Cubs bullpen unable to close -- so what are their options?

Cubs bullpen unable to close -- so what are their options?
Cubs have had an awful lot of problems closing.

In the 3rd season of the rebuild, the Cubs are still looking for the right mix in the bullpen.  There may be some intriguing arms at the minor league level but the MLB bullpen is still pretty thin.  Only Hector Rondon and perhaps, Justin Grimm, look like they can be relied upon.

For all the talk of an improved bullpen, the Cubs are right back where they were last April -- good starting pitching, solid defense, an offense that can at least keep them close -- and a bullpen that throws it all away.  As a whole, they've put up a pedestrian 4.36 ERA and an even worse FIP of 4.83.

The culprit?

We can start with a collective walk rate of 5.34 walk per 9 IP.

While the Cubs have been able to put together a bullpen that can miss bats, striking out just over 8 batters per 9 IP, it won't mean much if they continue to put men on base.  Nowhere do you need a pitcher who can throw consistent strikes more than the closer role simply because they are supposedly the last line of defense.  The game has evolved over the past two decades where teams designate a particular pitcher as it's closer with the expectation that when he is put in the game, he will either close it or lose it.

All too often, the Cubs closers have lost it.

So what is the solution here?  The Cubs really don't have a lot of options in-house.  They've called up LHP Zac Rosscup and RHP Neil Ramirez to help, but they aren't going to be solutions -- at least not right away.  The Cubs are hoping Rosscup can do what they used to rely on James Russell to do with regularity, and that is get lefties out.  Ramirez will try and fill that power 7th inning relief role previously held by pitchers Hector Rondon and Justin Grimm, both of whom are expected to take on higher leverage roles.

Here's what I believe right now:  Neither Jose Veras nor Pedro Strop can be relied upon as closers because we cannot count on them to throw strikes right now.  While Strop had some bad luck in his last outing, it certainly didn't help that he walked 2 batters right off the bat and threw a ton of ptiches early.  It changed the complexion of the 9th inning into one that could turn on an error, a bad bounce, or a bloop hit -- which, of course, is exactly what happened.

What both Veras and Strop have, however, is something you need from all closers -- a genuine go-to out pitch.  Pedro Strop's slider, in particular, is a very effective out pitch.  The problem is that it's negated by an inconsistent ability to get ahead in the count.  The slider is meant to be a pitch thrown when the hitter is protecting the plate because it should come in looking like a strike, then break out of the strike zone causing the hitter to make weak contact or miss altogether.  Strop's slider makes a lot of hitters look silly when he's ahead in the count, but when he's behind the hitter can afford to take the pitch and wait for Strop to throw his good, but much more hittable fastball.

So what are the options?

Hector Rondon

Rondon has been the most consistent relief pitcher all year and not coincidentally, has thrown more strikes overall.  He's walked just over 3 batters per 9 innings, which isn't outstanding, but it's the best the Cubs have right now.  Rondon has one of the better fastballs on the Cubs staff, throwing his 4 seamer in the 95-96 range but he's also developed a pretty effective cutter -- which has good velocity, 90-92 mph, and an improving slider (82-84 mph).  I'm not sure he's developed a dominant pitch yet, and that's what gives me pause as far as the closer role, but his ability to throw strikes has me leaning in his direction right now.

Justin Grimm

Grimm has struggled more with his control, walking 2 more batters than Rondon in roughly the same number of innings, but the good news for Grimm is that he's trending in the right direction.  He has dropped his walk rate to below 5 after not walking a batter in his last 3 appearances.  What I like about Grimm is that he he has about the same velocity as Rondon but he also has a curveball which is a genuine swing and miss pitch.  Grimm also has a starters repertoire, including a solid change, which potentially makes him effective vs. hitters from both sides of the plate.  In a very small sample size this year, that has indeed been the case.  In fact, Grimm has been slightly better vs. lefties.  While I don't think we should draw too much from that data, it does support what we would expect given Grimm's more well-rounded package of pitch offerings.

No designated closer

Otherwise known as "closer by committee'.  I'm not sure why the Cubs are so eager to have a go-to closer right off the bat simply because they don't have anyone of that caliber right now.  I'm not sure I wouldn't lean toward a situation where I let match-ups dictate usage.  If a team is heavily right-handed, maybe you use Rondon as your closer.  If a team has a pretty balanced lineup, perhaps you use Grimm.  Despite his poor start, Russell was very effective vs. lefties last year and he has been better vs. LH hitters in general for his career.  He is struggling, however, so I would use him sparingly -- in particular because he has been struggling to find the strike zone this year, something that is uncharacteristic for him.  Zac Rosscup may be groomed into that sort of role.  He has better swing and miss stuff with a fastball that ranges from about 89 to 93 mph and has topped out around 94.  What it lacks in pure velocity, however, it makes up for in terms of deception.  When he's on, pitchers react to Rosscup's fastball as if he is throwing in the mid to high 90s,  He supplements that with a good slider that has two plane movement.  I wouldn't even rule out using Pedro Strop or Jose Veras if they are throwing strikes.  Strop in particular has a unique quality in that his slider is the best single out pitch in the Cubs bullpen.  If he's throwing strikes, he has that Marmol-esque ability to get out of impossible jams because he will miss bats with remarkable regularity.

