We’ve seen team ride their bullpens all postseason. Although this has proven to be effective, it’s not how this Chicago Cubs roster is constructed.
When Joe Maddon pulled Kyle Hendricks after 4 2/3 innings of work in Game 7 of the 2016 World Series, he was relentlessly ridiculed. Maddon managed that game with a full bullpen, including Jon Lester at his disposal. Two years later, Maddon’s “unconventional” decision has not only become more acceptable, but it has become the norm. Playoff teams have become more adept at utilizing their bullpen earlier in games.
No team has embraced this methodology more than the National League Central champion and rival Milwaukee Brewers.
The Brewers have enjoyed a deep postseason run by using an innovative technique of continually relying on their bullpen.
Through eight playoff games, no Brewers starting pitcher has completed six innings, and those pitchers have averaged less than five innings per start. It’s an unprecedented tactic that allowed the Brewers’ bullpen to dominate opponents.
This ideology may be just the beginning, as other teams are following suit. All four remaining teams have been implementing a quick hook for their starting pitchers. Walker Buehler of the Dodgers and Nathan Eovaldi of the Red Sox are the only pitchers in either League Championship Series to go at least six innings of work.
An issue for the MLB
Historically, postseason baseball showcased great starting pitching. Baseball fans are drawn to teams winning or losing a game based on their starting pitcher’s performance, it adds excitement. The modern style of baseball which doesn’t allow for starting pitchers to go deep into games is simply not as attractive as the alternative.
Even Bill James (the former warehouse worker credited with introducing baseball to modern analytics) chimed in via Twitter.
“Since baseball exists only to be enjoyed and pro baseball is dependent for its existence on those who enjoy it, the fact that many people LIKE the old system of ace starters and starter accountability is very relevant to debates about our future.”
James is right, baseball may lose popularity if the “old system” doesn’t somehow prevail. The problem is that it’s not something that could be easily policed.
Luckily, the Cubs won’t be buying into the new-age of bullpenning.
Old school Cubs?
The biggest strength of the Cubs team is their starting rotation. Between Jon Lester, Cole Hamels (club option), Kyle Hendricks, Yu Darvish and Jose Quintana, the Cubs will be looking for their starting pitchers to go deep into games.
Not only does this group of arms have the ability to excel in 2019, but the Cubs also don’t have a bullpen equipped to shoulder the load. The Chicago bullpen debacle was well-documented throughout the 2018 season. While they managed to remain effective, there were injuries and inconsistent performances throughout the bullpen. I don’t anticipate much turnover either, especially given how much the Cubs management has invested in their starting rotation.
If the club does decide to bring back Hamels, they will have $96.2 million invested in their 2019 rotation (Tyler Chatwood included). That type of financial commitment ensures that the Cubs will lean heavily on their starters, as they should. These are pitchers that have been some of the most consistent performers in the league for a while.
This experienced group of starting pitchers will represent old-school baseball against the new-age, and battle to preserve a large part of the game we all fell in love with.