As Cubs fans, we’re accustomed to thinking that we have it worse than every other fan base of all of the other 29 teams. In one particular area, it seems that we think if the Cubs were just average, the team would win a lot more games. That area is the bullpen. And that line of thinking is just not true. The bullpen, for the most part, has actually been quite good.
There are plenty of anecdotes to skew the perception of the ‘pen that drive the false narrative. The 5 blown saves. The 9th inning meltdown against the Diamondbacks in the 100th Birthday game at Wrigley is another favorite. Jose Veras is a topic all by himself. All of these anecdotes are just that, however. Anecdotes.
The instances of failure are going to happen to every team in baseball numerous times over the course of a long season. That’s baseball. The fact that they stick out is what drives perceptions. The 100th Birthday game is a good example of this. The bullpen is going to take the blame for how that game ended, but Pedro Strop did everything within his power to close that game. It was out of his control that Tony Campana hit a slow roller that Starlin Castro couldn’t handle. And it was nobody’s fault that a ground ball hit the second base bag and caromed into right field. The home plate umpire didn’t help matters, either.
As far as the blown saves go, they can be taken with a grain of salt. Two of them have been at the hands of Jose Veras, and he’s been a dumpster fire. In statistical analysis, the first thing you’re supposed to do is look for are outliers that manipulate the data set in one direction or another. Jose Veras is it. He accounts for 10 of the 49 (20.4%) team earned runs allowed. He also accounts for 10 of the 54 (18.5%) walks, 2 of the 11 (18.1%) home runs, and 3 of the 8 (37.5%) batters hit by pitches. He’s managed to do all of that in 5.2 innings pitched, which is only 4.8% of the 116 worked by the bullpen as a whole.
To find the true performance of the bullpen, Veras needs to be removed, which is not a new concept for me…
— Behind The Ivy (@Behind_The_Ivy) April 24, 2014
By removing his statistical contribution to the bullpen, it is easier to get a more accurate look at the body of work as a whole. With him, the ‘pen has an ERA of 3.80, which is 14th in the major leagues. Without him, that ERA shrinks to 3.18, which would put them into the 10th spot. The 54 walks is good for 21st in the majors, but without Veras them into a 10th place tie with the Phillies and Rockies. This is not to say that Veras is the only problem the Cubs have had with the bullpen, but he’s a huge part of them, and without him, they look a lot better. And the other problems, such as overuse, under-use, and other Rick Renteria caused ailments, should get better as he gains experience with handling a bullpen. We hope.
The bullpen this season is solid evidence against the eye-test. The numbers just don’t back it up. When we expect the bullpen to fail, we attribute any instance of it to the staff being bad. We look at a 3-11 record in the bullpen as a sign that they’re blowing games. The reality is that this talent and run deficient team plays a ton of close games, the offense fails to score, the bullpen eventually gives up a run, and end up taking a tough loss. Last night’s game serves as a perfect case study of it. If a starting pitcher went 7.1 innings, gave up 3 runs (2 earned), on 5 hits, 3 walks, and four strike outs, we’d all say he had a decent night. But since it was a collective effort from the bullpen, and the last run ended the game, it’s deemed failure.
The bullpen is going to give up some leads, allow some runs, and have games where they look absolutely terrible. That can be said about every bullpen in baseball, though. With the current Cubs’ bullpen, it is safe to breathe somewhat easily when they’re in the game. They’ve been pretty good. Except for Veras. As far as he goes, allow me to direct you back to the embedded tweet…