But here is one thing I would do -- if I put in a pitcher and he's throwing strikes, I'm not going to look a gift horse in the mouth.  I'm going to let that ride.  I think the Cubs could have left Hector Rondon in to pitch the 9th on Wednesday and, despite his early troubles, the Cubs seemed to remove Pedro Strop just when it looked like he had found a rhythm and was beginning to throw strikes with consistency.

It's not a permanent solution but perhaps you have someone emerge from this scenario much the way Kevin Gregg did last year.   If a solution doesn't emerge from this particular group, the Cubs have a couple more options on the way in Arodys Vizcaino, Kyuji Fujikawa, or perhaps a surprise candidate.  But until the Cubs find a guy who can consistently miss bats and throw enough strikes to make it matter, I don't think anyone deserves to be handed this role.  Let the competition begin and let the best man win save.

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  • Ok...That game was lost because Castro made a crucial error--it seems when Castro is not having a good day at the plate, he is not in the game defensively. That game was lost because RR took out Strop after strop made Goldsmith look foolish.

  • In reply to GoCubs:

    After that KO of Goldscmidt I was hoping RR would leave Strop in to clean up the mess and boost his confidence. Not to pile on Castro I agree he seems to carry his troubles at the plate to the field and then appeared to carry his error to the plate the following day.

  • In reply to kansascub:

    He played a good defensive game up until that play. He made an error because he rushed the play. He should have understood the situation better with a 3 run lead and concentrate on getting one out. But without Strop putting the Cubs in that situation, it's a meaningless error -- and it may not have been an error at all if there was nobody on and Castro simply scoops it up and throws it to first rather than trying to force a big play with the Cubs in a jam. It all sort of piled up -- but it's those walks that were the catalyst that started the catastrophe.

  • In reply to GoCubs:

    I wouldn't really blame anyone in particular, just how I wouldn't blame Bartman for the 2003 fiasco... Castro made a costly error, Strop walked 2 guys, Renteria overmanaged, Ruggiano let 1 ball drop in front of him and then failed to make the sliding catch (after he slid awkwardly and injured himself), Russell failed to retire the left handed hitter (which is his sole purpose with the team)... There's plenty of people to point fingers at, not just 2.

  • In reply to Caps:

    agreed.

  • In reply to Caps:

    There you go Caps - you're spot on with your comment! Castro is the easy target but he shouldn't be singled out for the Cubs losing the game as you indicate above. We had a chance to steal one from the Diamonds despite being out hit 10 to 5 and the Cubs scoring 5 runs on just 5 hits. A case of blame could be put on any four players. For example, look at how Russell let us down - brought in as a loogy to face lefty Montero, runs the count full, and then grooves one that Montero smokes to right to tie the game. How frustrating was that! So in all fairness you can't single any one player out to blame for the loss.

  • In reply to GoCubs:

    Not in the game defensively? What game were you watching? Maybe you missed him make 3-4 good defensive plays earlier that day. That error was made because Castro was rushing to get the DP on Campana -- a situation that wouldn't have happened if Strop wasn't giving out free passes like candy.

    Let's not make excuses for Strop or the bullpen in general. He put himself and his team into a difficult position. If his name was Marmol, fans would have been enraged. It's always easy to blame Castro and the manager but that is ignoring the real problem to look for easy answers and convenient scapegoats.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    How I agree with this... And did you notice when Kalish hit a ball off his foot and he didn't run assuming the ump was going to call it foul? I couldn't help to notice how bad it would've been if that was Castro.

    Castro's defense has been solid so far this season... After 14 games without an error, he makes one and now he's not in the game defensively...

  • In reply to Caps:

    Yep, it took one frustrating game to revive that narrative. But I do agree with those who say Castro should have been more aware of the situation. He got it partially right, I like that he was aware of who was running and approached the play aggressively and with a sense of urgency -- but he missed the bigger picture. Get one out in that situation. He didn't need to try to make the heroic double play with one of the fastest men in baseball running down the line. He should have been focusing on trying to cut their losses there, get one out, and move on to the next guy.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Like I said I'm not piling on Castro. He does seem to be playing alot better this year. Lots of blame to go around on that loss especially the bullpen. Would've been nice to see the defense pickup the bullpen and make a play or two. Would have been nice to see Cubs come out the next day and put it all behind them but it was the offenses day to take the day off.

  • In reply to kansascub:

    For me though the defense isn't an issue with this team. It ha been pretty good since the new FO took over and isn't something that needs to be addressed as an ongoing issue. The bullpen is the part they can't get right -- and part of that is not getting enough guys who throw strikes. The defense has been an asset for the Cubs and was so even in this particular game, so to blame the defense for one bad play over one that has been a recurring problem just doesn't seem right to me.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    John...STOP jumping to conclusion(s) which are not warranted. All you are doing is suppressing opinions. NO ONE is "reviving THAT narrative." STOP it.

  • In reply to GoCubs:

    I welcome opinions all the time -- just don't agree with yours.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    If you don't agree with my opinion, that is fine but that doesn't make your opinion better or more justified. When I want to be sarcastic on this board, I will ensure that I am. If one looks for excuses, one will find plenty. Strop is, for all practical purpose, a rookie. It is OK to expect the "core" to make plays in the crunch. When the "core" fails to make those crunch time plays, it is OK to call them on it--this should not be considered to be an effort to "raise some narrative" etc.

