Velocity deficit continues to hamper Cubs
The radar gun was another sign of the times for the Cubs on Sunday.
Starting pitcher Adrian Sampson hit 94.1 mph with his fastest pitch of the day. Miami countered with starter Jesus Luzardo at 97 mph, followed by Anthony Bender at 97.2 and Tanner Scott at 96.8.
The Cubs finished the day with just 2 hits and ended their five-game home win streak with a 3-0 loss to the Marlins at Wrigley Field.
Cubs pitchers are having more success lately adding sliders and perfecting their pitch shape. But the team remains on the low end of velocity, which has been the trend in MLB for several years.
According to baseballsavant.com, the Cubs' hardest thrower this season based on average fastball velocity is reliever Michael Rucker at 94.9 mph. That ranks 186th in MLB, which means the average team has six pitchers who hurl it harder.
"It's something that I've always worked on," Rucker said. "The less time the hitter has to react to something, the higher chance that I'm going to be successful. But that's not the whole picture either."
After the Cubs made four deals before the trade deadline, president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer said they try to add power arms in every deal.
The Cubs had some harder throwers last year. Manuel Rodriguez had an average fastball of 97 mph. Codi Heuer was 95.9 and Craig Kimbrel, whom the Cubs traded to get Heuer from the White Sox, was 96.5.
But Kimbrel has moved on. Heuer missed the season recovering from Tommy John surgery and Rodriguez has spent most of the year on the 60-day injured list with a right elbow strain after pitching 2 innings for Iowa in April. That seems to be another downfall of high-velocity pitchers, the threat of injury and needing their elbows reconstructed.
Left-hander Brailyn Marquez, the Cubs' former No. 1-ranked prospect, hit 99 in his major league debut against the White Sox on Sept. 29, 2020, but hasn't pitched in a game since.
"Travel ball now for kids and how early they start compared to my travel-ball experience," Rucker said. "There's kids that are 8 years old doing what I didn't do until I was 15. I've been blessed to keep everything intact."
There might be help on the way. The Iowa Cubs used three hard-throwing relievers Sunday who should be in the majors relatively soon - Jeremiah Estrada, Cam Sanders and Ben Leeper.
Right-hander Daniel Palencia, a pitcher the Cubs got from Oakland in the Andrew Chafin trade last year, started for Class A South Bend on Sunday and reportedly hit 101 mph several times. Newly-acquired Ben Brown threw 96-98 in his debut for Double A Tennessee on Saturday night.
"Ideally, we get more guys coming," Cubs pitching coach Tommy Hottovy said. "I know they've been working on a lot of guys down in the minor leagues. Our average fastball velocity last year as a group I think was like 91. It was the lowest in baseball and it wasn't even close.
"Some of that is personnel, some of that is just what gives guys success. But we are definitely trying to work and develop guys to continue to create velocity and gain velocity over the year and career. That's a little bit harder to influence in-season than changing pitch grips or things like that."
Pitching dominated the action Sunday except for the fifth inning, when Miami's Jacob Stallings and Peyton Burdick hit back-to-back home runs. Sampson said he wished he had changed his jersey before that inning, because of the sweat and humidity.
Sampson completed 6 innings with 3 runs allowed. The Cubs managed just 1 hit in 7 innings against Luzardo.
Christopher Morel sat out for the Cubs after coming down with a sore right hamstring in Saturday's game.