According to reports from both SB Nation’s Chris Cotillo (who doesn’t even know about whom he’s tweeting) and ESPN’s Jesse Rogers, the Cubs have chosen to tender a contract to Justin Grimm. This comes as a bit of a surprise, particularly after they opted not to tender a contract to former closer Hector Rondon, whose inconsistency and projected $6.2 million salary simply didn’t fit with the team’s future plans.
Even though Grimm’s 2017 performance left a lot to be desired and he’s now all out of those all-important minor league options, his mere $2.4 million projection was much more palatable.
Grimm’s tenure with the Cubs has been a tumultuous roller-coaster filled with peaks, valleys, and nauseating loops. When Grimm was at his peak, few batters could touch his explosive fastball/ diving curveball combination. At his worst, though, not even Grimm’s catcher knew where his pitches were going, and any pitch near the zone — four-seamers in particular — was spanked over Wrigley’s ivy-covered outfield wall.
The wild inaccuracy of Grimm’s fastball caused Cubs coaches, executives, and fans headaches throughout his most recent two seasons. Prior to that, the fastball had been a big part of what made the overall return for Matt Garza so worthwhile. In 2015, Grimm’s best season, the precision of his fastball contributed to his role as a relief ace (1.99 ERA, 3.12 FIP). Rarely did Grimm serve up a fastball over the middle of the plate and inside to a righty’s happy zone.
But the script eventuall flipped and Grimm found himself unable locate his fastball with nearly the same accuracy. Previously ice blue, the middle of the strike-zone turned into firy red in 2017, and Grimm paid greatly for hanging his heaters (5.53 ERA, 5.36 FIP).
The most frustrating part of Grimm’s game is that the stuff has always been electric. Few pitchers can pump upper-90’s fastballs and follow them up with curveballs thrown harder than ~90 percent of those from righty relievers, not to mention that stomach-churning vertical drop. That’s why Grimm yielded a still-impressive 71 percent contact rate even at his worst in 2017.
But for Grimm to regain the Cubs’ trust, he’ll need to rediscover the same fastball accuracy that made him a high-leverage bullpen option in 2015. By tendering him a contract for 2018, the Cubs are betting that he can do just that under the tutelage of new pitching coach Jim Hickey. Fingers crossed.