Following a Joe Maddon coached team can be an interesting experience. As with all managers, along the way there are going to be some decisions you just don’t agree with. I’ve enjoyed one decision he made that absolutely isn’t the one I would have made if I were running the team. Brandon Morrow has been hurt this year a fair amount. This team entered the season with two closers being used in set-up man roles in Justin Wilson and Steve Cishek. Carl Edwards Jr. has long been expected to one day evolve into a closer. The Cubs have now traded for Brandon Kintzler who also has closing experience. To be clear, none of these guys is Trevor Hoffman or Mariano Rivera. Heck, even the organizational decision to install Brandon Morrow as the de facto closer was an unusual choice as he had never done the job before.
Pedro Strop has been asked to be a closer. He’s 33 years old and has never held that job at any point in his career. In one of my off-season articles last winter, I wrote this about Pedro:
Pedro Strop has been a fairly consistent reliever throughout his time with the Cubs. He consistently scores out by almost any measure as a good, not great reliever. He will string together four or five very good outings and then have a clunker like this one. I’m sure it has happened, but I can’t really remember a prolonged stretch of not good Pedro. But by the same token, I can’t remember too many situations where he was just dominant over any lengthy amount of time. He’s just fairly steady. As a third or fourth reliever, as he usually is, he’s a nice piece in the Cubs pen. He’ll return for his sixth season as a Cub in 2018, making him the elder statesman of the Cubs pitching staff.
To illustrate the consistency of Strop, as a Cub, in five seasons his ERA has ranged from 2.21 to 2.91. His bWAR ranges from .7 to 1.6. Those best numbers came from 2014 when he had a 2.21 ERA over 61 innings. Pedro’s hits allowed per nine were 6.7 last year, his highest number as a Cub. His walks per nine were 3.9, also his highest as a Cub (though he also has had seasons of 3.7 and 3.8, so not a massive increase). His strike outs per nine decrease to 9.7, his lowest as a Cub. I suspect that is the reason behind a projection Baseball Reference has for him of a 3.60 ERA and a 1.217 WHIP which would be substantially worse than any numbers he’s had as a Cub. He’ll be in his age 33 season, and it looks like Baseball Reference (or their source which was an overly simplistic model designed by Tom Tango) thinks age will start to cause a decline in Strop’s performance.
But here’s the thing, 33-year-old Pedro Strop is 4-1 with a 2.80 ERA. He has a 3.28 FIP and a 1.111 WHIP. His hits per nine and home-runs per nine, are both within the same range that they’ve always been. His strikeouts per nine are down a bit and that is the one spot where he is below his career numbers. But his walks per nine are also down just slightly and so you wonder if that isn’t a little bit by design. I’ve not directly heard it said, but anecdotally, the Cubs pitchers appear to have made a concerted effort to not rely so heavily on the strikeouts, and to let the ball be put in play some more and rely on the defense. At the same time, the hitters have given up some power to just put the ball in play and try to make things happen.
We may not always like the results or the decision making we see from the Cubs organization. But I just love that they are always trying things, always looking for edges to exploit. Among other things this year, the Cubs often run around the bases like you’d see in a little league game. That’s not to say that they are running around recklessly. There is a purpose indeed. The Cubs have begun to exploit as many times in a game as they can, the lazy plays that players make. When Joe Maddon got here, there was a whole hoopla around "Respect 90" and busting butt to first. That forces infielders to make more effort throws to first and not just be able to lob the ball across. That’s no big deal. But now we see Cubs tagging up in odd situations, taking bases when fielders are shifted out of position, taking off from third when an outfielder lobs a ball back to the infield. The Cubs have made a direct effort to constantly apply pressure on fielders to always stay in the moment in a game. This organization is always looking to push the boundaries and think outside the box.