  • In reply to GoCubs:

    John is the kind of guy who doesn't blame Castro for his sac fly brain fart last year because "If the pitcher didn't let the runner get to third it would have never happened." Castro apologist.

    At least he backed off on his if all the garbage pick-ups have career years then the Cubs might not be sellers at the deadline!!! Narrative he likes to drive home so much.

  • In reply to GoCubs:

    Strop for all practical purposes, is 5 years older than Castro.

    Anyone can have an opinion, we shouldn't assume they are necessarily equal. I respect some opinions more than I do others (that's individual opinions, not individual commenters -- I get a lot of great opinions from a wide variety of people here). But there are some comments I value more simply because of the amount of thought, work, or experience people bring to them -- many times I learn something new from them or see something from an angle I had not considered. Your opinion did not meet that criteria for me. Maybe your next one will. I value opinions that focus on process and not results -- criticizing errors and managerial decisions is easy -- and it seemed off the cuff and emotional to me. I don't agree with that entire thought process. Sorry, if that bothers you and I'm not going to comment on this anymore. Let's drop it.

  • In reply to GoCubs:

    Strop is not a rookie; he is a young veteran who has pitched for several years with the same control issues he displayed yesterday, which is why he's pitching for us in the first place.

  • fb_avatar
    In reply to GoCubs:

    @krn99 IIRC, Strop's late inning meltdowns when the pressure was on was one of the things that drove Orioles fans nuts. Wednesday's game wasn't just any old game. I imagine the entire team felt the urgency to win on such an important day. If high pressure situations gives Strop problems, perhaps closing isn't something he is cut out for. It's easy to close for a team with few expectation.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Agreed... Make sure you get one, then worry about the second one.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    I was watching THAT game...You must be confusing the game before when Castro did make couple of great plays. Error was made in a crucial situation, you can try to justify it if you wish.

    Strop...Pitchers walk hitters more frequently than good fielders make errors. But, the way Strop finished Goldsmith, RR should have left him in there to face the next hitter.

    No one is making excuses for the Strop or BP in general, and I urge you to not make excuses for Castro or the FO. Fair enough?

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Aren't you being a little easy on Castro? A good shortstop doesn't simply make 3 or 4 plays, he's makes them when they count.

  • In reply to Aquinas wired:

    no one talking about Ruggiano not making 2 plays. line drive, he could of made that play. that pop up. somewhat hard play. he could of made it.. no, lets focus on starlin

    the whole team lost that game. not starlin

  • In reply to Aquinas wired:

    I'm not being easy on Castro. I've said here and on Twitter that he should have made that play and that he didn't see the big picture. He rushed to make a big play when he should have focused on getting the force out first. But to me there is no question that it was the two walks to start the inning that was the crux of the problem and I see no argument that justifies centralizing a single misplay for causing the Cubs to lose a 3 run lead. Any such argument lacks perspective. Saying a SS makes plays when it counts is vague -- they all count at every point of the game and every SS has made 9th inning error, but to blame one error for the Cubs collapse is nonsense.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    You know John....Just because someone points out a failure doesn't mean that the person writing that opinion is "emotional." Just because you THINK someone is being "emotional" does not mean you jump all over them. I like to think that this is not a classroom.

  • In reply to GoCubs:

    You've said your opinion and I've written my thoughts on it. There's no more that needs to be said on the subject. There's no new ground being laid here and it's becoming argument for the sake of argument. I asked you to drop it and I'm not going to ask again. We've been down this road before.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Wow! There are some people on here who have been trained very well by the Chicago media. If there's something wrong, if there's anything wrong, it's Castro's fault! It didn't take long for that to boil. And it is so easy to start it.

    News flash! The problem with the Cubs' bullpen is not Castro making an error. It is the pitchers who are in that bullpen. Duh! Jose Veras does not have an out pitch, because he can't get anyone out. DL him until he can get his mind straight. Pedro Strop seems to choke in the 9th inning. Otherwise, he pitches just fine, so don't have him pitch in the 9th. James Russell's arm is as dead as the laundry on the clothes line, because that is where Sveum had him hanging on a daily basis. Wesley Wright does not have a very strong track record. That's where Rosscup comes in. Give him a shot, but don't shoot him by pegging him as a "situational lefty". Having a guy pitch just to one man, day after day, is not very efficient and it is an arm killer. Don't do that! It's stupid, because chances are, if he got one man out, he just might get the next one too, even if the guy bats right-handed. Sveum didn't use his bullpen, he abused his bullpen. Don't repeat his mistakes. Why do you have to have one man always be responsible for the 9th inning? It's not rocket science. More than one guy should be able to do that. Keep people on their toes and let them know that they too might go on the mound in the 9th. Rondon, Grimm, Rosscup in the 9th?. I'm OK with that for now.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    John...Again, you are assuming that I am that guy you had argument/debate with before--similar screen name. But if this is the attitude you are going to take, then I am done with this blog.

  • In reply to GoCubs:

    adios

  • In reply to GoCubs:

    Be careful of the door on the back swing............

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    When there are two men on base, it counts.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Castro has one of the best RFs in MLB. He makes plays that other SS can not get within 10 feet of. Yet he is responsible for the Cubs' bullpen failures? Go figure, John. I admire your patience in dealing with the anti-Castro crowd. They're just incredible. Oh, yeah, INCREDIBLE.

