Hats to the left: Appreciating Pedro Strop's Cubs career on his 34th birthday


Hats to the left: Appreciating Pedro Strop's Cubs career on his 34th birthday

It can only mean one thing: Pedro Strop is making his way to the mound.

The actual measurement of the degree of rotation is a closely guarded secret (which is the fancy way of me saying I’ve never asked him), though I’d estimate it at about 30 degrees.

The Cubs’ crooked-cap wearing reliever turns 34 years old today. Let’s appreciate him.

He was originally acquired on July 2, 2013, with Jake Arrieta from the Orioles in exchange for Scott Feldman and Steve Clevenger.

Feldman was the biggest impact name in the trade at the time. The 47-36 Orioles were looking to fortify their rotation; the 35-45 Cubs were looking to cash in on a solid start by Feldman, who posted a 3.46 ERA in 15 starts (including a 12-strikeout masterpiece against the Padres on May 1).

Arrieta was once a top-100 prospect (No. 99 on the 2010 Baseball America list), but had floundered to a 5.46 ERA for the orange birds. When he reached Chicago, things changed quickly, and all of a sudden Arrieta’s name was synonymous with a husky right-hander who pitched his last game in 1911 - Cy Young. Arrieta took home the Cy Young award in 2015, posting a 1.77 ERA (including 0.75 after the All-Star break).

Every start sent me scrambling to Baseball-Reference to frame his latest start in some unfathomable historical perspective. In the 2015 Wild Card game, the Pittsburgh crowd greeted Arrieta with a stadium-wide blackout, but it was the Pirates who were blacked out after the smoke cleared. Arrieta left the Steel City as the only pitcher in postseason history to toss a shutout with 10+ strikeouts and no walks. The next season, he was an All-Star and a key member of the World Series champion rotation.

He was solid in 2017, but not quite what he had been the previous few seasons. Then he hit free agency and left for Philadelphia.

So he’s gone. But Pedro Strop is still here.

Maybe he didn’t have the meteoric rise of a Jake Arrieta, but that’s okay. He started out excellent and stayed that way.

Pedro Strop with Cubs

2013 2.83 0.943 29.4 percent  .176
2014 2.21 1.066 29.1 percent .187
2015 2.91 1.000 30 percent .167
2016 2.85 0.887 32.1percent .163
2017 2.83 1.117 26 percent .206
2018 2.26 0.989 23.8 percent .179

Entering Thursday's game against the Dodgers, Strop holds a 4.85 ERA, but if you look at everything else – same hits per nine innings of about 5 1/2. His strikeout rate is about one per inning, while his WHIP is at an even 1.000. When it’s all said and done, he’ll be right where he always ends up.

He's already fourth in franchise history with 376 career relief appearances, one of eight Cubs ever to relieve 300 times or more.

If you were to sort those Cubs with 300+ relief appearances by ERA+ - which is ERA adjusted for league and ballpark on a scale of 100 (101 is one percent above league average, 110 is 10 percent above league average, 99 is one percent below league average, 90 is ten percent below league average, etc.) - Strop is second only to Hall of Famer Bruce Sutter.

Cubs with at least 300 relief apperances sorted by ERA+

Bruce Sutter 171
Pedro Strop 150
Lee Smith 134
Carlos Marmol 124
Willie Hernandez 107
Don Elston 106
James Russell 99
Kyle Farnsworth 92

Sutter, Strop, Smith and Marmol are clearly the top four of the group. Let’s dig in on those four.

Career with Cubs

  ERA+ Innings K% BB% WHIP OppBA OppOBP OppSLG
Bruce Sutter 171 493 24.9 7.5 1.055 .208 .269 .299
Pedro Strop 150 344 1/3 28.1 9.5 1.019 .181 .273 .280
Lee Smith 134 681 1/3 22.8 9.3 1.255 .237 .309 .328
Carlos Marmol 124 542 1/3 29.8 15.5 1.329 .185 .329 .301

It’s Sutter, Strop and Smith. I’ll give Sutter and Smith a little extra credit because they routinely worked longer outings. Marmol walked too many to be in the same class.

Besides being one of the top relievers in Cubs history, Strop has been one of the best in baseball since being acquired by the Cubs (July 3, 2013 to present).

Pedro Strop MLB ranks July 3, 2013 to present

Among 149 pitchers with 200+ relief appearances over that span

Opponent batting average .181 5th
Opponent OBP .273 16th
Opponent SLG .280 5th
WHIP 1.019 10th

Perhaps he doesn’t get the same attention as other relievers because he doesn’t dominate the save column, but it’s hard to argue that he hasn’t been one of the more valuable relievers in the game.

Also, Strop has made three birthday appearances in his career and he tossed a scoreless inning in all three (and his team won all three games).

Turn that hat to the left (exactly how much, I still don’t know, but I intend in finding out), and wish Pedro Strop a happy 34th birthday.

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Jake Arrieta full of appreciation in return to Wrigley mound: ‘I’ll never forget this city’

Jake Arrieta full of appreciation in return to Wrigley mound: ‘I’ll never forget this city’

The last time Jake Arrieta pitched at Wrigley Field, his night ended with Cubs fans giving him a rousing standing ovation. The former Cubs right hander tossed 6 2/3 innings of one-run ball, leading the Cubs to victory in Game 4 of the 2017 NLCS—their only win against the Los Angeles Dodgers that series.

