Chicago Cubs: Why Sign Bob Howry?

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Chicago Cubs: Why Sign Bob Howry?
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

I know that the Cubs' bullpen has struggled.

Through 45 games, they have combined for an ERA of 4.81 and opponent average of .251 in 119.2 innings. In fact, those numbers give the bullpen a little too much credit.

Carlos Marmol, Sean Marshall, and James Russell have carried the group. They've combined for an ERA of 1.97 and an opponent average of .185 in their 59.1 innings of work, good for almost half of the bullpen's total innings.

Without the aforementioned trio, the bullpen has combined for an ERA of 7.61 and an opponent average of .306 in 60.1 innings.

Moving Carlos Zambrano to the bullpen failed to settle the situation, and something needed to be done, so Jim Hendry signed veteran reliever and former Cub Bob Howry.

But I fail to see how this helps in any way.

If you add Bob Howry's performance this season to that of the non-triumvirate relievers, the opponent average stays at .306 and the ERA rises to 8.16. In other words, he's been slightly worse than the guys we've already been throwing out there.

Just look at his profile on FanGraphs .

He has a an xFIP (which replaces his 22.2% HR/FB rate with the league average of 10.6%) of 6.11, 44.9% Left on Base Percentage, and a 25.5% line drive rate while managing an incredibly low .259 BABIP.

That means that the pitching metric that's most favorable to him still says that he deserves a horrible ERA, that he's letting more runners score than not score, and that he's getting hit pretty hard. And he's been lucky all the while.

There are other red flags, too.

His strikeout rate has been steadily declining since 2006, when it was at 8.33 strikeouts per nine innings, and it has plummeted to 3.77 this season, the exact same rate that he has for both walks and home runs per nine innings on the year.

Also, his fastball has lost a few miles per hour, now sitting at an average of 89.8 instead of his 2006-2009 averages of 92.8, 92.3, 91.2, and 92.4. Considering that his slider isn't anything special and he relies heavily on that fastball (throwing it almost 78% of the time in his career), it's no wonder he's struggling.

At 36 years old, there's no reason to have confidence that he'll bounce back.

Len Kasper and Bob Brenly mentioned in Sunday's broadcast that Howry typically regains his velocity as the season wears on. FanGraph's PitchFx velocity charts agree.

But when looking at those charts, you'll also see that his velocity has steadily declined over the course of his appearances this season (contrary to his history) and that his velocity has fallen off as each of the last three seasons wound down.

That means that unless Howry turns it around quickly, there's a chance that he'll end up throwing at speeds reminiscent of Jamie Moyer by season's end.

Meanwhile, Justin Berg has been sent down to the minors.

Although his 6.43 ERA and 6.80 xFIP are off-putting, to say the least, his numbers are skewed by his first and last outings this season.

In those two games, he had an opponent average of .500, an ERA of 36.00, and five walks against only one strikeout in two innings of work.

In the twelve innings that he's pitched between those two outings, he's had an opponent average of .195 and an ERA of 1.50, although he did walk five batters while only striking out two.

I'm not trying to say that Berg is the answer, but it seems that the Cubs have chosen the worse of two options.

Option One: A 26-year-old reliever who bookended a solid stretch of outings with very poor showings but might develop into a reliable arm.

Option Two: A 36-year-old reliever already on the decline that has been consistently bad this season and might not ever be reliable again.

For those who may argue that Berg hasn't shown any improvement lately, remember the fact that Berg's last outing was May 8, almost two weeks before he was optioned to Triple-A. He hasn't had the opportunity to improve.

Maybe Berg will develop better in Triple-A than he would have in the big leagues, and that would be the blessing in disguise here, but it should have taken someone better than Bob Howry to push him off the 25-man roster.

 

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