Gordon Wittenmeyer says that there are two open spots in the Cubs bullpen, and that the fight for those spots is down to six pitchers: Kevin Hart, Angel Guzman, Jeff Samardzija, David Patton, Mike Stanton, and Luis Vizcaino. Who’s going to win, and what can we expect from them?
To answer the second question first, I wanted to take a look at the projections for each of those pitchers. The problem with that is that Patton has never pitched in the majors before, so the only system projecting his performance was CHONE. And Stanton has been out of baseball now, so the only system projecting his was Marcels. In the end, I used CHONE for everyone but Stanton, so that the comparison is apples-to-apples as possible. I thought about putting this in terms of Wins Above Replacement, but that’s a counting stat, so it depends on playing-time projections, which are fairly useless for relief pitchers, I think. So I calculated out Fielding Independent Pitching for each player. Here’s what that looked like:
Looking at that chart, honestly, you can probably toss the projections out the window. Guzman might have had the most talent out of any of them at some point, but he really looks like he’s done. And barring some highly improbable performances during the rest of camp, he’s either going to end up on the 60-day DL to start the season, or, more likely, cut, because he’s out of options.
In fact, of those six pitchers, the Cubs will lose four of them if they don’t make the team – Guzman, Vizcaino, Stanton, and Patton (Patton, while presumably having options left, is a Rule 5 draft pick, and if the Cubs remove him from their 25-man roster, they have to offer him back to the Rockies). Samardzija and Hart can both be sent down with impunity. Of them all, Patton has probably had the best spring, striking out 9 and walking none in 7.2 innings. But it’s 7.2 innings, so who cares?
Patton and Guzman are mirror images, in a way. Guzman is projected to be a very good pitcher by CHONE, but he’s had a terrible spring training. Patton is projected to be awful, but has been great so far this spring. And yet, those would be my two picks.
My understanding is that Vizcaino looks like he’s done. Cut him and cut your losses. Mike Stanton is older than time. Get rid of him. That gets you down to Guzman, Patton, Hart and Samardzija. You can stash both of those two in Des Moines for now.
I won’t lie; I think Guzman is probably done. But if you make him the last man off the bench in the bullpen, especially early in the season, you’re only going to use him for mopup duty. The odds are overwhelming that he won’t show any of the talent that made him a prospect ever again. But it’s pretty low risk, and if he fails as a mopup guy, there’s nothing stopping the Cubs from waiving him then.
Similarly, I don’t expect a lot out of Patton. His minor league numbers were not impressive, and he’s never played at the major league level. But I’d make him the second to last guy out of the pen. With Heilman, Marmol, Gregg, Cotts and Gaudin ahead of him (plus possibly Marshall when the Cubs won’t need a fifth starter for a while) Lou doesn’t need to use him in high-leverage situations, and can afford to give him a little bit of an extended tryout.
If Samardzija and Hart were so good that they could force their way onto the roster, maybe I wouldn’t advocate sending them to AAA and taking flyers on Guzman and Patton. But they’re not, and Patton and Guzman are essentially lottery tickets right now. Stash them in the pen and see if they can surprise you, but no point in cutting them just yet.