Cubs bullpen got its act together by end of season
At the start of the season, the Cubs bullpen might as well have been throwing batting practice, but the starters were good enough to make up for it.
By the end of the year, the relief corps was one of the best in MLB. So does that mean the Cubs are in good shape heading into 2021? Good question.
When the season began in late July, Craig Kimbrel wasn't himself and most of the Cubs relievers seemed rusty outside of veteran newcomer Jeremy Jeffress.
In September, though, the Cubs ranked second in bullpen ERA at 2.96, according to fangraphs.com. AL champ Tampa Bay was first.
Kimbrel got himself on the right track and gave up no earned runs in 7⅓ innings during the final month. In August and September, Kimbrel recorded 28 strikeouts in 14 innings. Whether he can get back to his familiar 30-plus saves territory remains to be seen. He did a lot of eighth inning work and had just 2 saves this season.
Three other relievers with at least 7 innings pitched were stellar in the final month -- Rowan Wick (1.23), Jason Adam (1.80) and Jeffress (1.80).
Beyond that were pretty good showings by Duane Underwood Jr. (3.00), Dan Winkler (3.38) and Ryan Tepera (3.86), along with lefty Andrew Chafin, who was acquired in a trade and made only a few appearances with the Cubs after coming back from an injury.
Of the pitchers listed above, all but Jeffress and Chafin are under club control for the 2021 season, so it's conceivable to bring everyone back.
At the same time, it's easy to look at the Rays bullpen rolling through the playoffs with a bunch of flamethrowers in the late innings.
By modern baseball standards, the Cubs don't have a lot of big arms in the bullpen. Although, that judgment depends on the system of measurement.
Based on average velocity of the four-seam fastball, according to mlb.com, the Cubs have just two pitchers on the staff who rank in the top 120 in MLB. Kimbrel was 30th in average fastball velocity at 96.9 miles per hour, and the other entry was starter Yu Darvish (69th at 95.9).
Then again, the Cubs have some guys in the next tier of velocity, with Wick at 94.9, Adam at 94.8 and Underwood at 94.5. Chafin, at 93.6 mph, ranks 42nd among lefties.
There's more to pitching than fastball velocity, obviously. According to mlb.com, Wick's cutter ranked 17th in MLB with an average velocity of 91.8. Kimbrel throws one of the hardest curveballs, and Jeffress uses the splitter, which isn't all that common.
So while the Cubs bullpen may not blow many hitters away, at least it's heading into 2021 with some momentum. That could change, though, since Jeffress was the team's most valuable reliever in 2020 and he's a free agent.