The clear path to the Chicago Cubs fixing their biggest need is internally

The Chicago Cubs have a tremendous farm system and everyone has beaten that fact to death. It's time to lean on that farm system to get outs in the later innings.
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Building a bullpen is hard. The 2023 Chicago Cubs found out the hard way that when you don’t invest any money in the bullpen the results could be less than stellar. The 2024 Cubs are finding out that even when you do invest, not only money but also prospect capital, in the bullpen there’s still the possibility for poor results.

Building a bullpen is difficult because it comes with inflated numbers. When a pitcher struggles out of the bullpen, their ERA skyrockets, which generally leads to a save being blown and a game being lost. 

Shota Imanaga has given up eight earned runs in his last two appearances, but because he’s pitched a total of 62.1 innings, those crooked numbers have only increased his ERA to 1.88.

Hector Neris on the other hand has only given up seven earned runs on the season and yet he’s treading on thin ice with Cubs’ fans every time he makes his way out of the bullpen while sporting a 2.86 ERA.

That’s the nature of the bullpen. 

The 2023 Cubs, who were looking for any possible player to throw meaningful later innings, demoted and subsequently released Jeremiah Estrada. They gave up on him because, in Chicago last season, he had a 6.75 ERA and his FIP was even worse at 9.07. This season, however, he’s carrying a 0.48 ERA. They seemingly got it wrong on that occasion. 

That fear of getting it wrong can lead a team in desperate need of bullpen help to make a colossal mistake and not lean on the pitchers that they already have and instead look for outside help that is equally likely to blow a lead. Leadership wants to mitigate their risk by focusing on guys that are hot right now for other teams rather than waiting for their guys to get hot. 

The Cubs' best options to fix the bullpen could be from within.

Luke Little is still a 6 '8 lefty with a triple-digit fastball and a good breaking ball. After an up-and-down April he settled down and only allowed two earned runs in the month of May. If that weren’t impressive enough, he didn’t allow a hit in his eight appearances last month either. Lefties don’t tend to get a ton of play as closers because of the handedness disadvantage they could potentially face but he’s an absolute weapon that should get more play in late innings as the season progresses. 

Porter Hodge may be even more impressive. He’s only made four appearances, and none of them came with the Cubs in the lead, but in those appearances, he has been dominant. He has not walked a batter or allowed a run. He’s struck out six of the twelve batters he’s faced as a major leaguer.

Patience is a thing that is hard to preach without sounding condescending, but when it comes to a bullpen patience is a thing that is necessary because there’s no real rhyme or reason to it. All of the luck in baseball that statisticians try to disregard can be seen in a bullpen because every single pitch those guys make really and truly matters. 

So when it comes time to make a decision on whether the team should trade for a Tyler Kinley from the Colorado Rockies (7.71 ERA), a Ryan Pressley from the Houston Astros (5.01 ERA), or even a Kenley Jansen from the Boston Red Sox (2.89 ERA), just remember that just because they're all veterans and they all have experience, it doesn’t guarantee success. 

For my money, I want to see what happens if the Cubs were to expand the roles of Porter Hodge and Luke Little.