Cubs broadcaster Jim Deshaies describes Joe Maddon’s bullpen utilization as the “circle of trust.” The Cubs manager has no problem shifting roles around and giving the hot hand the high-leverage moments. Going into the NLDS, then, who is in or out of Maddon’s latest circle of trust?
More than just the eye test, we can get a visual of Maddon’s faith in his relievers via a Baseball Prospectus tool called Bullpen Mis(management). This feature graphs a reliever’s leverage index, how high the pressure is, when entering the game per 27 game-period (i.e., one baseball month).
As you probably already know, there’s only one definite role carved out: Wade Davis is the closer. In order bridge the gap from starter to closer in the playoffs, Maddon is likely to utilize Carl Edwards Jr., Pedro Strop, Brian Duensing, Mike Montgomery, Hector Rondon, and John Lackey. The former trio is highlighted below, but we’re focusing on the first two because Maddon has trusted one or the other more at different points of the season.
Maddon trusted Strop more than any Cubs reliever throughout the first two months of the year. Edwards, however, became the main guy from June to July.
For instance, Maddon trusted Strop more than any Cubs reliever throughout the first two months of the year. Edwards, however, became the main guy from June to July. The lanky flamethrower’s control dwindled soon thereafter, and BB/9 around 8.0 forced Maddon to instead lean on Strop once again as the principal reliever outside of Davis.
In the last month of the season, Edwards looks as if he gained Maddon’s trust back, although there were fewer high-leverage chances for Cubs pitchers than previous months. Still, Maddon used the Stringbean Slinger during slightly more stressful spots than Strop, though both had their share of meaningful moments.
It’s hard to tell which of the hard-throwing righties will serve as a setup man for Davis, as the difference in their leverage indexes was closer in September than we’d seen all year. Factor in Montgomery’s return to the bullpen and Rondon pitching better after some elbow trouble and the waters are muddied a little further. Then you’ve got that purplish line representing Duensing, a guy who’s quietly worked his way into higher-leverage spots throughout the season.
All of those factors might give Maddon more reason to utilize Strop or CJ earlier in the game when a fire needs to be put out before spreading. One thing is for certain, though: Edwards Jr., Strop, and Duensing will be pitching when your heart is racing.