  • In reply to Aquinas wired:

    Oh...it was the bullpen. Castro was amazing--even while making that error! I am being sarcastic now.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    I'm not a Starlin basher by any means John. I understand he was brought up to early, all the pressure put on him and his age and his talent as a core pice. But I think we would all hope that core players make key plays to bail out others in key situations. That inning was a mess. Plenty of blame to go around. I just hope that RR and the staff adressed the learning oppt. with Starlin in that situation.

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  • I was really hoping the bullpen would be better this year and hoping Renteria would handle the BP better. Throw strikes seems like a simple concept. Agree with you on the walks given up by Strop but you get a nice DP groundball and little blooper that should be caught and game over. Seems like this team all gets the yips at the same time.

  • In reply to kansascub:

    You walk two batters and you put yourself into a position where those things can hurt you. If there's not a guy on first, the Cubs don't need to try and double up Campana. Not that I absolve Castro or simple bad luck -- but if those things happen with the bases empty, the team would have survived it. The walks were the catalyst.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Agree with you 100% walks are a killer. Especially in the 9th inning when you're protecting a lead.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Is the Cubs BP only BP walking people in the 9th inning?

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    The saddest words some people riff
    Are those that go "If only if".

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Not only that John, but Strop was 3/1 with Campana and he swung at ball four outside and hit it off the end of the bat, otherwise it would have been 3 walks to start the inning after one in the previous inning. As you put it so well in your excellent summary of the bullpen situation, late relievers have to come in and throw strikes. Walking the three weakest hitters to get to their best hitters is simply inexcusable.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Not only that John, but Strop was 3/1 with Campana and he swung at ball four outside and hit it off the end of the bat, otherwise it would have been 3 walks to start the inning after one in the previous inning. As you put it so well in your excellent summary of the bullpen situation, late relievers have to come in and throw strikes. Walking the three weakest hitters to get to their best hitters is simply inexcusable.

  • In reply to krn99:

    Exactly -- and that is an excellent point about walking the weak hitters. That's just begging for trouble. If you're throwing strikes, then an error or a bad bounce or a bloop hit isn't going to kill you. If you want to blow a 3 run lead in the 9th, it's hard to do it without walking a couple of batters.

  • fb_avatar
    In reply to John Arguello:

    I think it could be argued that Starlin made that error precisely BECAUSE his head was in the game. He knew Campana's speed coming down the first base line and got ahead of himself trying to limit the potential damage. It's a learning situation for Castro. He seems to have slowed the game down this year. He is taking a better angles to the ball, he just tried to hurry something that didn't need to be hurried and didn't make sure he could make the easy play.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    We went through the Marmol frustration the past 2 years. Our staff seems to believe a mature pitcher is less likely to fail than a youngster. But the bottom line is closers can't get behind in counts and issue walks.

    Strop has a history of wildness yet he was put in a spot that he hasn't succeeded. Remember when Hawkins was given the closer role despite his failures in the past.

    Give the job to Rondon and stop trying to get just 1 more year out of the castaways. Last year our bullpen surrendered 54BB in 108IP. This year we've given uo 10BB in 9IP. Any reliever who walks the first 2 men in an inning should be pulled. The men on base weren't Castro's fault. Strop deserved the blown save.

  • The real option is RR turning into Capt. Hook, The pen was awful coming into the season , and horrible the 1st month. It may settle down deeper into the season but not enough to quell the crescendo demanding prospects be summoned to the bigs.

  • fb_avatar

    I honestly felt our bullpen was going to be an area of strength... guess not so far.

    What is up with Blake Parker, John? Pitchfx says he has lost 1.3 mph off the FB, but small sample size. Parker was very effective last year, and this year doesn't seem to have the confidence of the club

  • In reply to Zonk:

    Parker has clearly lost more than 1.3mph off his fastball. He was consistently throwing at least 92/93 often 94/95 last year. This year he's throwing 88-91. In the last game, he was pretty consistently at 88 until he humped up for Goldschmidt at 90/91. Also, his unhittable slider is not so crisp this year either.

  • In reply to krn99:

    Agreed -- the stuff doesn't seem as crisp this year.

  • In reply to Zonk:

    Was thinking the same thing RE: the bullpen Zonk,....

    Was not a fan of signing either Veras or Wright - because I thought that the combination of Grimm, Strop, Rondon, Villanueva, Russell and somebody like Rusin or Rosscup or Parker or Schlitter was going to be a good way to go.

    With Villanueva 'swinging' for the time being (hopefully that will end soon with a health Arietta), Russell and Strop having command/control issues, and roster spots being filled by the (so far) at best roster-filler level Veras & Wright,.... we're just getting too much inconsistency (evidenced by the high BB-rate).

  • Good article, I agree with everything you say here... I didn't blame Renteria for the 9th inning fiasco, he used 3 pitchers and they couldn't get 3 outs before allowing 5 runs... But I do think he overmanaged... I think keeping Rondon for the following inning was a good option, but bringing Strop (the veteran reliever) was not bad either... But I think the worse was removing Strop for Russell, who has been even less efficient this year... But again, I don't blame Renteria, but I think he did overmanage a little bit.

    I also agree that a rebuilding team going nowhere shouldn't be focused on having a go-to closer, especially after Veras failed... Right now I would use a combination of Grimm and Rondon in the 9th and the one not closing that day could alternate with Strop in the 8th inning... I haven't given up on Strop yet, although I have pretty much given up on Veras.

