SAN FRANCISCO — Pitchers tend to get a lot of downtime during games.
Whether sitting in the bullpen and trying to stay cool while waiting for a warm-up phone call or relaxing on the bench between starts, they spend a lot of time watching teammates work their craft.
To measure how Chicago Cubs pitchers see the best things about their teammates, 12 pitchers were asked a question: If you could take any pitch from someone on the pitching staff and add it to your repertoire, who would you pick? It produced a wide range of responses and reasoning. Some opted for a release that would work well with their other stuff or their delivery. Others just wanted what they thought was a sick release. Ultimately, seven releases were selected.
Chosen by LD David Robertson, LD Justin Steele, LD Wade Miley, LD Adrian Sampson and LD Brandon Hughes
Unsurprisingly, the Hendricks trade was the overwhelming favorite among Cubs pitchers, regardless of skill, throwing style or role. And for good reason. Hendricks’ changeup was one of the best pitches in baseball during his prime years, and it remains a weapon for the right-hander.
“The late motion and then their ability to make it look like their fastball 99% of the time and the shots they take,” Sampson said. “Everyone in the building knows it’s coming and they still can’t reach it, so something’s up. He’s a lucky guy to have him.”
Robertson didn’t hesitate to make his choice, calling the Hendricks trade a choice without a doubt: “I’d give anything to be able to throw a changeup. It’s like a game changer. It goes this way and you don’t throw it hard. Yes, 100% I want it. If I can throw even a half-decent changeup… I definitely want something that’s the opposite of all the crap I throw.”
Miley likes Hendricks’ changeup move rather than wanting to add a high-velocity fastball, adding, “That’s overrated.”
Chosen by LHP Drew Smyly
Steele has been throwing his fastball at a high rate, increasing its use since early in the season.
For the most part, he’s done a good job of limiting a lot of damage off the field. He took until his 17th start to allow a home run.
“He’s an anomaly, no one throws it like him,” Smyly said. “He’s got this crazy cutting action on his fastball. Batters can’t touch it. Like, you can throw it in half and they’re going to do a lot.”
Chosen by RHP Mark Leiter Jr.
Stroman can go to a variety of options at any given start.
He has relied on five pitches this season, but his slider caught the eye of a teammate. Mark Leiter Jr. likes the move Stroman makes on his slider. Before Stroman’s start on Friday against the San Francisco Giants, it’s his second most used pitch. He is generating a 27.8 Whiff% while hitters are managing a meager .220 against and a .260 weighted on base average (wOBA).
“He’s able to change his form and have control on both sides of the plate with him,” Leiter said. “Being able to change forms for more than one called hit and then more than one swing hit. The feel of it, the ability to manipulate it to make it more of a pitch, I’ve always really enjoyed the way he can use his slider.”
Chosen by RHP Scott Effross
Effross initially considered a high-velocity fastball—”I wish I could throw 96 mph, it would be great to have in my bag”—as well as Thompson’s curveball, but, given Effross’s lateral throw, a 12-6 curveball. It doesn’t make much sense to me.” So Effross narrowed his options down to Thompson, Chris Martin or David Robertson’s cutter. He ultimately settled on Thompson, who has a 23.7% Whiff as hitters struggle to throw the pitch consistently.
“The cutters are great and I think I could use them with the angle of my arm,” Effross said. “The way he’s been throwing it lately, he’s been throwing it for strikes and getting ahead. And if he can throw that thing down and into a right hand, I think that’s an impossible pitch to even try to swing.”
Chosen by RHP Keegan Thompson, RHP Michael Rucker
When Leiter, currently at Triple-A Iowa, needs a strikeout, his splitter delivers at an elite level. Leiter recorded 28 of his 40 strikeouts off the pitch, producing a 50.8% Whiff and 36.4% PutAway.
“He can land in the strike zone and he knows when to bury it for a swing and miss,” Thompson said. “He has a very good sense and he can throw it wherever he wants.”
Sampson also praised Leiter’s splitter. Leiter gave up just three hits off the floor for a .064 average and a .114 wOBA.
“The pitch that sticks out to me the most because it’s a really nasty pitch,” Rucker said. “I don’t have a divider in the mix. I don’t know how long my fingers would last. He really gets into it. But the action on that pitch and seeing him throw it, I mean, he split (Boston) with it.”
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Chosen by RHP Kyle Hendricks
Hendricks stated that if Thompson hadn’t started incorporating a slider in the last month, he would have picked his curveball “all day.” Miley also gave a shout out to Thompson’s curveball, calling it a “disgusting” pitch.
Despite being a new release, Thompson’s slider has been tremendously effective. He hasn’t allowed a hit out of 51 sliders thrown, predominantly against right-handed hitters, while also producing an astonishing 50% swing-to-miss rate.
Hendricks, expounding on his choice, said: “The elite level of spin and the bad swings he gets, he can use them in the zone, get out there pretty much whenever he wants. It’s such an effective pitch. I’d love to know how that feels.”
Chosen by RHP Chris Martin
Robertson is throwing fewer cutters than he did last season, when he returned after a lengthy layoff from Tommy John surgery, and has seen an increase in speed to 93.3 mph. The pitch is averaging .211 against, and his ability to dominate it sets up his curveball and slider to put hitters away.
“The ball never goes down, it comes to you very fast and it’s an elite pitch,” Martin said of Robertson’s cut. It would be nice to have it in your back pocket. I mean, shoot, they all have such good stuff, it could change all my stuff.”