Arrieta returned to Wrigley Field as a visitor on Monday night, making his first start against the Cubs since joining the Philadelphia Phillies last season. Ironically, Arrieta’s counterpart for the night was Yu Darvish, who ultimately replaced Arrieta in the Cubs starting rotation.

Despite now donning Phillies red, Cubs fans once again showed their love for Arrieta, giving him a lengthy standing ovation ahead of his first plate appearance. Darvish even stepped off the mound in respect for the moment.

“I loved it, absolutely loved it,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said to reporters postgame. “[I’m] very happy that our fans would acknowledge him like that. Yu stepped away from the mound nicely. Jake deserved it.”

Arrieta tipped his helmet in appreciation for the crowd, taking in the moment for more than 30 seconds before stepping into the batter’s box. After the game, he told reporters that moment brought back memories of his time with the Cubs.

“That was something that really brought back great memories of getting that same sort of ovation pretty much on a nightly basis,” Arrieta said. “[I’m] very appreciative of that. I can’t say thank you enough to the city of Chicago, I really can’t.”

Arrieta took fans back to his Cubs tenure on Monday, throwing six innings of one run ball in the Phillies’ 5-4 10-inning win. Although the 33-year-old didn’t pick up the victory, he matched Darvish—who threw six innings of three-run ball—pitch by-pitch.

Phillies manager Gabe Kapler noted how well Arrieta handled his emotions throughout the night.

“I thought he handled the emotions really well. I thought he was in control of the game even when we were down,” Kapler said to reporters. “He always maintained his poise and he just got stronger as the outing went on and that’s why we were able to have him take down the sixth inning for us.”

It’s well-documented how Arrieta’s career improved for the better after the Cubs acquired him in a trade with the Baltimore Orioles in July 2013. When the Cubs acquired him, Arrieta held a career 5.46 ERA in 69 games (63 starts). He finished his Cubs career with a 2.73 ERA in 128 regular season starts. He also won five postseason games with the Cubs, including Games 2 and 6 of the 2016 World Series.

Despite moving on in free agency, Arrieta spoke highly of his time with the Cubs, their fans and the city of Chicago.

“Cubs fans all across the country, all across the world, they really respect and appreciate what guys are able to do here for them,” he said. “It means a lot, it really does.

"I’ll never forget this city, the fan base, the organization, everything that they did for me. It was 4 1/2 incredible years of my career.”

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Jake Arrieta returns to Wrigley Field a different pitcher and a beloved icon

Jake Arrieta returns to Wrigley Field a different pitcher and a beloved icon

When Jake Arrieta takes the mound at Wrigley Field on Monday night, he will have officially pitched against all 30 major league teams. That alone is impressive; the messy results from his early seasons in Baltimore didn’t exactly scream 10-year veteran. There’s something charmingly poetic about Arrieta’s first return — and last new opponent — coming from the place that saved his career.

“He’s a different cat, and I appreciate that about him,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “We talk — he’s a foodie, so we’ve talked a lot about restaurants. He was always making recommendations for me here in Chicago when he had more experience than I had here. Just in general, he likes to talk about things other than the game, which I always appreciated about him.”

Before coming to Chicago in a trade (that also included Pedro Strop), Arrieta had a 5.46 ERA in 358 innings pitched. After a slow beginning to his Cubs career, the righty was arguably the best pitcher in baseball during the 2014 and 2015 seasons. The latter season was especially impressive: 229 innings pitched, a 1.77 ERA, and a career-best K/BB% (21.6) - all on the way to a Cy Young award.

Maddon referenced two games in 2015 that still come to mind when he thinks about Arrieta: the 2015 Wild Card game against Pittsburgh and a late-June (June 21) game in Minnesota. That afternoon against the Twins, Arrieta went all nine innings while striking out seven and only allowing four hits. More importantly, it started a run of 20 straight starts without ever allowing more than three runs in a game. Over that stretch, he allowed only 14 earned runs and had an ERA under 1.00.

“I remember the game in Minnesota, 8-0 I think it was,” Maddon said. “It was a complete game in Minnesota. I thought that this was like, this seminal moment for him. That complete game, I thought, meant a lot to him internally. I thought after that he really took off.”

Monday night won’t actually be the first time Arrieta’s returned to Chicago, though. He came through last season, his first as a member of the Phillies, but didn’t pitch. As far as reunions go, Monday’s at Wrigley figures to be overwhelmingly positive.

“Honestly, I think Jake deserves his due,” Cubs president Theo Epstein said before the game. “His first time back here at Wrigley pitching against the Cubs. He deserves his due for everything he meant to this franchise. I don't look at it as a showdown or a referendum or anything like that. He deserves a warm embrace and a huge tip of the cap for everything that he meant for all of us.

“For me, personally, helping us all get to places we wanted to go. Doing it in such an exciting way. I'm a big Jake Arrieta fan, just not tonight."

2019 hasn’t been kind to Arrieta, who’s seen his walk-rate (9.8 percent) spike to a level not seen in over half a decade. His ERA is on the wrong side of 4 (though is there a right side of 4?) and he’s allowing some of the hardest contact of his career. The numbers say Arrieta’s not the pitcher he once was, but Maddon still sees shades of the Cy Young winner and World Series Champion.

“I would say the biggest difference is purely velocity on the fastball,” he said. “I’m watching the movement on the fastball, and I’m watching the break on the breaking ball. He’s probably more apt to throw the change up out there now than he had, but he looks he looks a lot the same.”

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