Having finished the NL East overviews, we’ll now shift to the NL Central and start with Chicago’s North Siders.
Kevin Gregg – RH (Closer)
Carlos Marmol – RH (Set-up)
Sean Marshall – LH (Set-up)
Angel Guzman – RH (Set-up)
Aaron Heilman – RH (Mid-relief)
John Grabow – LH (Lefty specialist)
Esmailin Caridad – RH (Long-relief)
Justin Berg – RH (Long-relief)
Manager: Lou Piniella
Pitching Coach: Larry Rothschild
Bullpen Coach: Lester Strode
The Cubs have put together a very solid and deep bullpen that lacks a blue-chip closer. If they had one of those (and I imagine they’ll get one this off-season), they’d probably have close to the best bullpen in MLB. Gregg, as I mentioned, is not the kind of pitcher you want to hand the ball to in the 9th during a stretch run and in the playoffs. He’s got a 3.88 ERA and a 58-to-21 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 55 and 2/3 innings this season. He’s certainly no Mike MacDougal, but the Cubs could do much better than Gregg. He’s blown 5 saves in 28 opportunities to do so. He’s pitched very badly in August, allowing 4 (!) Home Runs and posting a 7.36 ERA in 7 and 1/3 innings. He’s blown 2 saves in that span.
Carlos Marmol looked like and pitched like the closer of the future last season, but has been super-wild this season, walking 52 batters in 55 and 2/3 innings. He’s also hit 11 batters. That figure leads the league (and this includes starting pitchers). To his credit, he’s struck out 66 batters and has a 3.56 ERA, so the stuff is obviously still there. I wonder if it’s something mechanical, because 52 walks in 55 and 2/3 is killing him. He could be one of the best relievers in the league if his walk rate weren’t twice what it was last year.
Sean Marshall has been a fixture in the Cubs bullpen/rotation for 4 years now. He’s only 26 years old and the Cubs probably like him as a starter better than a reliever, but he’s posted a 4.86 ERA as a starter and a 2.91 ERA as a reliever in his career. The splits this season have been eerily similar: 5.24 ERA as a starter, 2.77 ERA as a reliever. He’s been a late-innings lefty when he’s in the bullpen.
Aaron Heilman had been coveted by the Cubs for his entire career before they finally landed him from the Mariners (a team he never threw a single pitch for) for Ronny Cedeno and Garrett Olsen. For the past three years, Heilman’s K/BB has been trending downward. After posting a 3.15 K/BB in 2007, he posted a 1.74 K/BB in 2008 and the trend has continued this season, as his 48-to-31 strikeout-to-walk ratio has contributed to his pedestrian 95 ERA+. The Cubs have to be concerned with his 2-year running 5+ walk/9 rate. He’s 30 years old and a bad season away from being relegated to journeyman land.
Angel Guzman has been good, albeit lucky, this season. He’s posted a 2.47 ERA and a 39-to-15 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 52 innings. His ERA is largely a product of his .210 BABIP. Smoke in mirrors works sometimes. Still, he’s a serviceable low-leverage reliever.
John Grabow came over to the Cubs from the Pirates in that trade with some other guy for a guy and two other guys. Seriously, he figures to be a big part of the Cubs bullpen down the stretch and gives them one of the best lefty specialists in the game. Overall this season, he’s posted a 45-to-33 strikeout-to-walk ratio and a 3.06 ERA. He’s stranded over 80% of the baserunners he’s allowed. Specialists tend to out-pitch their peripherals.
Esmailin Caridad has experience playing in NPB, but I don’t really know anything about him. He’s only pitched 6 and 1/3 MLB innings this season. I’ll refer to this piece:
Last offseason the Cubs’ biggest foreign signing was Dominican-born Esmailin Caridad. Yet he wasn’t your typical teenager drafted for an insane bounty (see the A’s 2008 signing of 16 year old Michael Iona 4.25M), instead he was a 24 year old who came via the Japanese circuit. As a 18 year old, Esmailin signed on to play in Japan and worked his way through their academy system and industrial leagues (a comparable close mesh to low level minor leagues and independent baseball). In 2007, he even played briefly (2 G, 2/3 IP, 2 H, 1 BB) in Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB), our MLB, with the Hiroshima Carp before a loophole allowed him to sign with a MLB club. It just so happens Hendry and VP of player personnel Fleita were in the Dominican at the time of Caridad’s return and had him pitch against Cubs’ players in the Dominican Instructional League. After that Caridad signed for 175K in December and started the 2008 season for High A Daytona.
He has a career 3.92 ERA and a 193-to-83 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 277 and 2/3 minor-league innings.
Justin Berg is 25 years old and has only pitched 2 MLB innings. He put up rather mediocre numbers throughout the minors until this year, when he posted a 2.33 ERA in 46 and 1/3 innings. His strikeout-to-walk ratio was only 27-to-24, so there’s not much to be excited about there. His MiLB career K/BB ratio is 321-to-246, so there’s not a load of potential there anyway.
Gregg generally finishes games and Marmol generally pitches the 8th. Marshall serves as a late-innings lefty specialist, though Grabow figures to take a great deal of those appearances. Guzman is generally used in the 7th. Heilman pitches in low-leverage situations and the final 2 members of the bullpen will most likely be used exclusively for meaningless situations.
Carlos Zambrano – 15 day DL. Back. ETA August 25.
Jeff Samardzija – AAA.
Neal Cotts – AAA.