Opening Day was a great sign for Mark Leiter Jr and the Chicago Cubs bullpen

Mark Leiter Jr had a great start to the 2024 season.

Pittsburgh Pirates v Chicago Cubs
Pittsburgh Pirates v Chicago Cubs / Michael Reaves/GettyImages

Mark Leiter Jr came into Thursday night's game for the Chicago Cubs and retired all five batters he faced, striking out three. We saw him work the splitter well, which he has utilized over the years to generate whiffs and soft contact. While he does not throw high velocity, he was able to generate a 10.8 K/9 in 64.1 innings last year and was in the 88th percentile in Whiff% baseball savant with a mix of splitters, sinkers, and cutters.

Leiter, last year, pitched to a 3.50 ERA, 3.77 FIP, 1.12 WHIP, 77 strikeouts and 24 walks in a career-high 69 appearances. Despite being a righty, he was notably much better against the lefties, holding them to a .185/.265/.303 slash against, while righties hit .254/.368/.507 against him. The reverse splits helped give the righty-heavy bullpen a weapon against southpaws.

The current bullpen features Drew Smyly and Luke Little as the lefties in the pen. It helps give the Cubs options in the bullpen to face lefties but Leiter is still part of that mix. What is worth noting is that Leiter did fade towards the end of the year, struggling in September and October giving up seven runs on 12 hits over his last 10 appearances. It boosted his season ERA and FIP from 2.84 and 3.17 (on August 30) to 3.50 and 3.77.

Mark Leiter Jr is the unsung hero of the Chicago Cubs bullpen.

As mentioned before he pitched in a career-high 69 appearances and seemed to run out of gas at the end. Even though it was not a career-high in innings (67.2 in 2022) that year he started four games (35 appearances) while in 2023 he was strictly out of the pen. The hope is Leiter will not have to be quite as heavily loaded this year which can help him keep up his stamina throughout the year. It also helps that Hector Neris was brought in to pitch in the late innings; a majority of Leiter's innings in 2023 came in the seventh or eighth inning.

Leiter nevertheless will still be important to have in the pen. If he can do what he did last year against lefties he will provide plenty of value to the team. It is not always easy to project what a career journeyman reliever will provide year in and year out, but going back to mid-2022 he has been overall effective for the Cubs.

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