Initial concerns with Keegan Thompson‘s velocity in spring training were placed on the back burner once the regular season began and he went 1-0 with two holds and a 0.68 ERA through 13.1 innings in eight appearances. There were, however, some less desirable results screaming that a very harsh correction was coming. His unsustainable .067 BABIP and 5.39 xFIP were the gnashing teeth of the regression monster getting ready to take a big bite out of his backside.
Then there was the fact that he’d gotten just 12 strikeouts against 10 walks, a ratio that only worked because good fortune had smiled upon him to that point. In eight innings over seven subsequent appearances, Thompson had a 10.13 ERA from a .367 BABIP and just four strikeouts with as many walks. Though that BABIP and a 6.35 xFIP indicated he was getting far worse results than expected, those numbers weren’t just the product of bad luck.
That’s why he was optioned to Triple-A Iowa on May 19, ideally to build his confidence back up and allow him to dial the control and command trouble that had plagued him to that point. The results in four games so far have been less than promising, to say the least. Thompson has given up 10 runs on eight hits over five innings, and the most troubling part is that he’s walked 10 with six strikeouts.
He’s walked at least one batter in each of his four Triple-A appearances and half of those free passes came in his most recent outing on June 4 in which he went 1.2 innings. He also balked in a run that night when he stepped off for a third time. The silver lining is that he gave up only two total runs and struck out four while surrendering one hit.
It’s entirely possible, likely even, that the Cubs are asking Thompson to lean fully into his weaknesses, but even that doesn’t really explain the implosion we’re seeing. What makes this all the more troubling is that his fastball velocity of 94.2 mph — above the line of demarcation for his optimal performance — was higher than in the past two seasons. While the situation is far from binary, the fastball was generating positive value after being negative the last two years.
He’s just been all over the place with all of his pitches, including the four-seam, and oftentimes doesn’t seem to know where they’re going. Some of that could well be physical, though I’d wager there’s something going on between his ears as well. It wouldn’t be the first time a pitcher has had issues with confidence or trying to force things rather than letting them happen. For Thompson’s sake, I hope he’s able to identify and work through whatever the root cause may be.
And hey, maybe it’s truly just a mechanical tweak that he needs to incorporate. Either way, the small sample at Iowa means his results there can turn around quickly and springboard him back into contention for a long relief role in Chicago. Lord knows the Cubs could use some help in that regard.