On July 30, 2021, the Chicago Cubs went through one of the most historic sell-offs in MLB history. Names such as Anthony Rizzo, Javier Báez, Kris Bryant, and others left the team, with many more being shipped off in the days leading up to the deadline. Despite all the moves, only one move yielded MLB-ready talent for the Cubs. That move was trading Craig Kimbrel to the Chicago White Sox.
In the trade, the Cubs received second baseman Nick Madrigal and right-handed pitcher Codi Heuer. Madrigal is a bonafide contact hitter, having never hit less than .300 at the Major League level. Heuer, on the other hand, fell out of favor with manager Tony La Russa as a high-leverage arm. Therefore, the White Sox saw him as expendable in order to acquire the Cubs’ All-Star closer.
That said, it has been a tale of two seasons for both pitchers involved in the trade. Although Heuer struggled with the White Sox during the first half, he has found his rhythm while Kimbrel has sputtered since joining the White Sox. Let’s take a look at the numbers.
Kimbrel was having a historic season with the Cubs, pitching his way to a 0.49 ERA and 23 saves in 39 games. In addition, he struck out 64 batters compared to just 13 walks. The 33-year-old was on pace for a historic season on the North Side. However, the Cubs’ ultimate collapse forced Jed Hoyer’s hand, as he dealt the closer across town.
Since the trade, Kimbrel has appeared in 15 games for the White Sox, pitching to a 5.79 ERA in 14.0 innings of work. His strikeout-to-walk numbers are still good, currently sitting at 22-to-4, but the ERA has inflated after being relegated to an eighth-inning role. With Liam Hendriks already in the closing role, Kimbrel has had to adjust to life as a setup man.
As of September 9, Kimbrel only has one save with the White Sox. That number likely won’t increase much unless Hendriks struggles mightily or needs a day off.
Now, the real reason you’re reading this article. Codi Heuer has been nothing short of a pleasant surprise thus far for the Cubs. In the Cubs’ 4-1 walk-off win on Wednesday night, Heuer pitched in his 17th game since the trade. In those 17 games, Heuer has pitched 20.0 innings en route to a 0.90 ERA. Yes, you read that correctly. In addition, Heuer has posted four holds, a save, and 13 strikeouts with just five walks. The numbers don’t necessarily jump off the page, especially the strikeouts, but Heuer’s production has been incredible.
Heuer thrives on a three-pitch mix that he uses effectively. He throws a four-seam fastball with some sinking motion, a hard breaking slider, and a solid changeup. His slider has helped Heuer rank in the 91st percentile in chase rate, per Baseball Savant.
His slider is definitely his wipeout pitch. He’s able to control hitters well with the fastball/changeup combination then induce some epic swing-and-miss with the slider. In Heuer’s first and only save so far as a Cub, Heuer struck out two Reds with that slider.
Don’t be fooled by Heuer’s repertoire. Although his slider is his favorite wipeout pitch, the changeup is just as nasty when he uses it. Heuer only uses the change around 21% of the time, but when he does, the results are there.
Below is a two-pitch mix from Heuer when he was still a member of the White Sox. The second pitch is the aforementioned slider, but the first pitch will impress because of its movement.
Due to the movement of Heuer’s changeup, he can attack both sides of the plate with his three pitches. The change in velocity between his fastball (hovers around 95 MPH) and his two breaking pitches (both hover around 87 MPH) allows Heuer to keep batters off-balance without having to strike out every batter he faces.
Did the Cubs Strike Gold?
Heuer’s MLB sample size is still small, as he’s only pitched 82.1 career innings entering the Cubs’ weekend series with the San Francisco Giants. Still, Heuer has been impressive in his small sample size with the Cubs.
The ultimate question to ask is: did the Cubs strike gold in the Craig Kimbrel trade? As of today, it’s too hard to answer that question. However, based on the small sample size the Cubs and their fans have seen in 2021, Heuer projects as a high-leverage arm in the back of the bullpen for years to come.
Codi Heuer is only 25 years old and it’s safe to assume he is only going to get better with more MLB experience. Although the question proposed in this article can’t be answered yet, Cubs fans can be excited about the complete return for their All-Star closer at the 2021 trade deadline.