Surprising Chicago Cubs pitcher named a top 5 MLB reliever by MLB Network

Right-hander Mark Leiter Jr. has been dominant for some time and is starting to get national recognition for his work on the mound.
Milwaukee Brewers v Chicago Cubs
Milwaukee Brewers v Chicago Cubs / Matt Dirksen/GettyImages

Watching the Chicago Cubs bullpen this year has felt similar to riding a roller coaster. Some ups, a lot of harrowing falls and a general uneasiness in your stomach in the immediate aftermath. But one guy who's been consistent since Opening Day is Mark Leiter Jr.

The right-hander, in his third season on the North Side, enters Thursday's finale against Atlanta with elite numbers on the year: a 0.90 ERA in 20 appearances, averaging north of 11 punchouts per nine to go along with a 2.23 FIP and 1.050 WHIP. Cubs fans are well aware of how good Leiter Jr. has been, but now he's starting to get national recognition, too.

Leiter Jr. has been critically important during his Cubs tenure because of his ability to neutralize left-handed hitters, despite being a righty. Given Chicago's lack of proven left-handed options in the pen, both David Ross and, now, Craig Counsell have turned to him to get big outs in the late innings.

Mark Leiter Jr. has been a model of consistency for the Cubs bullpen

Making just $1.5 million this year, the former 22nd-round pick is another win in the front office's lengthy history of targeting unproven or overlooked arms and looking to maximize their strengths. It hasn't always worked to perfection, as we're all well aware, but Leiter has been a huge success story.

This year, his 31.7 percent strikeout rate ranks in the top eight percent of the league, and he's posted elite chase, whiff and K rates, as well. He's regained the feel for his putaway splitter, a pitch he completely lost the feel for late last season. Opponents are batting just .030 against that pitch this season with a ridiculous 61.8 percent whiff rate.

At 33 years old, Leiter Jr. is a late bloomer but is a key piece for a Cubs team looking to win a division title for the first time since 2017 (sorry, 2020 team). Relying largely on the combination of that splitter and a sinker, the right-hander always seems calm, regardless of the situation he's tasked with on the mound and you can bet he'll be throwing a lot of big innings for the club this summer.