The 2005 Cubs Bullpen

Part 5 of 5 – The Bullpen

The relief pitchers in 2005 had as much change as the rest of the team. When the Cubs left Mesa in March, the bullpen was full of experienced veterans with a long track record of success. I can even remember Harold Reynolds (ESPN – Baseball Tonight) saying the Cubs had the best bullpen in the National League at the start of the season. I remember thinking ‘what is he seeing that I am not?’ The bullpen had major change during the season with Chad Fox having a career ending injury, Mike Remlinger being released and traded, LaTroy Hawkins being traded, Joe Borowski being released, Cliff Bartosh being sent to Iowa and all of the inconsistency of the young relievers. The bullpen posted a 21-27 record with a 4.24 ERA and 19 blown saves (38 out of 59). The early struggles of the bullpen set a tone for the entire season. Eventually Ryan Dempster emerged as the closer and Roberto Novoa, Will Ohman, Scott Williamson, Jermaine Van Buren and Michael Wuertz showed promise for the future. Glendon Rusch, Sergio Mitre, John Koronka, Todd Wellemeyer, Jon Leicester, Rich Hill and Kerry Wood also pitched out of the pen for the Cubs in 2005.

Ryan Dempster (RHP) – Dempster began the year in the starting rotation for the Cubs, but ended up in the closer role. Dempster took over the spot after all of the struggles (and eventual trade) of LaTroy Hawkins. I thought Dempster should have had the job out of Spring Training. His personality seems to be a perfect fit for a closer. Dempster ended up with 33 saves in 35 opportunities (and both of those the Cubs won). He led the league in save percentage at .943. Dempster was 4-0 as a reliever with a 1.85 ERA (3-0, 1.60 ERA and 20 saves after the All Star Break).

2006 Outlook – Ryan Dempster signed a 3 year, $15.5 million dollar contract that will keep him in Chicago through the 2008 season. Can Dempster repeat his success in 2006 as a reliever? I think so. I like this guy, he just needs to throw more strikes and quit adding to the heart problems all Cubs fans have anyway. I think Dempster could provide the consistency and dependability this team has needed since Lee Smith. The Cubs must have a go to guy in the 9th and I think Dempster is the answer. Should see a lot less blown saves in ’06.

Roberto Novoa (RHP) – Roberto Novoa was acquired by the Cubs last off-season, with Scott Moore (IF) and Bo Flowers (OF), from the Detroit Tigers in the Kyle Farnsworth deal. Novoa made his Cub debut in April and had a rocky first season. Novoa has a good strong arm and at times showed he can retire Major League hitters. When Novoa was on, he looked great and when he was off….look out. Novoa finished the year with a 4-5 record with a 4.43 ERA in 49 games. Toward the end of the season he was used in the 8th inning to set up Dempster and did a fine job. In August he had a 0-0 record with a 1.50 ERA in 12 games and in September and October he posted a 1-1 record with a 9.00 ERA in 13 games.

2006 Outlook – Roberto Novoa should be back with the Cubs, but depending on the free agent market and how guys like Scott Williamson perform in Spring Training could decide on where Novoa starts the 2006 season. Novoa has a great arm and at only 26 years old should be a strong force in the Cubs bullpen for the next several years. Novoa must build his own confidence, as well as Dusty Baker’s, in order for him to be successful and play in Chicago in 2006.

Will Ohman (LHP) – Will Ohman had a great year in 2005. After coming off of 2 shoulder surgeries, he was added to the Cubs roster in 2004. Ohman started the year in Iowa and finished being the Cubs left handed specialist. Ohman was 2-2 with a 2.91 ERA in 69 games (43.1 innings pitched). His ERA against lefties was 2.31 and 3.60 against right-handers.

2006 Outlook – Will Ohman is arbitration eligible this off-season. Ohman should be back with the Cubs in 2006. He proved to be a very valuable pitcher for Dusty Baker and seemed to shut down lefties with ease. Ohman has to remain healthy and show 2005 was not a fluke. Look for Ohman to join John Koronka as the lefties out of the pen in 2006.

