Pedro Strop joins Cubs All-Decade Team as one of best relievers in franchise history

Pedro Strop joins Cubs All-Decade Team as one of best relievers in franchise history

With the 2010s coming to a close, NBC Sports Chicago is unveiling its Cubs All-Decade Team, highlighting the players who made the biggest impacts on the organization from 2010-19.

The Cubs-Orioles trade from 2013 is remembered for the North Siders acquiring 2015 NL Cy Young Award winner, Jake Arrieta. But the deal also sent Pedro Strop to the Cubs, who’s since become a key cog in the bullpen and one of the best relievers in team history.

Strop has made 411 career appearances in a Cubs uniform, No. 6 in franchise history. He sports a 2.90 ERA and 1.05 WHIP as a Cub — both better than what 2019 Hall of Fame inductee Lee Smith did with the team (2.92 ERA, 1.25 WHIP). Strop’s 120 holds with the Cubs are No. 1 in franchise history, with Carlos Marmol (83) a distant second.

Strop has posted a sub-3 ERA in six of his seven seasons with the Cubs, with 2019 (4.97) being the long exception. He suffered two separate hamstring strains in 2019, however — one in spring training and one in May — both negatively affecting his performance.

After opening the season as the Cubs closer, Strop pitched almost exclusively in low-leverage situations by season’s end. Nonetheless, he ended the year on a high note, posting a 2.00 ERA in 11 September outings, striking out 14 in nine innings.

What comes next for Strop is uncertain. He's a free agent and has expressed interest in returning to the Cubs. Strop is an energetic presence on the field and an integral member of the Cubs clubhouse. If the price is right, he'd be a low-risk addition and a decent bounce back candidate for next season.

But if his career continues elsewhere next season, Strop will leave Chicago as one of the best relievers to don a Cubs uniform. He's the clear-cut choice for the reliever spot on our Cubs All-Decade Team.

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Mr. Do-it-all Ben Zobrist joins Cubs All-Decade Team in familiar utility man role

Mr. Do-it-all Ben Zobrist joins Cubs All-Decade Team in familiar utility man role

With the 2010s coming to a close, NBC Sports Chicago is unveiling its Cubs All-Decade Team, highlighting the players who made the biggest impacts on the organization from 2010-19.

It isn’t hyperbole to say Ben Zobrist was the missing piece to the Cubs’ offense entering a 2016 season with World Series expectations.

The Cubs signed Zobrist in December 2015 after their offense dried up in the NLCS two months prior against the Mets. The Cubs’ lineup was home-run-happy, hitting 10 long balls in their four-game NLDS win against the rival Cardinals — including six in Game 3 alone.

The home runs stopped coming against New York (four in four games) and the Cubs offense hit .164 with a .225 on-base percentage. Both of those figures were drastic drop-offs from the .242 and .324 figures they posted against the Cardinals.

Admittedly, the Mets 2015 rotation was comically good. They sent out four tough starters in Matt Harvey, Noah Syndergaard, Jacob deGrom and Steven Matz against a young Cubs lineup. Elite pitching almost always beats good hitting in October, and this series was no exception.

But while the Mets won the series on the backs of their starters, they also outscored the Cubs 21-8 overall, a whopping +13 run differential. The Mets' rotation was overwhelming, but the Cubs hitting better would obviously have made a huge difference.

The Cubs signing Zobrist was a direct response to the 2015 NLCS. While he has some pop in his bat, Zobrist is a contact-oriented hitter with strong plate discipline. He added a different element to an already good Cubs lineup, albeit one that needed the veteran approach Zobrist brought.

In four seasons with the Cubs, Zobrist has hit .269/.362/.411 with a 12.5 percent walk rate compared to 13 percent strikeout rate. He's spent most of his time defensively at second base but has provided valuable versatility, frequenting in left and right field. He's also spent some time at first base and shortstop, though much less than the other positions.

Ah, and he also came up with one of the biggest hits in Cubs history, not that anyone has forgotten.

