The more I see of Keegan Thompson as a starting pitcher, the closer I am to hitting the panic button. While 'panic' may be a bit of an extreme term to use regarding a rookie hurler, Thompson's numbers as a starting pitcher are alarming.
Out Of The Bullpen
Thompson debuted with the MLB club on May 2 as a relief pitcher even though he rose through the Cubs' farm system as a starting pitcher. Thompson got off to a blazing start, not allowing an earned run in his first 15 innings (nine appearances). He continued his excellent stretch out of the bullpen with a 2.21 ERA in 40.2 innings before heading back to the minors to extend his pitch count before rejoining the team as a starting pitcher.
As a reliever, Thompson only allowed more than one run in three of his 27 appearances, which included 20 scoreless outings. He gave Cubs fans and the organization plenty of reasons to be excited about seeing him as a starting pitcher.
As a Starting Pitcher
Before I get into the numbers, I will note that this sample size is extremely small.
As a member of the Cubs rotation, Thompson has made four starts, going only 9.2 innings total with an ERA of 8.38. While the sample size is small as mentioned above, certain figures jump off the page, such as a BB/9 rate of 7.45. Thompson has allowed eight walks in 9.2 innings as a starter compared to his 4.87 BB/9 rate as a reliever. Both numbers are still higher than you'd like to see, but he is still a rookie pitcher and command will likely be a primary point of focus for this offseason.
What concerns me more than the command issues is his massive dip in his fastball velocity. Out of the bullpen, Thompson's average fastball velocity was 94.7 MPH. In his four starts since joining the rotation, his average fastball clocks in at only 92.1 MPH. That is an alarming drop in velocity and it may be the main reason behind his lackluster performances as a starter. Hopefully that drop in velocity is simply a byproduct of the right shoulder inflammation that resulted in an injured list stint earlier this month.
With only 12 games left in the 2021 season, Thompson will only see one or two more starts. Keep an eye on his velocity as he looks to finish the season on a positive note.
What's Next For Keegan Thompson?
Although there have been some concerning takeaways from his four starts, Thompson will more than likely get another chance to be a starter in 2022. The Cubs have nothing to lose by allotting him a handful of starts at the beginning of the next season. If Thompson continues to perform poorly as a member of the rotation, then the obvious move is to place him back in the bullpen where he enjoyed considerable success in his rookie season.
I'm still optimistic about Keegan Thompson as a starting pitcher. Given the opportunity to spend the entire offseason knowing he will be a starting pitcher and working with Tommy Hottovy in the Cubs pitching lab, Thompson will have a prime opportunity to work through his struggles as he strives to replicate the success he had out of the bullpen.