Justin Grimm finding a new level in Cubs bullpen


Justin Grimm finding a new level in Cubs bullpen

Justin Grimm throws his curveball about the same speed as Dan Haren's fastball.

As he carved through the heart of the Detroit Tigers order last week (striking out all three batters he faced, including Miguel Cabrera and J.D. Martinez), Grimm was spinning his "offspeed" pitch around 85 mph while Haren has his self-deprecating @ithrow88 Twitter handle.

That illustrates the video-game-type stuff and numbers coming out of the bullpen, where Cubs manager Joe Maddon has used Grimm in almost any role imaginable.

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As the Cubs have gotten hot and made a serious push for the playoffs, Grimm and his 1.24 ERA has been leading the way out of the bullpen and he will be counted on even more now that Jason Motte has landed on the disabled list with a shoulder injury.

Grimm hasn't allowed a run in his last 15 games dating back to July 21, striking out 16 batters in 13 innings and picking up seven holds, two saves and a win in the process.

"What level is he pitching at right now?" Maddon said. "The kid's been good all year, but this is a little bit different.

"I'm happy for him. He's pitching outstanding baseball."

Maddon is careful not to attach any sort of labels onto each member of a successful bullpen, which ranks 12th in Major League Baseball with a 3.43 ERA. But Maddon did mention how important the fifth and sixth innings are and that he loves "middle-inning closers" like Grimm and lefty Travis Wood.

Grimm said he's gotten used to pitching without a defined role, knowing the bullpen phone can ring at any time and he needs to be ready to roll.

Grimm's 1.1 WAR ranks him 30th among MLB relievers on FanGraphs, even though he's pitched just 36.1 innings this season after missing the first month with a forearm injury.

He also ranks seventh in the big leagues with 13.13 strikeouts per nine innings, finding his name among dominant closers and setup men like Aroldis Chapman, Dellin Betances and Kenley Jansen and ahead of Craig Kimbrel, arguably the game's best reliever the last five seasons.

Grimm - who recently turned 27 - has always had the stuff, but he wasn't able to put it all together until last season.

For him, it always came down to one thing.

"Turning the corner at this level was all confidence," he said. "I was questioning if I belong at this level at first. I kinda took my own route in that aspect."

Grimm came up as a starter in the Texas Rangers minor-league system and made 19 starts for the organization in 2012-13 before he was moved to the bullpen.

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No matter how much success he's having as a reliever, Grimm hasn't given up hope on starting.

"I do like the bullpen. It's good, but I still believe I can start," he said. "I do. When I came up in the big leagues, I wasn't necessarily ready. So maybe moving to the bullpen, honestly, helped me adjust to the big leagues more than anything.

"The only thing I was missing when I was starting - it wasn't stuff. I wasn't making different pitches. It was just a confidence thing. When you're not throwing with confidence, you give up the big hits. You walk people.

"But now, I think I could be a quality starter for this team and in this league."

That being said, Grimm reiterated that he enjoys being a part of this bullpen right now, and starting is just something he hasn't shut the door on down the road.

Grimm knows if the Cubs are going to keep having success into October, they're going to need him to get some big outs, no matter the inning.

Cubs Talk Podcast: Schwarber, Baez on night to remember at the Home Run Derby

Cubs Talk Podcast: Schwarber, Baez on night to remember at the Home Run Derby

On the latest Cubs Talk Podcast, Kelly Crull spoke with Javier Baez and Kyle Schwarber after an electric and entertaining Home Run Derby in Washington D.C.

Listen to the full Cubs Talk Podcast right here:

Who Knew? Cubs at the All-Star Break

Who Knew? Cubs at the All-Star Break

With a break in the action, let’s take a look at the season so far.

Today, I’ll focus on the first 57.4% of the Cubs’ 2018 season. Which is to say, the 93 games before the All-Star Break. Clearly more than “half.”

In all seasons with an All-Star Game (1933-present, minus 1945)

This is the fifth time the Cubs have had the National League’s best record at the All-Star Break.

Here is the entire list (note – 2016 is NOT on this list. They trailed the Giants by 3 games at the Break in 2016):

1937 44-25 +2.0
1969 61-37 +5.0
2001 51-35 +0.5
2008 57-38 +4.5
2018 55-38 +2.5

Which is incredible since:

• Anthony Rizzo has a wRC+ of 100, which is league average

(he was at 131 – 31% better than league average - through the All-Star break last season)

• Kris Bryant has missed 23 games and has only 10 home runs

• The Cubs as a team have 30 fewer Home Runs through 93 games than they did last season

(100 this season, 130 last season)

• The Cubs have had six pitchers make 8 or more starts this season and only one (Jon Lester – 2.58) has an ERA under 3.90

• Cubs pitching has an MLBhigh walk percentage of 11.0%

(Tyler Chatwood’s 9 starts with 5 or more walks is most in a season by a Cubs pitcher since Dick Drott’s 13 in 1957)

• Cubs have outscored their opponents by only one run in the first inning (5251)

This includes being outscored 18-13 in the first inning in Kyle Hendricks’ 19 starts

• Cubs are 57 against the Reds

(they were 27-11 against Cincinnati in 2016-17)

That being said, it's not so incredible since...

• The Cubs have scored at least 10 runs 15 times this season. No other team has done it more than 12 times.

• Jason Heyward has a wRC+ of 109 (he’s 9% better than league average)

This is notable because in 2016 he was at 71 (29% worse than league average) and 88 in 2017 (12% worse than league average).

• The Cubs have EIGHT qualified players with at least a .340 OnBase pct. (and Ian Happ, who is eight PA short of qualifying, is at .379)

The only qualified Cub with a SUB-.340 OBP is Javier Báez (.326 – a career-high). However…

• Javier Báez has 50 extrabase hits in 91 games. Last season he had 49 extra-base hits in 145 games.

Báez is the first player in Cubs history with 15 Doubles, 5 Triples, 15 HR and 15 Stolen Bases before the All-Star Break**.

Báez is the first player in MLB history with 18 Doubles, 6 Triples, 18 HR and 18 Stolen Bases before the All-Star Break**.

**seasons with an All-Star Game – 1933-present (minus 1945)