    But what do you do with Veras? I would like for the Cubs to release him, but that's a fan-type of solution... What else can they do with him? Maybe come up with an injury so he can "rehab"?

    As for Rosscup, we need him to do well because I don't see Russell or Wright being a solution anymore... Maybe Rusin is in the picture as well.

  • The most disappointing part of the bullpen so far in my opinion has been Russell. For a guy with honestly zero "stuff", you need to have pinpoint command, and he's walked 6 batters in 5.2 innings, and I think it's because he's scared to throw near the plate with inferior stuff. He was dependable for a couple years, but I think his time of being a guy who you feel comfortable with facing a tough lefty in the 8th or 9th are over. If I were the manager I'd feel more comfortable with righties Rondon or Strop getting Pedro Alvarez or Votto out for example, and doesn't that make Russell a bit of wasted space on the roster if he's not doing his duty as a loogy? He's one of the veterans so it kind of sucks, but I'd be okay with Rosscup as the permanent replacement if the FO thinks he's ready to be a full time major leaguer.

  • In reply to nmu’catsbball:

    on Russell, I think over-use has caught up to him. I am honestly surprised he was not traded last year. Relievers have a short shelf-life and every few years they trend down. maybe he can come back in a year or two if you hide him as middle relief but more likely, he has lost effectiveness and never gets it back.

  • In reply to DoubleM:

    It certainly seems that way.

  • In reply to nmu’catsbball:

    Russell has been a nightmare. I think he could have played that role in the past, but putting him in that situation when he was struggling was a bad call and one I think Renteria wishes he had back.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    I agree. But as DoubleM said, I think overuse has caught up with him. He had just enough stuff to get it done before, but losing a tick and sharpness from what was barely enough before isn't good. I like Russell but I think he's a 6th or 7th inning guy going forward, and middle inning LOOGYs just don't find spots on rosters.. You have to be dependable enough to be a late inning LOOGY or have the stuff to pitch successfully to righties in middle innings to be a worthwhile use of a roster spot as a lefty reliever IMO, and unfortunately I don't think Russell has it anymore. Maybe it's deadarm, and I'm rooting for him but I don't see it.

  • In reply to nmu’catsbball:

    Oh I agree there. I think overuse has cost him and I wouldn't be surprised if we heard down the road that he's having some arm trouble.

  • In reply to nmu’catsbball:

    Maybe its time to see what Hunter Cervanka has to offer also. Or try Rusin in a Paul Assemacher type role. Your right on Russell-he never had much to begin with and is regressing more as time goes by. Its getting time to cut bait and release him. One more thing-next month, lets see what Vizcaiano has to offer. He has the stuff to succeed, nows time to see if he has the mental fortitude.

  • In reply to mutant beast:

    I like Cervanka, but he has the same problem throwing strikes at times. And I would hate to have Vizcaino in a situation where the manager is tempted to overuse him. Give him another year to improve his arm strength.

    I have always been in favor of playing the hot hand, and I would love to see Wada be brought up right now. But I would rather it be as a starter, since that is where he is having his success right now. Putting him in the bullpen breaks his routine. But I would bring him up as the fifth, or if necessary, sixth starter to see how he can do.

  • In reply to DaveP:

    No problems with Wada IF he can be at least a Travis Wood/Jake Arrieta type pitcher and moving him into the rotation. Question then becomes who moves out. Right now, Arrieta might be the only real candidate to be moved to the pen, unless we want 6 starters.

  • In reply to nmu’catsbball:

    I do think overuse has caught up to him somewhat, but the obvious problem is that he's not finishing his pitches consistently leaving sliders and changeups up in the zone. Previously his fastball was usually 89-91 but this year it's been pretty consistently 87, which is OK if you finish your pitches and locate well. I honestly don't know what the pitching coaches are thinking because they're not solving an obvious problem.

  • maybe far-fetched but how about Hendricks or Wada being brought up and put in the pen? not as closers per se, but for the 7-8th. At least they have low WHIP and walk rates and a mix of command then power at the end of games may help keep batters off balance. They may take some time to get them warmed up (going from starter reps to multiple days a week) and will take them out of consideration for starting for the near term, but not forever. Get the bullpen ship righted then back to Iowa to stretch out.

  • Glengarry Glen Ross.

  • In reply to Oneear:

    Yep!

  • In reply to Oneear:

    At this point there really are only two left anyways. Grimm and Rondon, you're our salesmen.

  • In reply to nmu’catsbball:

    Put me on the board, put me on the board! I guess Veras is our Shelley "The Machine" Levene this year.

  • John, I know that conventional wisdom is that smart teams shouldn't bring in FA bullpen guys, but we sure don't have any sitting around on the shelf either right now that can consistently get guys out. That's one area where I'm not sure we would have had to spend huge bucks to upgrade in the offseason. Think that becomes a more viable option either at the trade deadline and/or post October?

  • In reply to Ryno2Grace:

    I think they should have signed Uehara and said so at the time. The guy throws strikes. You can probably get those guys relatively cheap (as Uehara was) and they can be invaluable in the pen. Even Camp proved to be an asset with a decent, but not great walk rate.

  • How about Vizcaino? I just read that he cannot pitch two days in a row yet, but if he's used only for save situations, we won't have that worry for a while.

