Will the Chicago Cubs bullpen be a bright spot in 2016?
After an expectation-shattering 2015 season for the Cubs, the team headed into the offseason with a relatively short list of important needs.
A certain group of media members and fans alike thought that one of the club’s most pressing needs would be to work on their bullpen, but frankly the bullpen was, and still is, one of the team’s best assets.
As a whole last season, the Cubs had one of the best bullpens in all of baseball, let alone in the National League. The team’s 3.38 reliever ERA last season was good enough for eighth-best in the majors and fourth-best in the NL. Their opponent batting average ranked even higher in 2015, as their mark of .234 was tied for sixth-best across baseball and was the second-best among NL teams.
Across the board, the numbers were impressive for Cubs relievers in 2015.
If averages don’t pique your interest like flashier numbers do, the Cubs bullpen ranked ninth in all of baseball in K/BB ratio and seventh in K/9 ratio. It’s hard to find any one particular statistic in which the Cubs don’t have a bullpen in the upper echelon of the league.
One reliever in particular has been overlooked for all too long now, at least by outsiders to the Cubs organization and that’s closer Hector Rondon.
#Cubs closer Hector Rondon has converted his last 15 save opportunities dating to Aug. 14, 2015.
— Chris De Luca (@ChrisDeLuca) April 27, 2016
His “reputation,” so to speak, as a non-dominant or even non-reliable closer sprung up after a difficult May in 2015 for the righty from Venezuela. Ever since the conclusion of that month, however, he has been one of the best closers in the game.
Rondon’s numbers from June until the end of the regular season in 2015 were nothing short of fantastic. During that stretch of time, he put up an ERA of .94 and a WHIP of .90, in addition to holding opposing batters to a .190 batting average.
Few relievers in all of baseball have the ability to dominate opponents over such a long stretch like Rondon has since last summer.
This season, the excellence has only continued for the Cubs’ closer. Though it’s a small sample size, Rondon’s numbers are awe-inspiring through the season thus far. Through April 27, he hasn’t allowed a run through his first six appearances and has allowed a mere two baserunners, all while compiling a K% of 55, exhibiting the overpowering nature of his effort early this season.
Rondon is not the only pitcher making noise and mowing down batters in the Cubs bullpen. Along with the usual suspects (Pedro Strop and Justin Grimm in this case), Adam Warren has been phenomenal through the start of the season.
Up to this point, he has entered seven games and has allowed the same number of runs as Rondon has, a resounding zero.
This year the bullpen is picking up where they left off at the end of 2015, in fact they’ve even improved slightly as a whole.
With the continued elite performance at the back end of the bullpen, in addition to moving on from players such as Tommy Hunter and James Russell (who was the worst among all Cubs pitchers last season in terms of WAR with a mark of -0.9), the Cubs are tearing down opposing offenses with their relieving corps yet again, exhibited by gaudy numbers, including their combined sub-1 WHIP.
It’s easy to overlook the performance of the bullpen when you’ve got the most complete lineup in the game, as well as a starting pitcher who is dominating opponents at a historically-significant rate.
This bullpen is no joke and will demand respect in 2016 though, something that opposing clubs will be finding out all season long.