While all of today’s attention is being focused on the Nicholas Castellanos and Tony Kemp trades, the Cubs made their big bullpen addition yesterday when they traded 24-year-old AA pitcher Thomas Hatch to the Blue Jays for right-hander David Phelps.
Phelps isn’t necessarily an exciting addition. The 32-year-old has posted a 3.63 ERA, a 1.21 WHIP and an 18/7 K/BB ratio over 17.1 innings after missing part of this season and all of 2018 recovering from Tommy John. Those numbers are palatable, but nothing to write home about.
When you dig a little deeper into Phelps’ pitch arsenal, though, there’s a striking resemblance between him and last year’s trade deadline diamond in the rough Jesse Chavez.
No, unfortunately, Phelps does not wear shades on the mound at 10pm closing out games. That was a one time only experience for Cubs fans.
When Chavez brought his 3.51 ERA and 1.24 WHIP over from Texas last season, it was a mystery to many how a guy topping out at 94 MPH without a wipeout breaking ball could throw 39 innings of 1.15 ERA, 2.16 FIP, and 0.79 WHIP ball in a playoff race.
How did he do it? By masterfully mixing and locating three different variations of his 92-94 mph fastball with a slider mixed in once every 20 pitches. When he was in Texas, he was throwing his slider once every five pitches.
That 15% difference went entirely to raising his cutter usage, allowing him to tunnel his four-seamer, sinker, and cutter. Those three pitches had just a 1.7 mph difference in velocity during his time with the Cubs, forcing hitters to guess which of the three directions the pitch would break at the last second.
Over the course of Phelps’s career, including this season, he’s used the same three types of fastballs that Chavez has with a velocity difference of roughly three MPH. The usage of his three fastballs along with a curveball and changeup have varied throughout his career, leading to a fairly wide variation of results.
Over his first four seasons, where he worked primarily as a starter, Phelps used his curveball and changeup combo as often as 25-30% of the time. When he moved into a relief role with Miami in 2016, that changed.
He almost completely abandoned his changeup and threw his curveball just 11% of the time, relying heavily on his four-seam/sinker/cutter arsenal. He finished 2016 with a 2.28 ERA and 114 strikeouts over 86.2 innings, which are excellent numbers.
When he was traded to Seattle in 2017, the curveball usage went back up to 19%, and the results came back to earth a bit. 3.40 ERA and 62 strikeouts over 55.2 innings. Good but certainly not great.
With a 28% usage in his curveball during his brief time in Toronto, I wouldn’t be surprised to see that drop 20%. The catch is, how much of his velocity will come back after sitting out a year and a half recovering from Tommy John?
After averaging just under 95 MPH with his four-seam and sinker and over 91 with his cutter before the surgery, he’s averaging just 92.3 on the four-seam and 89.2 on the cutter. He did top out at 94 and 91 respectively in his last outing, though.
So there ya have it. The Cubs need someone Joe Maddon trusts to hold leads outside of Brandon Kintzler and Steve Cishek. If Phelps can dig deep and find his inner Chavez, Maddon and the Cubs will be in good shape.
Featured Photo: Jon Blacker/The Canadian Press via AP