Carl Edwards Jr. is a clear example of the risk Theo Epstein and the front office accepted — or were forced to accept — by choosing not to spend on improving the stability and depth of the bullpen for the 2019 season. Instead, the Cubs signed pitchers to smaller deals and continued developing relievers already on the team, such as Edwards.
But in the first four games of the season, the bullpen has already blown two games, one of which due to Edwards’ meatball to Joey Gallo in his first outing of the year. In that appearance, the reliever’s 93 mph average was substantially below his career average of around 95.5 mph. Again, it was just his first appearance and freaking out over velocity before April isn’t justified.
However, fastball velocity is the one number that stabilizes the fastest, — in just one or two outings — which means that the early results might not be due to randomness. Is it possible that the lanky righty could throw harder soon? Sure. But we shouldn’t expect him to suddenly ramp up back to 95-98 mph.
That said, Edwards did throw faster in his second and most recent appearance in Atlanta. The first six pitches he threw hovered around the 95 mph mark, but then his velocity trickled lower to the 93 mph range again, as illustrated by the figure below.
For the majority of his career, Edwards’ fastball has consistently induced more whiffs than 95% of MLB and his success is dependent upon the effectiveness of that pitch. So if he continues to throw 1-2 mph slower, Joe Maddon needs to consider opting for someone else in high-leverage situations.
Brad Brach is the prime candidate to assume more of that role since, despite throwing a tick slower himself, he at least has a more varied basket of pitches. Brach throws a changeup, slider, and sinker compared to Edwards’ one real pitch, the curveball. The Stringbean Slinger has worked on a changeup, but late-game situations don’t offer ideal proving grounds for experimentation.
Then you consider the change in his delivery that was forced when MLB deemed Edwards’ new pause to be illegal. Perhaps it’s best for the Cubs to pitch Edwards in lower leverage situations for the time being until he gets more comfortable with his new/old mechanics and his velocity returns, if his velocity returns.
They can’t afford to wait for him to return to 2016-17 form because the NL Central is just too damn good right now.