Cubs

Cubs: Joe Maddon brings zoo animals to Wrigleyville circus

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Cubs: Joe Maddon brings zoo animals to Wrigleyville circus

Joe Maddon brought his zoo-animal act into Wrigley Field’s interview room/dungeon, once again showing why he’s the perfect leader for the three-ring circus at Clark and Addison.

The Cubs manager helped organize a petting zoo on the field – snow leopard, sloth, armadillo, penguin – for players and coaches and their families before Tuesday’s 4-0 win over the Milwaukee Brewers. Obviously.  

So there was Maddon during his pregame media session, sitting up on the platform in front of the microphone and talking to a flamingo named Warren. 

“My goal in life was to eventually own a bar named ‘The Pink Flamingo,’” Maddon said. “If that ever happens, then I’ve made it. And if that ever does happen, Warren’s going to be at the opening night.

[MORE: Arrieta joins 20-win club after victory against Brewers]

“Thank you, Warren, you did not disappoint.”

Maddon credited traveling secretary Vijay Tekchandani, who lined it up with the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium. The Ohio zoo lists TV personality Jack Hanna as its director emeritus. Tekchandani had found Simon the Magician for Maddon on an off-day in Manhattan in late June, getting him to perform inside Citi Field’s visiting clubhouse before a win over the New York Mets.

Maddon’s gimmicks probably have an expiration date and might not always generate universal enthusiasm inside the clubhouse. But his overall style has turned down the pressure and deflected attention away from young players like Kris Bryant, who blasted his 26th home run on Tuesday night, breaking the rookie franchise record held by Hall of Famer Billy Williams.

[SHOP: Buy a Joe Maddon jersey shirt]

Jonny Gomes – the Kansas City Royals outfielder who knows all about clubhouse chemistry and was there when the Tampa Bay Devil Rays turned into a  2008 World Series team – explained Maddon’s stunts this way:

“There are quirks that he brings into it. It’s meaningful and there’s passion and research, of course, and big words behind it. It’s not really just like bringing in a rodeo clown and having him jump out of the barrel and get back in the barrel.

“I would love for someone to come up with a hitting coach or pitching coach and a manager where the whole team was on board to where your whole staff would take a bullet for (them). But if (there was a) book on how to do that, it would have been written (already).

“Like everything (Maddon) does, it’s prepared. It’s not a fast-food (idea) or a quick Band-Aid.”  

Maddon is 61 years old and in the first season of five-year, $25 million contract, on the verge of clinching a playoff spot and on pace for 95 wins. 

Maddon is going to enjoy this and do it his way. Happy hour with Warren at “The Pink Flamingo” can wait.

“It just came together perfectly on this particular day,” Maddon said. “Great weather outside…3 o’clock on a Tuesday afternoon…what else would you want to be doing except greeting (zoo animals)? There you have it.” 

Remember that guy? Former Cubs shortstop Ricky Gutiérrez

Remember that guy? Former Cubs shortstop Ricky Gutiérrez

Ricky Gutiérrez played in the Majors from 1993-2004. He played shortstop for the Cubs from 2000-01 and later signed with them again in June 2004. 

However, Gutiérrez never got back to the Majors with the Cubs, who sent him to the Red Sox the following month. His final Major League game was with the Red Sox on Oct. 3, 2004, the final game of the 2004 regular season; he didn’t play in the 2004 postseason. Gutiérrez was subsequently signed and released by a few other teams, including the White Sox in 2005.

Gutiérrez holds the distinction of being the first Cubs player to hit a regular season grand slam against the White Sox (July 12, 2001). In his two seasons with the Cubs, he tied for the Major League lead in sacrifice bunts both years (16 in 2000, 17 in 2001) which was odd since he had a grand total of 18 sacrifice bunts in his 847 career games NOT in a Cubs uniform. He also had uncharacteristic power with the Cubs:  21 home runs for Chicago in 272 games, 17 home runs with everyone else (847 games).

What Cubs fans probably remember most is what Gutiérrez did against them. On May 6, 1998 he had the lone hit (many dispute it should have been ruled an error) for the Astros off Kerry Wood in Wood’s 20-strikeout masterpiece at Wrigley Field (Gutiérrez was responsible for two of the strikeouts). 

Later that season, on June 26, the number 20 and Gutiérrez were again connected when he had a 20-pitch battle against Bartolo Colón, which ended in a strikeout. It remained the last plate appearance in the Majors of at least 20 pitches until Brandon Belt flew out on the 21st pitch of an at-bat against the Angels' Jaime Barria on April 22, 2018.

Gutiérrez’s nephew, James Jones, played 14 seasons in the NBA for the Pacers, Suns, Trail Blazers, Heat and Cavaliers.

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.