Bulls

After the Rodriguez acquisition, are the Pirates here to stay?

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After the Rodriguez acquisition, are the Pirates here to stay?

While many expected Ryan Dempster to be one of the first dominoes to fall in the starting pitcher market at the trade deadline, he still remains in a Cubs uniform.

But several other starters have already been dealt, including Wandy Rodriguez, who went from the Astros to the Pirates Tuesday night.

Rodriguez, 33, isn't a star, but he's a very solid lefty who has put up a 52-51 record to go with a 3.45 ERA and 1.28 WHIP over 141 starts the last five seasons. He leads the league with 21 starts this year, boasting a 3.79 ERA and 1.27 WHIP. But his 6.1 K9 is the lowest it's been since his rookie season in 2005.

The Pirates gave up three fringe prospects -- Colton Cain (which is an awesome name, by the way), Robbie Grossman and Rudy Owens -- and held on to their top young arms -- Jameson Taillon and Gerrit Cole. None of the three players headed back to Houston were drafted above the sixth round.

That being said, Grossman has a career on-base percentage of .379 in the minor leagues and drew 104 walks last season in high-A ball. Cain is just 21 and throws left-handed. Owens is more advanced at age 24, but he has a 3.14 ERA and 1.17 WHIP in 19 Triple-A starts this season.

Though none of the three guys looks ticketed for stardom, it was still a nice haul for the Astros. But they aren't the Cubs' problem after this season, as they will be headed to the AL West.

The Pirates, meanwhile, are showing that they are a force to be reckoned with and they intend to compete for a long time in the NL Central. They handed Andrew McCutchen a mega contract extension in the offseason and now add Rodriguez to their rotation through the 2014 season.

Veterans A.J. Burnett and Erik Bedard are having resurgent seasons in the Pittsburgh rotation to go along with breakout star James McDonald. Rodriguez gives the Pirates four good starters, something that will definitely come in handy during a playoff push.

Guys like Taillon and Cole are probably not too far away from cracking the big-league rotation, and Rodriguez may very well still be around when they get their first taste.

The trade didn't break the bank with the Pirates' small-market finances, either. The Astros will contribute at least 10 million and potentially as much as 17 million to Rodriguez's salary over the next three seasons.

The Reds and Cardinals figure to be in the thick of things in the NL Central for years to come and the Cubs are on the rise. But a move like this proves the Pirates don't plan on going away anytime soon, either.

Bulls announce substitute broadcasters for first five Neil Funk-less games

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USA TODAY

Bulls announce substitute broadcasters for first five Neil Funk-less games

If you haven't heard, Neil Funk is cutting 20 road games from his 2018-19 Bulls' play-by-play schedule.

Friday, the Bulls announced that Adam Amin, Andy Demetra and Kyle Draper will fill in for Funk for the first five of those games.

Amin, a play-by-play commentator for ESPN, will games on Oct. 22 against the Mavericks and Nov. 14 against the Celtics. He grew up in Addison, resides in Chicago and also does play-by-play for Bears preseason games.

Demetra is from Oak Brook and currently is the play-by-play broadcaster for Georgia Tech basketball and football. He will call games on Oct. 26 against the Hornets and Oct. 27 against the Hawks. He has previous play-by-play experience with the SEC Network, Pac-12 Network and Fox Sports South.

Draper will call the Bulls' Nov. 7 game against the Pelicans. He is the Celtics' pregame and postgame host for NBC Sports Boston and an occasional play-by-play annoucer and sideline reporter for the Celtics.

The Bulls said they will continue providing updates on substitute broadcasters as they are scheduled.

2019 encore for Jesse Chavez?

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USA TODAY

2019 encore for Jesse Chavez?

On July 15, Brandon Morrow recorded his 22nd save of the season with a scoreless inning in San Diego. It wound up being the last time he pitched in a game for the Cubs in 2018. 

Four days later, during the All-Star break, the Cubs made a move to bolster their bullpen, acquiring Jesse Chavez from the Rangers in exchange for minor league hurler Tyler Thomas. It wasn’t even the biggest trade they’d make with the Rangers that month – a little over a week later they dealt for Cole Hamels. 

Despite pitching nearly half the innings, Chavez was almost as valuable as Hamels.

2018 with Cubs IP fWAR
Jesse Chavez 39.0 1.1
Cole Hamels 76.1 1.5

Chavez made his Cubs debut on July 21; from July 21 through the end of the season, 187 pitchers tossed at least 30 innings. 185 of them had a higher ERA than Chavez, while 184 of them allowed more baserunners per 9 innings.

Best ERA, July 21-end of season

(minimum 30 innings) IP ERA
Blake Treinen 32.1 0.56
Jesse Chavez 39.0 1.15
Blake Snell 61.2 1.17
Trevor Bauer 35.0 1.29
Trevor Williams 71.2 1.38
Robert Stock 36.0 1.50

Fewest baserunners per 9 innings, July 32-end of season

(minimum 30 innings) IP BR/9 IP
Blake Treinen 32.1 5.85
Blake Snell 61.2 7.15
Jesse Chavez 39.0 7.15
Jacob deGrom 93.2 7.49
Scott Oberg 30.2 7.63
Josh Hader 33.1 7.83

But how did Chavez transform into one of Joe Maddon’s best bullpen arms down the stretch?  According to Chavez, his own transformation started on Mother’s Day.

Chavez entered a game in Houston with a 5.48 ERA in a dozen appearances, but pitched three innings with no hits, no walks and four strikeouts. From that point through the end of the season, he posted a 1.70 ERA and 0.892 WHIP. 

Chavez points to a change in arm slot which resulted in better consistency and a slight jump in velocity. A glance at his release point charts show that consistency, and he added roughly one mile an hour to his fastball.

"It's kept me more consistent in the zone," Chavez said. "Things have been sharper, velocity has been a lot sharper. I was huffing and puffing trying to get a 92 (mph fastball) out there and it wasn't coming.

"Next thing you know, I dropped it and it's right there, and I'm like, 'something's wrong here.' But I just took it and ran with it."

Jesse Chavez 2018 four-seam fastball velocity

  Average Max
Prior to May 13 92.6 mph 94.6 mph
May 13 on 93.6 mph 95.7 mph

Can Chavez be valuable in 2019?  The 35-year old reliever posted the best ERA (2.55), WHIP (1.059) and walk rate (4.5% - nearly two percent better than his previous best) in 2018, and he continued to get better as the season went on. 

He’s a former starter who can pitch multiple innings if needed, and that’s a valuable thing - especially for a manager like Joe Maddon, who uses his pitchers in a variety of ways. It’s unlikely he’ll have a second consecutive career year.

But he’ll likely be well worth the price tag; he only made $1 million in 2018, and even with a slight raise he should be very affordable. There’s definitely room in Maddon’s bullpen for a pitcher like Chavez.