The Other Compelling Cubs Reliever Acquisition

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last week, you’re aware that the Chicago Cubs and New York Yankees linked up on a rather substantial trade that sent Aroldis Chapman, perhaps baseball’s best reliever, to Chicago. The Cubs wanted to solidify their bullpen, and they did it in about the most splashy way possible. You also could’ve been living in a normal, not-rock-like home and missed that they acquired Mike Montgomery, too. That much would’ve been understandable.

Trading for a player is just one way to improve your club with new, exciting talent. You can also think of promotions as acquisitions in a sense, at least for the major league club, and last month, the Cubs made another acquisition to improve their bullpen. We paid mind to the trades when they happened, as we’re wont to do this time of the year, but there’s another Cubs reliever I’d like to pay some mind to. Because Carl Edwards Jr. is deserving of it.

You’ve been hearing Edwards name for a few years now. Despite being a 48th-round draft pick — something that doesn’t even exist anymore — in 2011, Edwards by 2013 was the No. 13 prospect in the Rangers system, according to Baseball America, and his stock had raised to the point where he was a meaningful piece in the trade that brought Matt Garza to Texas. His stock continued to rise, and by 2015, he was Chicago’s No. 5 prospect.

Now, he’s here, and he’s dominating. Obviously: yeah, 14 2/3 innings. It’s tiny. But this is a young arm long thought to have electric stuff, and he’s showing it. To wit: he’s struck out 17 batters those innings, or about a third of them. His ERA starts with a 1.xx and his FIP starts with a 2.xx. Even more impressive: here’s a leaderboard of in-zone contact rate, among the 488 pitchers with at least 10 innings thrown this year:

  1. Carl Edwards Jr., 68.9%
  2. Seung Hwan Oh, 71.6%
  3. Aroldis Chapman, 72.2%
  4. Sean Doolittle, 72.8%
  5. Edwin Diaz, 72.9%

Chapman and Doolittle are very familiar names on the no-contact list. I’ve written about Oh’s dominance. Diaz probably deserves a post of his own pretty soon. But there’s Edwards, atop them all.

Edwards was brought up as a starter, considered to have a plus fastball with exceptional late life, as well as a curveball that flashed plus and a show-me slider. He debuted as a reliever last year, shelving the slider and going with a mix of about two-thirds heaters and one-thirds curves. This year, eight out of 10 pitches are fastballs, one of the most extreme usages in baseball. And the fastball’s been unhittable.

Batters have whiffed on 39% of swings against Edwards’ heater, third-highest in baseball. On in-zone heaters, they’ve whiffed on 34% of swings, which is number one. A pitcher with an unexpectedly high strikeout rates suddenly becomes rather easy to explain when he’s got a fastball that no one can hit, even when it’s over the plate.

One example of the Edwards fastball not being touched:

And another:

You know the drill: young player who comes up and dominates in a small sample isn’t actually this good, but recent performance paired with scouting report causes us to re-evaluate potential future, even if just ever so slightly. The projections see him as a true-talent 3.50 ERA/FIP reliever, which is good, but not great. There’s still some definite command issues present. But Edwards is something like the 60th-best reliever in baseball according to the projections, or in other words, a quality set-up man. The Cubs don’t need that; Edwards is more like a middle reliever in Chicago. And pretty damn exciting, as far as middle relievers go.

August used to cover the Indians for MLB and, but now he's here and thinks writing these in the third person is weird. So you can reach me on Twitter @AugustFG_ or e-mail at

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7 years ago

Edwards used to be a starter. What changed? Is it the inability to develop the slider beyond show-me status? I’m wondering whether that ship has sailed or whether he’s only a reliever at the moment because that’s where he’s needed. Any chance he gets stretched out in 2017 or 2018?

7 years ago

I saw him up close a couple of years ago, and Edwards is insanely skinny. Makes Chris Sale look meaty by comparison. It’s amazing that he can generate that kind of power on his fastball.

7 years ago
Reply to  forgeagain

Hey – Mike MacDougal used to hit triple digits despite looking like an extra from an eating disorder PSA.