  • In reply to SFToby:

    Viz will likley be up when the weather warms up. Maybe not as the closer immediately, but if all else fails, why not?

  • Resurrect Randy Myers?

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    You guys see Gordon's article in the suntimes

    we are starting to hear this more and more
    that they dont have the cash.

    http://www.suntimes.com/sports/27019526-573/bud-selig-weighs-in-on-cubs-revenue-issue.html#.U1qS5KLc3ur

    Short on specifics and long on vague pledges of support, baseball commissioner Bud Selig started fighting the Ricketts family’s public-relations battles for them Wednesday during Wrigley Field’s centennial celebration.

    Selig pressed the Cubs owners’ case against rooftop owners but struggled to defend that position when reminded the rooftops have a contract with the team. He insisted ownership is “very capable economically” but pleaded for its need to make more money to compete.

    He said that the Cubs’ success on the field is important to baseball but that the long string of losing seasons was “fine” as they rebuild. He seemed to scoff at the idea that the big-market Cubs were acting like the small-market Kansas City Royals or Pittsburgh Pirates.

    If the last 100 years at Clark and Addison were history in the making, this was an attempt at history in the remaking — right down to Selig’s shrugging off an MLB-high debt that costs nearly $35 million a year to service and to suggesting a $75 million roster is part of Theo Epstein’s plan.

    “You can’t ask a team to be competitive, and you can’t ask people to do things and then tie their hands and their legs,” he said, referring to restrictions on outfield signs and video boards related to the 20-year contract business president Crane Kenney signed more than a decade ago with rooftop owners. “That’s just wrong. Somebody has to say it, so I’ll be happy to say it.”

    Selig also seems happy to have his Wrigley birthday cake and eat it, too — because the city has given the Cubs every major concession on construction plans within its power. And more than one source with knowledge of the Cubs’ side of the rooftop battle calls it a “red herring.”

    One internal document obtained by the Sun-Times shows the Cubs have included projected litigation costs into spending plans for the Wrigley project for at least two years.

    What’s become clear with every year of delays and baseball budget cuts under this ownership is that the finances are strained, in part by the leveraged purchase terms and in part by steep attendance declines since the family took control — and as evidenced by recent revelations that the Rickettses have interest in taking on minority investors to help pay for renovations.

    “No, no,” Selig said. “A lot of clubs have limited partners. When I owned the Brewers, we had a lot of limited partners, and it was not a sign of financial distress.”

    A big difference is that the Cubs’ revelations coincide with a direct, apparent need for cash after promises of big spending. According to one source, at least one major Cubs creditor in the last year suggested the family sell all or part of the team.

    “The fact of the matter is this group is more than capable economically. I have no concerns about their economic viability,” said Selig, who nearly five years later has no regrets over approving the restrictive financial terms dictated by Sam Zell and Tribune Co. as a condition of sale.

    “None. Zero. Absolutely none,” said Selig, who once approved the ultimately leveraged and disastrous sale of the Dodgers to Frank McCourt.

    That’s not to compare the Rickettses to McCourt as much as it is to add context to Selig’s unqualified support for a revenue-seeking member of MLB’s ownership “club.”

    “The Cubs are in very good ownership hands. Couldn’t be better,” he added. “I have a lot of concerns on a daily basis. This is not one of them or ever has been.”

    Maybe the Cubs’ billionaire owners will get the revenues they seek through the stadium and a new ­local media-rights package. Maybe they will do it in time to give the baseball department enough resources to compete before another five years are lost to the process.

    But they’re not the victims — unlike their weary fan base.

    Even as Selig waxed about 1940s Wrigley and vowed to do “whatever is legally” possible to help the Rickettses prevail against the rooftops.

    Even as he was nowhere to be seen by the time the “L” flag was hoisted again.

    “I’ll try and do everything I possibly can,” he said. “They know that. We’ve already had that conversation today. It means a lot to the sport.”

    Never mind that what Selig rails against is a contract negotiated and signed by the Cubs – who are now trying to get around some of the terms to erect revenue-producing signs and video boards in the outfield.

    “Look, this is a team trying to stay in this historic setting in a really tough economic environment, trying to modernize without disturbing the tradition,” he said, “trying to build a competitive baseball team. I have a lot of faith in them, and I think they’re doing that. But you can’t impose conditions on them that nobody else has.”

    But didn’t they agree to the contract?

    “Well, this ownership didn’t,” Selig said — ignoring the fact that Kenney, ownership’s top business executive since jumping from Tribune at the point of the sale, was the team’s lead man on the rooftop deal.

    Everybody knew the terms coming in.

    “But whatever,” Selig said. “They’re willing to do whatever their contracts say. … But you can’t tell them, stay in this setting, but you can’t put this up, you can’t put that up, you can’t do that, and your people can watch your games under conditions that don’t exist anywhere else, which really hurts a franchise, and then tell me that’s fair. Because it isn’t.”

    How long will the whole thing take? When will the baseball be good again? Does it matter?

    “I have a lot of faith in Theo, and I’m sure they’re on the right track,” Selig said. “I know what the Rickettses are trying to do. I monitor every franchise very, very closely, and I’m satisfied they’re on the right track.

    “But you’ve got to give them the economic wherewithal to do that. That’s all. That’s not asking for anything that anybody else hasn’t done. So we’ll do everything we can.”

