Pedro Strop has had a tough go of it lately, but that doesn't mean it's time to panic on one of the most consistent relievers in Cubs history.
After blowing the game Monday night in San Francisco — his third blown save of the month — Strop now has a 5.47 ERA on the year and an 8.22 mark in July alone. In fact, nearly half the runs he's allowed in 2019 have come this month — 7 of 16.
But Strop has been pitching better than his ERA indicates — his FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching) is nearly a full run lower than his ERA this season. His strikeout rate (27.4 percent) and walk rate (8.5 percent) are the lowest they've been since 2016.
That being said, the 34-year-old has also seen a precipitous spike in hard contact rate and his soft contact percentage is way down. He's been plagued by the home run ball this year more than ever before, serving up 1.7 dingers per 9 innings, the highest rate of his career (though the same can be said for many pitchers this season).
So Strop clearly hasn't been his typical dominant self this year, but he also deserves a better fate than he's had to this point in the season.
Take Monday night, for example.
Strop came on to pitch the eighth inning of a game the Cubs were leading 4-2 and promptly gave up a leadoff double to Pablo Sandoval. On paper, that's obviously not a great start, but look at where this pitch was when the Giants third baseman hit it:
Strop followed that by striking out Stephen Vogt before executing a nice pitch to Brandon Crawford and inducing a groundball...only to see it sneak through the infield for an RBI hit:
Then came a groundout before Austin Slater's game-tying double that came just inches away from Albert Almora Jr.'s glove in center field.
The final blow was the go-ahead double by Joe Panik...on a ball that was higher than Strop would've liked it, but still not a bad pitch off the plate outside:
These are not bad pitches; it's not like Strop was leaving the ball over the heart of the plate all inning.
How's this for bad luck — the Sandoval double was pegged for just a .070 expected batting average.
Crawford's single was hit at 89.7 mph and had an expected batting average of .360. By comparison, Kyle Schwarber hit a grounder in the top of the inning at 102.9 mph with an expected batting average of .630 and it was an out. It was simply a matter of Crawford's ball finding a hole while Schwarber hit his right at a defender.
No matter which way you slice it, this was a tough luck outing for the veteran setup man.
But bad luck or not, Strop still hasn't been getting the consistent results the Cubs need in crucial innings of a tight playoff race, so it's understandable manager Joe Maddon was asked about the bullpen usage on his weekly appearance with 670 The Score Tuesday afternoon:
"When Pedro's in the game, I really feel good about it," Maddon said. "We all do. I think last night, it was more about pitch selection than it was necessarily about stuff. He was one pitch away from getting out of that thing.
"If you replay and look at it, you see the hit by Sandoval — that ball literally almost bounced. It really did and it almost hit his back foot. I don't know how he kept that ball fair, but he did. Good for him. And then Crawford hits a slow ground ball up the middle that gets between two guys that are outstanding infielders and that's a hit."
Maddon went on to say the last hit — Panik's double — was the more concerning one because it was a sinker that just didn't drop enough. Maddon said he'd rather see Strop go to his wicked slider in that situation than lean on a pitch (the sinker/fastball) that has seen a dip in velocity and value this season.
"I don't think Pedro's that far off," Maddon said. "Maybe the velocity's down a little bit more than anything. To utilize his cutter/slider and really get that to where he wants it — those are the devastating pitches. So that was my bigger concern last night."
Moving forward, it doesn't sound as if Maddon will shy away from utilizing Strop in high-leverage situations again, but the Cubs also have the luxury of a pretty deep bullpen where they could utilize some other arms (Steve Cishek, Brandon Kintzler) to pitch the eighth inning and help bridge the gap to closer Craig Kimbrel.
Strop is 34 now and has dealt with some health issues over the last calendar year, but he has such a long track record of success that it wouldn't be surprising to see him once again emerge as a lights-out reliever before the season ends.
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The DePaul men's basketball team has been placed on three-year probation and head coach Dave Leitao has been suspended three games for the 2019-20 season, the NCAA announced on Tuesday.
The program was found guilty of "failing to promote an atmosphere of compliance while Leitao did not "prevent violations from occurring in his program."
A Division I Committee on Infractions panel concluded that a "former DePaul associate head coach violated NCAA ethical conduct rules when he knowingly directed the former assistant director of basketball operations to provide impermissible recruiting benefits to a recruit."
The NCAA found that three coaches knew about the situation but failed to report the infractions. DePaul will vacate all wins earned while the ineligible player competed and suffer recruiting restrictions. They were also fined $5,000 plus 1% of the men's basketball program budget.
In 2019, DePaul had their first winning season since 2007 by going 19-17.