Jermaine Van Buren (RHP) – Jermaine Van Buren pitched almost the entire 2005 season for the Iowa Cubs. Van Buren had 25 saves in 52 appearances with a 1.98 ERA and was selected to the All-Pacific Coast League team. He made his Major League debut on September 1st. He pitched well for the Cubs in the 6 games he appeared in. Van Buren had a 3.00 ERA in 6 innings pitched.

2006 Outlook – Jermaine Van Buren is one of the young arms we have heard so much about. Jermaine is better against right-handers (1.59 ERA) than lefties (27.00 ERA). Van Buren has the arm (I like what I have seen so far) to make the roster out of Spring Training, but with other guys having more Major League experience, Jermaine will have to pitch near perfection to leave Mesa on the big league roster. Look for an early spring call-up and depending on the health of the bullpen, Van Buren could make a difference in 2006.

Scott Williamson (RHP) – Williamson started the year on the DL and pitched his first game for the Cubs on August 5th against the Mets. Williamson was signed as a free agent and made a quick recovery after his 2nd Tommy John surgery. Williamson finished with a 5.65 ERA in 17 games. After a rough start, he settled down in September and October and did not allow an earned run in 7 games.

2006 Outlook – Scott Williamson will be back in Chicago in 2006. (Note: The Cubs picked up Williamson’s option while the 2005 Season Review was being written and will pay him $2 million for the season) The Cubs are hoping for the same result they got from Ryan Dempster. Scott had a 3.19 ERA in 42 games for the Reds in 2003 and a 1.26 ERA for the Red Sox in 2004 before arm trouble shut him down. Williamson should provide a good veteran arm, and possible setup man for Dempster, out of the pen in 2006.

Michael Wuertz (RHP) – Michael Wuertz was the only reliever to pitch out of the bullpen the entire season in 2005. Wuertz is a product of the Cubs’ Farm System and has never pitched for another organization. Wuertz appeared in 75 games and was 6-2 with a 3.81 ERA. In his 2nd season out of the Cubs’ pen, Wuertz seem to get stronger as the year went along. Wuertz had a 4.38 ERA before the All Star break and a 3.19 ERA after the break, including a 2.20 ERA in August and a 2.40 ERA in September and October. Michael was very consistent throughout the entire season, while his bullpen teammates changed constantly.

2006 Outlook – Michael Wuertz has shown his stability and growth over the past two seasons and I expect him to be even better in ’06. Look for Wuertz to make the club out of Spring Training. Long relief has become anything over 2 innings and Wuertz gives Dusty a proven arm in the bullpen. If he can continue his success, the bullpen will have a real go-to-guy in the difficult innings. Wuertz is one to watch in ’06.

2006 Outlook – Unlike most, I see the bullpen as being one part of the team that will change the least. I think with the emergence of Dempster in the closer’s role and with Williamson or Novoa in the setup role this could be one of the strong parts of the 2006 Cubs. John Koronka is throwing lights out in the AFL (Arizona Fall League) in the relief role and should add lefty depth to a very young and promising bullpen. I think the changes made during the ’05 season gave the young pitchers much needed experience and Harold Reynolds’ prediction of the Cubs having the best bullpen in the National League was a year to early.

Well there you have it, my 2005 Cubs Season Review. Good or bad, it all happened. What will happen in 2006? We will have to wait and find out. Who will the Cubs sign? Who will the Cubs let go? How much of the $35 million dollars that Jim Hendry has to play with will he use? One thing is for sure, Opening Day is in Cincinnati on April 3, 2006 and I hope the boys are read….NOW IT’S OUR TURN!!

GO CUBBIES!!

Quote of the Day

"Baseball is drama with an endless run and an ever-changing cast." - Joe Garagiola
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