I’d have never guessed that Pedro Strop would be so effective in this role, but he has really done well with it. Once Brandon Morrow comes back, Pedro will again shift back into a set up man role. With Edwards and Cishek and Kintzler and Wilson, the Cubs will feature a quintet of imposing late game relievers come play-off time. I know there is some frustration that the Cubs aren’t a million games over .500 yet. But write this team off in the post-season at your own risk.
ith that, we turn our attention to yesterday’s game as we look at what WPA had to say about Heroes and Goats. As always the Heroes and Goats are determined by WPA (Win Probability Added — here’s a good explanation of how WPA works) and are not in any way subjective. Many days WPA will not tell the story of what happened, but often it can give at least a glimpse to who rose to the occasion in a high leverage moment or who didn’t get the job done in that moment. Also note, for the purposes of Heroes and Goats, we ignore the results of pitchers while they are batting and hitters while they are pitching. With that, we get to the results.
Game 110, August 4 - Cubs again build early lead and hold on for 5-4 win (64-46)
THE THREE HEROES:
- Superhero - Pedro Strop (.168). Pedro finished off 3⅓ innings of perfect relief from the Cubs bullpen with a perfect inning of his own that featured two strikeouts. A day after the bullpen struggled to close out a game it was refreshing to see them flat out dominate.
- Hero - Steve Cishek (.157). Steve would have been my choice for closer, but he’s been fantastic in more of a mid-game put out the fire role. He threw 1⅓ innings of perfect relief himself, striking out three of the four batters he faced.
- Sidekick - Kyle Schwarber (.126). Kyle had two hits in three at bats, including a solo homer in the second inning that started a five run second inning.
THE THREE GOATS:
- Billy Goat - Willson Contreras (-.077). Willson had one walk in four plate appearances. He struck out twice. He lands here due to a strikeout with the bases loaded and one out in the seventh inning.
- Goat - Victor Caratini (-.060). Victor was used as a pinch hitter in the bottom of the seventh inning with two outs and the bases loaded, he grounded out to end the inning.
- Kid - Ben Zobrist (-.050). Ben had just one hit, a double, in five at bats on the day. He struck out twice. He did score a run in that five run second.
WPA Play of the Game: In the second inning, the Cubs started out homer, single, ground out, strike out, RBI single. That brought Anthony Rizzo to the plate with the Cubs leading 2-0 and a runner on first with two outs. He hit a two-run home-run to give the Cubs a 4-0 lead. (.134)
*Padres Play of the Game: With one out and a runner on first in the sixth inning, Hunter Renfroe doubled, putting runners on second and third with just one out and the Cubs leading 5-3. (.117). That would be the last hit and the last base-runner the Cubs allowed on the day.
- Superhero - Javier Baez 29.5
- Hero - Ben Zobrist and Pedro Strop 15
Up Next: The two teams will conclude their four game series and their seven game season series this afternoon. The Cubs have won two straight and five of six overall in the series. They’ll send Jon Lester to the mound looking to make it six of seven. Jon is 12-4 with a 3.22 ERA, but in his last seven games he’s just 3-2 with a 6.06 ERA. Much of that damage came in one start against the Cardinals three starts ago. But, the Pirates knocked him around pretty good last time out. He lasted just five innings allowing seven hits, three walks and four runs while taking the loss. He faced the Padres earlier this year and allowed six hits, three walks and three runs in 5⅓ innings of work. He recorded the win in that one. In four starts over the last three years against the Padres, Jon is 3-0 and has allowed only nine runs in 23⅓ innings of work. The Padres are just 11-24 on the season against lefty starters, even with their win Thursday. Of course, most of the damage in that one occurred after Mike Montgomery was lifted from the game.
The Padres counter with a lefty of their own. Joey Lucchesi is 5-6 with a 3.74 ERA in this, his rookie season. Over his last seven starts, he is 2-4 with a 4.55 ERA, so things aren’t moving in the right direction. Last time out, he pitched just 4⅓ innings in a loss to the Diamondbacks. He allowed six hits, three walks and five runs. The Cubs are 18-8 against left handed starters.
Who was the Cubs Player of the Game?
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