Since July though, Hughes has taken his game to another level. I hadn’t realized how quietly good he’d been until a graphic popped up during a broadcast – a 1.62 ERA to go with an eye-popping 0.78 WHIP from July onward. That’s elite production for the young lefty, even more impressive considering he originally came up as a fill-in. Although Rowan Wick is currently serving as the team’s closer, it’s possible Hughes could get some chances to shut the door through the rest of the season.

The Cubs have their possible new setup man in Brandon Hughes

Long-term though, it would make plenty of sense to run him as the setup man. He’s shown the ability to get through multiple innings and, although his stuff isn’t the best with a low to mid-90s fastball, he’s deployed it very effectively so far. Statcast percentiles, for the most part, have Hughes as one of the better relievers in the league. A 93rd percentile whiff rate shows how he’s been able to miss bats which, coupled with a high rate of weak contact adds to the confidence in his performance.

Expected stats like Hughes too as he holds a .202 xBA and a .334 xSLG. In those regards, he even outperforms Effross, even if he gives up a few too many barrels. Though he’s mostly been a two-pitch reliever, both have been effective too with his fastball being especially nasty at a .192 xBA. With Hughes only 26 and having just been brought up, there’s plenty of time for him to keep building on his performance and his pitch mix too.

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Hughes doesn’t really have the ultra-effective stuff to fit into a closer role, but as a setup man in a similar vein to Effross, he does a great job at limiting hard contact and getting whiffs across multiple innings. It’s another testament to how the Cubs can simply produce relievers, turning an outfielder with seemingly no role in the organization into a useful arm with the potential to get even better.