Chicago Cubs 2023 Season Preview: Pitcher Keegan Thompson

Milwaukee Brewers v Chicago Cubs
Milwaukee Brewers v Chicago Cubs / Michael Reaves/GettyImages
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Another Chicago Cubs season preview is on tap here. This time, it's Keegan Thompson and what we can expect from the 27-year-old right-hander, and we look ahead to the 2023 campaign. In 2022, Thompson recorded a 3.76 ERA in 115.0 innings of work. His production slowed in the 2nd half, as his ERA fell to 3.74 with a worrisome 5.96 FIP. In September and October, his walk rate climbed dramatically to 14.6%, and he ultimately wound up on the IL due to back tightness. His total number of innings more than doubled from 21 to '22, so you wonder if those back issues arose from a significant increase in workload. Nevertheless, looks take a look at his 2023 projections:

2023 Fangraphs ZiPS projections: 6-7, 4.22 ERA, 103 IP, 96 Ks

Baseball-Reference 2023 projections: 7-5, 3.67 ERA, 103 IP, 98 Ks

Per usual, both sites see a difference in ERA, but they at least agree on innings pitched and strikeouts this time. Given that David Ross has recently stated that Keegan is not in the running for the 5th starting rotation spot and prefers him to a long-relief role where he shined last year, around 100 innings is a perfect projection.

A lot meets the eye when looking, and everything Thompson brought to the table last season. Before we touch on his pitches individually, the most eye-opening split was his home vs. away stats. At Wrigley Field, Thompson owed a stellar 2.82 ERA, with a line allowed of .230/.305/.354 in 70.1 innings. Conversely, he registered an underwhelming 5.24 ERA with a .253/.342/.494 line allowed in 44.2 frames. That number will have to improve, as his road splits prevented him from having a top-tier ERA in 2022. Let's now take a look at his pitched individually from a season ago:

  • Fastball (46.91%) .253/.352/.468, .282 BABIP, .170 ISO
  • Cutter (21.30%) .280/.357/.410, .317 BAPIP, .130 ISO
  • Curveball (17.41) .216/.266/.443, .255 BABIP, .227 ISO
  • Sinker (5.22%) .222/.364/.278 , .235 BABIP, .056 ISO
  • Changeup (4.74%) .158/.158/.158, .200 BABIP, .000 ISO
  • Slider (4.42) .100/.143/.100, .286 BABIP, .000 ISO

Chicago Cubs: What can we expect from Thompson in 2023?

So, upon further review, his worst was his cutter, which also happened to be his second-most utilized pitch. I expect the usage there to go down unless he can get a better feel and command it better. If Thompson is going to be featured out of the bullpen this season exclusively, he may be better off eliminating certain pitches from his arsenal altogether. A three-pitch mix, for example, can be more effective if you have a feel for all three, and it's still enough to keep hitters guessing if you continue changing the utilization rates.

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Given that he had a 4.83 ERA as a starter and a 1.47 ERA as a reliever, it's no surprise that David Ross is electing to use Thompson in a bulk-relief role. He will play a vital role for the Cubs in 2023 as someone who can step in if a starter gets roughed up on any given day. He still has two minor league options left, but unless something drastic happens, consider him as someone who is a lock for the opening-day roster.