    Email: gwittenmyer@suntimes.com

  • fb_avatar

    What were the corresponding moves bringing up Rosscup
    and Rameriez?

  • In reply to deport soriano com:

    Ruggiano to the DL, Blake Parker to Iowa

  • In reply to deport soriano com:

    Cubs needed some R & R.

  • Bring up someone we know who throws strikes - Hendricks.

  • In reply to SFToby:

    Does Theo know any good bowlers?

  • In reply to Aquinas wired:

    He's eyeing one for the draft.

  • When I heard Marshal had a dead arm in spring training I was worried he might be used up. Looks like that may be the case.
    As for Strop, yes his walks put them in a bad predicament but I also felt that the umpire really squeezed him on a few of those pitches. He seemed to get it dialed in and I really was surprised he got pulled after Goldshmidt. If your going to pull him why not against arguably their best hitter?

  • In reply to CubsBuck22:

    He got squeezed a bit, as a lot of Cubs pitchers seem to get squeezed, but he also was all over the place.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Imo the plate umpires have been abysmal so far. Might be a good analysis by u Mr. Pitch FX.

  • Can let Adam handle that one ;)

  • If all else fails, fly Alec Baldwin in to give them an ultimatum.

  • In reply to Eldrad:

    Haha!

  • In reply to Eldrad:

    ABC. Always Be Closing. To bad Cubs don't know their ABCs.

  • Castillo had it out with the Ump after he got called out on a borderline pitch and I believe it was because Strop wasn't getting those called for strikes.

  • I'm not surprised with Strop's command issues. As this is largely what he was in Baltimore that made him expendable. He was lights out after we acquired him last year, so I was hoping it was Bosio magic... but that doesn't appear to be the case. He is what he is... Marmol part deux....

    I'm curious if any of the saber (or cyber if your Sveum) guru's have run studies on guys like Strop & Marmol that have plus stuff but struggle with command at how they fare over the long run? I would think if they had that information as a baseline, they could have moved Marmol sooner while he had some value and I hope we're looking back at Strop thinking we should have moved him during the winter of 2013/2014....

    O/T but I think MLB should ban wearing the hat cocked to the side like Rodney/Strop do. :)

  • Isn't it a bit soon to already give up on Strop as a possible closer? He's only had one opportunity to close. It's a bit of a knee-jerk reaction to complain after only one chance. I hope RR is a little more patient than that.

  • "But here is one thing I would do -- if I put in a pitcher and he's throwing strikes, I'm not going to look a gift horse in the mouth. I'm going to let that ride. I think the Cubs could have left Hector Rondon in to pitch the 9th on Wednesday and, despite his early troubles, the Cubs seemed to remove Pedro Strop just when it looked like he had found a rhythm"

    THIS

  • In reply to Rob Letterly:

    I think this is a key to bullpen management, and has been misused by Cubs management for years.

    It is great to have set guys for the 7th, 8th and 9th innings IF they are both dominant and consistent. But the Cubs have very few that are consistent. Using three of four relievers per game, when most are inconsistent, merely ensures that you will eventually reach the guy that is having a bad day.

    Certainly, I would have left Rondon in for the ninth. Any time a reliever comes in and does well, he should be given another inning, or at least another batter, to see if he can continue. True, he might not be available the next day, but wins are scarce enough that we can't let any of them pass us by.

  • In reply to DaveP:

    RR is in a no win situation with the bullpen. he needs to still go to guys to try and get them to get their confidence back. he cant just use Rondon and Grimm exclusively

  • Glen Garry- Glen Ross is the best movie ever. Should be required viewing in high school. They'd learn to swear properly if nothing else.

    That is all.

  • In reply to rsanchez11:

    Best movie ever? Bit of a 7th inning stretch?

  • In reply to Aquinas wired:

    you making a comment about a comment being a stretch, a stretch?

  • so upset Cubs didnt spend on Robbie Cano. he could have us at 8 wins right now

  • In the 30th season of the rebuild.....ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ.

  • In reply to Aquinas wired:

    This is the start of year 3 with Theo. You can not count very well. You are off by a factor of 10. Go troll somewhere else.

  • In reply to John57:

    My friend, it was hyperbole for humorous effect. Apparently you checked your sense of humor at the dour.

  • What is the latest on Fujikawa? When can we expect him back?

  • The last I heard, Fujikawa was pitching in a game in EXT, called out the manager and trainer, and was taken out of the game. As far as I know, he has not thrown since then, which was more than a week ago.

  • I like Vizcaino as the option. As far as them waiting to make sure he's healthy, I get that. Really though, what's the difference in him throwing one 17 pitch inning in Daytona versus one 17 pitch inning with the Cubs in terms of strain on the arm? What difference does it make which town he gets hurt in if he's going to get hurt anyway. His stuff is legit. He can't hurt the club. If he were a starter they'd obviously have to stretch him out but since he's a 20-30 pitch at a time guy, as long as he isn't having pain, Chicago is the place.

  • In reply to Ben20:

    Can't bring him up until he can throw back to back games. With the number of guys the Cubs have struggling in the pen right now they can't also carry a guy they have to watch that carefully.

  • In reply to mjvz:

    My point is let him not pitch on back to back days in the big leagues. Organizationally, its a waste of his stuff in my opinion. I think they can actually watch him even more closely in Chicago and you have to figure the training and recovery aide is better in Chicago anyway. I'd rather him help the big club 3 days a week until he can help 5 days a week.

