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Bullpen Woes

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Matt Swain

Illinois engineering student, way too emotionally invested in the Cubs.

It's been well documented that the Cubs relief corps has underachieved early in the season, blowing several leads and spurring the ill-conceived move of Carlos Zambrano to the 8th inning role (though commenter JackWeiland makes a decent argument for it in this thread, I still side mostly with Brad from CubStats).

The bullpen struggles aren't confined to the major league outfit, as many of the upper level relief prospects in the minor league have taken big steps backward in terms of their stock. I've detailed three below that have struggled.

(Warning: Smalll sample sizes to follow. Proceed at your own risk.)

  • John Gaub, LHP, AAA Iowa, 25

    Gaub jumped up Cubs prospects lists (generally appearing in the teens) after destroying the minors last year, posting a 2.25 ERA while striking out 12 per 9 IP. With a deceptive delivery and decent stuff, he was thought by many (me included) to be a lock for a bullpen spot on the big league club.

    But things started going downhill in the Arizona League, where Gaub's lack of control hurt him and led to a 9.31 ERA in his short time there. Things didn't get much better in spring training, where he posted a 7.04 ERA, and his April hasn't been a rousing success either (4.76).

    Gaub's ability to throw strikes was a clear problem even after last year, and he hasn't done anything to assuage the concerns. With James Russell, Sean Marshall and John Grabow throwing decently with their left hands already, Gaub is on hold waiting for injuries and/or desperation to allow him a chance, and who knows what he'll do then. In about 6 montsh, he's gone from a lock to contribute to lacking both opportunity and readiness.
  • Blake Parker, RHP, AAA Iowa, 25

    You might look at Blake Parker's numbers as Iowa's closer this year and think he's had a good start. You would be wrong. Sure the 1.29 ERA and 10 Ks in 7 innings look nice, but if you stop there you're not looking hard enough.

    Like Gaub, Parker's biggest issue is walking hitters (5 per 9 innings in 2009). So how has he done in that department this year? 7 walks in 7 innings. Oy vey. It's actually pretty amazing, he's allowed 7 walks and 5 hits (12 baserunners), but just 1 run, and it came on a homer. That's called EXTREME luck, and it won't last.

    Parker doesn't have overpowering stuff, he nibbles around the strike zone, and he probably isn't more than a mediocre relief pitcher at the MLB level.

  • Chris Huseby, RHP, A+ Daytona, 22

    To be fair, Huseby wasn't anywhere near the big leagues heading into the season, but was a relief pitching prospect who got a lot of ink after a dominant season closing for Peoria. He showed immaculate control while racking up high strikeout numbers on his way to a 1.83 ERA, and his 6' 7" frame adds to the fascination with him.

    So Huseby gets the call to Daytona this year, an environment in which he should absolutely succeed, as it's an age appropriate league that favors pitchers. But in his first 3 appearances he's been awful, allowing 11 batters to reach base (6 BBs, 5 Hs) while recording just 8 outs.

    I've never been high on Huseby, who doesn't throw much harder than 90 mph, which doesn't cut it from a right-handed relief pitcher. I really struggle to see him being the relief ace he was billed as by some this offseason, and if his start is any indication, he may not even get close to it.
Others:

- Scott Maine (return for Aaron Heilman) was another lefty who had an outside chance of making the Cubs going into the spring, but hasn't pitched well yet, with 5 Ks and 4 BBs in 7 IP.

- Remember the control problems Gaub and Parker had? Jeff Stevens needs to learn to hit the zone too, and he's walked 5 in 5.1 innings. The sad thing is, he's still probably the next reliever to get a call-up.

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