Pop quiz, hotshot: Which team’s bullpen has the highest BB/9 mark in baseball? If you said the Cubs, you’re wrong, though their 4.39 is only one hundredth of a point below Atlanta. On the other side of that coin, the Cubs’ cumulative 8.99 K/9 ranks only 13th in the majors. Not exactly in keeping with the front office’s goals heading into this season.
“[W]e have to find a way to address [the high bullpen walk rate] going forward, and we will,” Theo Epstein said back in October of last year, even before the season had officially ended. “Some of it is obviously personnel based, and it will be important for us to bring in some reliable strike-throwers going forward out of the pen.”
Enter Anthony Bass, perhaps the most unlikely bullpen savior in the history of unlikely bullpen saviors. Maybe it’s not quite that dramatic, but you don’t really expect a 30-year-old AAAA player to suddenly come through and provide meaningful innings for a relief corps that has desperately needed them over the last few weeks.
Although I suppose astute CI readers will recall that Bass has been on the radar for a while now. Though I definitely undersold his self-announced signing at the time, the righty fit the mold of what the Cubs look for in prospects and reclamation projects alike. They covet players who’ve faced adversity and come through stronger on the other side.
Bass had bounced around between levels, organizations, and even countries, always keeping his head up and trying to learn from his struggles. He learned so much, in fact, that he earned serious consideration for an opening-day roster spot. That obviously didn’t happen, as Eddie Butler got the nod, but Bass has been nothing short of a revelation since being called up on June 11.
After a perfect frame in Tuesday’s win over the Tigers, Bass has now gone 13.1 innings without issuing a walk. That’s — checks calculator to confirm math — a 0.00 BB/9 rate, which is the lowest in baseball among all pitchers with at least 13.1 innings to their name this season. Not bad, huh?
Cubs notes: Anthony Bass has started his Cubs career without issuing a walk in his first 13 1/3 innings. Ed Hartig reports this is a franchise record dating back to at least 1907.
— Mark Gonzales (@MDGonzales) July 4, 2018
Never known for missing bats, Bass has been able to limit the damage from 13 hits allowed by simply pumping strikes and mainly keeping the ball on the ground. His 56.8 percent grounder rate is nearly seven points higher than his career average and his 84.6 percent left-on-base rate has buoyed his all-time mark there to just shy of 69 percent.
Then you see that opposing hitters have accumulated a .351 BABIP against him and you start to wonder if maybe Bass has even been a little unlucky to this point. Which is to say that he could potentially limit the hits moving forward. Then again, some of that comes from flat-out pounding the zone.
Bass throws 69.4 percent first-pitch strikes, more than 477 of 496 pitchers who’ve worked at least 10 innings this season. He also gives up more contact in the zone than all but 466 of those same pitchers, but that’s all by design. It’s almost like how Jon Lester shifts his strategy once the Cubs jump out to a lead. Just pitch to contact and let the defense take care of the rest.
That was the case in the featured image for this post, which sees Bass pointing to Javy Baez after the second baseman made a running, lunging grab on an Eduardo Escobar floater. When you’ve got defensive wizards like that behind you, why not put them to work?
Listen, we’re not talking about a guy who’s going to be beatified for setting some kind of MLB record for fewest walks or who’ll ascend to a high-leverage setup role. Hell, the most recent highlight video of Bass on MLB.com is from spring training. What the Cubs have in Bass, though, is a reliable reliever who will come in and just not walk dudes. Wild stuff, huh?
Now if he could just get some of his teammates in the ‘pen to do more of the same.