Chicago Got A Starter, But Should Have Improved Its Bullpen Instead
By Doug Poe
The Cubs seemingly addressed their biggest concern at the trade deadline, acquiring starting pitcher Jose Quintana from the cross town rival White Sox. The lefthander had an immediate impact on the defending World Series champions, as he dominated in his first two starts and Chicago surpassed the Milwaukee Brewers to gain first place.
In all likelihood, the Cubs will remain at the top of the National League Central Division. Advancing into the post season, however, might be more problematic, since Chicago General Manager Theo Epstein neglected to address what might end up being its Achilles heel.
Closer Wade Davis, who was acquired last winter from the Kansas City Royals in a trade for young slugger Jorge Soler, has so far been an asset out of the Cubs bullpen. The three time All-Star has converted all 23 of his save opportunities, even though his earned run average of 2.37 is at least a half a run higher than in any season since 2013.
As if the somewhat escalated E.R.A. were not enough of a concern, Chicago should be alarmed by an even more startling statistic. It is not the number of innings he has logged, but the amount of work he has spent getting through them.
Miller has worked 38 innings, throwing a total of 699 pitches. That sum averages out to 18 pitches per inning, two over the MLB average of 16.
In 39 of the games in which he has appeared, he has maintained a pitch count under 25. Throughout his career, opponents have hit just .214 when Miller has stayed under 25 pitches.
However, that batting average jumps nearly twenty points when he surpasses that total. Also, his strikeouts per inning rate decreases after he has thrown 25 pitches.
Common sense would indicate that any pitcher would be more effective with fewer total pitches, so his lack of effectiveness when he has gone over 25 is not surprising. However, more pitches should equate to more strikeouts, but in Davis's case it is the opposite.
In the 39 innings of fewer than 25 pitches, Davis has 47 strikeouts. In the other six games, when he has thrown more than 25 pitches, he has just six strikeouts.
Given his high pitch total, it is not surprising that Davis has become gradually less effective since the start of the season. In fact, throughout his career Davis has limited opponents to a .114 batting average, but in July that stat rises exactly 100 points to .214.
His above average pitch counts are the primary factor, as very likely fatigue has set in. That same trend is visible in 2017, a problem that should have prompted Epstein to compete with the Nationals in the bid for a consistent reliever.
Obviously, even with a likely tired Davis to close games, the Cubs have a stronger bullpen than their likely playoff opponent in Washington. Unfortunately for Chicago, the same cannot be said when it comes to the likely division champion in the N.L. West.
Los Angeles closer Kenley Jansen has pitched 46 innings, a game's worth more than Davis. Even so, Jansen has thrown only 634 pitches, averaging to 13 pitches per inning or three under the MLB average.
Because of his pitch efficiency Jansen throughout his career, unlike Davis, has grown stronger in the last few months of the season than in April. Opponents have hit .209 against him in the opening month, an average which declines each month all the way throughout the season. Hitters are batting a mere .152 against Jansen in September and October.
The two clubs are likely to meet in October, when one closer will be sharper than he has been all year. The one in Chicago's bullpen, however, will very likely be tired.