Position: RP, slightly cocked to the left
2016 Stats: 41.1 IP, 32.1 K%, 8.0 BB%, 2.85 ERA, 2.39 DRA, 1.4 WARP
Year in Review: The above numbers are… good. Strop had, statistically, his best season as a major leaguer in 2016, with career bests in strikeout and walk percentage. His 2.39 DRA was good for an extremely nice 69.9 DRA-, besting Carl Edwards, Jr. by two points in that category for the best on the team. In fact, Edwards and Strop ranked 13th and 16th in DRA among all pitchers in 2016, an impressive feat, although they threw the least amount of innings of anyone in the top 19.
Strop’s pitch selection, velocity, and movement were all in line with his recent career norms in 2016, and while batters hit his slider slightly better this past season, they crumbled in the face of his fastball. He was every bit the premier late-inning reliever that he has become since he joined the Cubs in 2013 as part of the Jake Arrieta trade, and he deserves recognition as an important part of the World Series champion team. Check out these stats for proof:
2016 is Strop’s standout season. But, it also stands out in that he threw twenty fewer innings than he did in 2015; he tore the MCL in his left knee in August and missed six weeks near the end of the season. Strop returned from the disabled list September 23, and made four appearances before the playoffs began. He would get only 5 ⅔ innings of work in the playoffs—a measly two innings in a tense World Series—having lost Joe Maddon’s trust, although it was unsure why Chapman and Edwards were the only arms upon which Maddon comfortably relied. He spun a scoreless inning in Game Three’s tense 1-0 affair, but only got garbage time in the ninth inning of Game Six’s blowout victory the rest of the way.
Looking Ahead: If Strop pitched well in 2016, then why does it seem like he is getting pushed out of the picture in favor of Wade Davis and Carl Edwards, Jr.?
Edwards’ and Strop’s fates are linked very closely. Strop’s injury opened the door for Edwards to become the primary set-up man to Hector Rondon and Aroldis Chapman, especially when Rondon failed to warm to the setup role in which he found himself post-trade deadline. Edwards curried the skipper’s favor with a standout October (and November), and Strop found himself rotting away on the bullpen bench with the season on the line several times. With 2017’s bullpen picture much more crowded than 2016’s, how Maddon chooses to deploy Edwards will greatly impact Strop’s role and influence. Strop’s role will be more amorphous than it has been in recent seasons: he’ll soak up more middle innings, most likely, which is a net gain for the Cubs—those key middle-inning situations, with the game’s outcome hanging in the balance, will be shared between Strop, Edwards, Rondon, Koji Uehara, and Justin Grimm.
The key for Strop is to recover fully from his knee injury. It was a minor setback, and his arm gained some much-needed rest because of his unexpected absence from the club, but Strop has a compact, explosive delivery that inevitably puts pressure on his front knee as he lands.
If he’s healthy, there’s no reason that Maddon should shelve “Hats to the Left.” His walk and strikeout rates were exceptional in 2016, and even if he reverts to his 2014-2015 form, he’s a top-notch reliever, the envy of many teams. Rather than phase the righty out of his incumbent role, Strop should be the ‘pen’s second-most relied-upon arm, behind only Davis. Rondon’s performance down the stretch in 2016 and Edwards’ greenness puts the ball in Strop’s hand when the Cubs need to bridge the gap between the middle innings and Davis, effectively ending the game.
Lead photo courtesy Dennis Wierzbicki—USA Today Sports