  • Any free agents available worth bringing in for a tryout. As I recall, that's how they came up with Gregg last year.

  • In reply to VaCubFan:

    well, Gregg is out there again ;) Not sure if lightning can strike twice though.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    And hes basically clamoring to come back. No thanks, SaveBot.

  • In reply to mutant beast:

    He can't be any worse than Veras.

  • In reply to John57:

    Actually Gregg was very good last year. I dont know why they didnt bring him back, Veras' stats historically arent anything to write home about. I think its Vizcaino's job by July so it will be by committee until then unless Veras suddenly finds his control in the near future (which would make him flippable).

  • In reply to VaCubFan:

    i think we have enough farm arms that are close enough to not go that route

  • Short term there isn't much they can do.

    Keep using Veras in low leverage situations until he figures it out. If he hasn't sorted it out by the end of May you release him. Hopefully he gets himself right and they can at least count on him in a setup role if not the closer role. Russell should start getting the Wright treatment for a time. Use him sparingly in the middle innings until he hopefully finds a groove. Rosscup should be given the high leverage opportunities in the mean time and see if he can handle it.

    Give Strop another couple of shots as the closer or at least as the 8th inning guy. He hasn't been a disaster yet. He has just struggled in a couple of outings. I'm willing to give him a bit of a leash right now. Strop, Rondon, Grimm and Rosscup should get the high leverage situations for the forseeable future until Veras and/or Russell recover. Maybe Villanueva can give them a boost once he returns to the pen when Arrieta returns.

    Ramirez is only going to be here for a couple of days before he goes back down because 13 man staff is not a real solution. I think he is an insurance policy in case Jackson and/or Villanueva gave the team bad outings yesterday and today. He'll probably go back down this weekend.

    If by the end of May Veras/Russell/Wright/Villanueva are still a disaster then they will have to move on to plan B. Trade them if they can, release them if they can't, and then bring up guys from the Ramirez, Wada, Mateo, Hatley, Rusin, Schlitter, Vizcaino, Rivero group.

  • You got it John. Tell the boys coffee is for closers only.
    And first place is a new Eldorado, second a set of steak knives, third place your ass is fired.

  • LOL! Bring in Alec Baldwin for the pre-game speech!

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Which he could with, "“I’d wish you good luck but you wouldn’t know what to do with it if you got it."

  • In reply to YouCannotBeSerious:

    Haha! I'll still take the luck, though ;)

  • In reply to YouCannotBeSerious:

    I saw Joe Montegna and the original Chicago cast on Broadway too many years ago. Never did see the film.

  • Why do we even have a bullpen for the team this year? Most games, everyone should just drop their gloves and walk away in the sixth inning. It would cut payroll.

    Having a bullpen in 2014 is like polishing a turd.

  • CJ Edwards has inflamation in his shoulder, should sit for 2 weeks and then resume baseball activities.

  • Daury Torrez seems to be scheduled to pitch today, so he might be OK.

  • In reply to Caps:

    He is okay. Actually got word late last night and I did update it in the recaps, but probably too late for people to see it.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Right, I missed it... Good to know... I liked what I saw from him during his brief no-hit bid... I think he's from the Hendricks, Ivan Pineyro mold... If the 90-93 mph fastball reports are right, he might be throwing a tick harder than them too.

  • In reply to Caps:

    Agreed. Torrez throws a bit harder and he has more projection left than either, but if he winds up like Hendricks I'll take that too.

  • John, I stated this a few weeks ago that walks are the issue. And if you are really desperate, then let the relievers know if they walk a batter, they are coming out. I am desperate for wins. Desperate times, means desperate measures. Issue a walk and you are OUT OF HERE! How desperate of a Cub fan is John?

  • In reply to NilesNorth:

    I know more than a few people who have advocated for that, but I worry that might lead to tentative pitching or aiming the ball. I'm not sure what the solution is, but I think you cannot have guys who walk batters as your last line of defense. You have to be able to remove them from the game if they cannot throw strikes -- and you have to do it before it's too late. If you are going to close with a guy with walk issues, then at least be ready to warm some one up quickly. That alone should send a message.

  • fb_avatar

    Interestingly John. Kevin Gregg just did an interview with Gordon Whittmeyer saying he is ready to pitch and would love to help the Cubs. He also said he hates saber-metrics and those people who use it to plug in any reliever in the 9th inning. Honestly I think Gordo is just trolling on the Cubs even more than normal. If he is it's both timely and well executed.

  • In reply to Sean Holland:

    He's become quite good at trolling. He's dedicated to it.

  • To me, the approach to the bullpen has been unexplainable part of the entire rebuilding process. Except for closers, bullpen contracts are short and inexpensive. We could go sign as many of the best free agents for the pen as we want, without damage to a) our salary position, b) our long term cost structure or c) opportunities for up and coming players.

    Since I consider Epstoyer to be fairly intelligent and aware of this fact, my only conclusion is that they are choosing to have crappy bullpens as a means of artificially reducing our number of wins, and getting us the three to four slots up in the draft that those losses bring us. The 'inefficiency' they are exploiting is draft order. No tangible benefit to finishing strong enough to be ~15 in the draft, when you can equally not make the playoffs and get the 4th pick in each round.

    I get it. But it make for frustrating viewing.

  • Just remember John, coffee is for closers.

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