Zobrist’s best season with the Cubs was 2018, when he hit .305 (career-high) with a .378 OBP (team-high) in 139 games. Last season, he stepped away from the team for nearly four months to attend to a personal matter.

The Cubs missed Zobrist’s presence dearly in 2019. Eleven Cubs led off at least once, combining to hit .212 with a .294 OBP percentage (both last in MLB). Zobrist wouldn’t have led off every game for the Cubs, but he would have seen a fair amount of time atop the Cubs order.

Zobrist hit .284 with a .377 OBP after returning to the Cubs in September, proving he has something left in the tank after his long layoff. He’s now a free agent and weighing whether to play in 2020. But no matter what he decides, he’s a worthy inclusion on our Cubs All-Decade Team in his familiar utility man role. 

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Postseason folk hero Kyle Schwarber joins Cubs All-Decade Team

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USA TODAY

Postseason folk hero Kyle Schwarber joins Cubs All-Decade Team

With the 2010s coming to a close, NBC Sports Chicago is unveiling its Cubs All-Decade Team, highlighting the players who made the biggest impacts on the organization from 2010-19.

The legend of Cubs left fielder Kyle Schwarber was born in October.

Schwarber broke into the big leagues in June 2015, a little over a year after the Cubs drafted him No. 4 overall. Following an impressive 16-home run regular season (69 games), Schwarber burst onto the scene in the postseason — the Cubs’ first appearance in seven years.

In nine games, Schwarber slashed .333/.419/.889 with a ridiculous 248 wRC+. He smacked five long balls — including the famous blast that landed atop the right field scoreboard at Wrigley Field (in an NLDS-clinching win over the Cardinals, nonetheless).

Schwarber’s career was off to a hot start, and for a Cubs team entering 2016 with championship aspirations, the burly catcher-turned-outfielder was expected to play a big role.

Rather than being a pivotal force in the heart of the Cubs lineup, Schwarber’s 2016 campaign was seemingly cut short after two games. He suffered a torn ACL and LCL in his left knee on April 7, 2016, colliding with then-Cubs center fielder Dexter Fowler as both chased after a fly ball hit between one another.

The gruesome injury was supposed to end Schwarber’s first full big-league season. Instead, he rehabbed vigorously, and the Cubs sent him to the Arizona Fall League in October to face in-game pitching for the first time in six months. The Cubs deemed him ready to return soon after, adding him to the World Series roster ahead of their matchup against the Cleveland Indians.

Schwarber appeared in five Fall Classic games — four as the designated hitter, one as a pinch-hitter. He slashed .412/.500/.471 in 17 at-bats, recording a double and two RBIs. His last hit — a single in the 10th inning of Game 7 — started the Cubs’ winning rally. Albert Almora Jr. pinch ran for Schwarber and came around to score, putting the Cubs ahead 7-6. They won the game 8-7 to secure their first title in 108 years.

2017 was less kind to Schwarber, who struggled out of the gate (.178/.300/.394 first half slash line) and was eventually sent to Triple-A. He bounced back in the second half (.253/.335/.559) and finished the season with 30 home runs.

Schwarber was better in 2018 (.238/.356/.467 slash line, 26 home runs) and even more so last season. After an up-and-down first half, he was one of the Cubs’ best hitters after the All-Star break. In 70 games, he sported a .280/.366/.631 slash line, 151 wRC+ and hit 20 of his career-high 38 home runs. His previously maligned defense in left field (-9 Defensive Runs Saved in 2017) has grown considerably, too (-1 DRS in 2019).

Schwarber orchestrated postseason heroics at the start of his career and came into his own last season after experiencing adversity post-2016. He joins Fowler and Alfonso Soriano in the outfield on our Cubs All-Decade Team.

Also considered: David DeJesus, Albert Almora Jr., Jorge Soler, Jason Heyward, Kosuke Fukudome, Nicholas Castellanos

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