© 2023 BSN LIVE, INC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.
The Cubs’ coaching staff will have a different look in 2024.
Bullpen coach Chris Young and game strategy/catching coach Craig Driver will not return to the Cubs next season. Both coaches had been on David Ross’ coaching staff since the skipper’s first season at the helm in 2020. The team has not yet announced the 2024 staff.
Young’s first two years of major league coaching experience came with the Phillies, where he served as an assistant pitching coach in 2018 before being promoted to pitching coach the next season. He then moved to the North Side as the bullpen coach the following year, working under pitching coach Tommy Hottovy.
The bullpen over Young’s four seasons put together a 4.15 ERA, 16th among all 30 big league bullpens over that span. The Cubs’ relief corps in that time saw a number of veteran relievers — brought in on short-term deals — turn in successful seasons, and with the front office deciding to hit the reset button two summers ago, most were used to bring back prospects in deals at the 2021-22 trade deadlines to strengthen the farm system.
The same plan appeared to be in place at the start of this year, with Michael Fulmer and Brad Boxberger joining the bullpen. However, Boxberger ultimately spent a majority of the season on the injured list, and Fulmer was less effective in his early backend role.
Fortunately for the Cubs, Adbert Alzolay, Mark Leiter Jr. and Julian Merryweather emerged as Ross’ most trusted options in time to help turn the season around over the summer.
Leiter Jr. and Julian Merryweather succeeded as late-inning arms, while Alzolay thrived as the closer (he converted 22 of his first 23 save opportunities). Fulmer rebounded in a more high-leverage middle reliever role, and the four helped the Cubs’ bullpen post top-10 numbers in baseball in ERA (3.44, seventh), WHIP (1.19, fifth) and win probability added (4.11, third) between June 9 and Sept. 6 (when they went from a season-low 10 games under .500 to a season-high 12 games over).
However, the bullpen couldn’t remain at that level through the end of the season. Leiter and Merryweather both finished tied for 21st major league relievers in appearances (69, far and away the most in either’s career). Neither hit the IL in September but the duo was banged up, with Leiter even sitting out a week near the end of the month. Alzolay missed three weeks with a right forearm strain, and Fulmer made just one appearance in September in between separate IL stints with the same injury. The reliever group as a whole couldn’t pick up enough of the slack, resulting in this stat as the Cubs collapsed down the stretch:
While Young, who has been said to have a good working relationship with the players and the rest of the coaching staff, isn’t solely to blame for the bullpen faltering late in the season (injuries and young arms not making enough of an impact certainly played a part), the Cubs are opting to go in a different direction.
Driver was also on Philadephia’s coaching staff during Young’s tenure, spending 2018-19 as the Phillies’ bullpen catcher and receiving coach. He was the Cubs’ first-base/catching coach from 2020-21, before Mike Napoli took over at first base and Driver began handling game strategy duties heading into 2022.
Driver received praise throughout his four seasons working with Cubs catchers. In his first year on the North Side in 2020, Willson Contreras finished as a Gold Glove finalist. In 2023, he was had a huge hand in helping Miguel Amaya develop at the big league level after catching just 12 games in the previous three years.
Get Chicago's Best Sports Content In Your Inbox!
Become a smarter Chicago sports fan with the latest game recaps, analysis and exclusive content from CHGO’s writers and podcasters!
Just drop your email below!