Cubs

Cubs: Joe Maddon hates the idea of the DH in National League

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Cubs: Joe Maddon hates the idea of the DH in National League

Cubs manager Joe Maddon has zero interest in the designated hitter coming to the National League.

That chatter picked up again with the St. Louis Cardinals losing Adam Wainwright for the rest of the season. The St. Louis ace tore his left Achilles tendon while trying to run out a popup during Saturday’s game against the Milwaukee Brewers.  

“I am so not into knee-jerk stuff,” Maddon said Monday at Wrigley Field. “That’s just the expedient nature of reporting and the world we exist in today. It’s unfortunate what happened to (Wainwright). It really is. I would prefer that would not have happened to him. We all (feel that way). Because I want to beat our opposition with their best all the time.

“But that should have nothing to do with anything. He could have got hurt traveling to the ballpark in his car. And then he’s supposed to stop driving?

“I mean, really, come on. That’s just part of the game. That’s the way it works. It’s unfortunate. It stinks. But I like the National League game.”

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Maddon clearly loves the strategy as well as the debates that come with double switching and hitting the pitcher eighth, believing it helps sell the product and ultimately benefits the overall game.

As Maddon said: “Barrooms got to be deluged with some really good stuff on a nightly basis when they think I’m stupid.”

Maddon usually looks at the big picture, but he’s not working for the Tampa Bay Rays anymore. The Cubs now have arguably the industry’s best crop of young position players, and it’s unlikely they will all fit together on the North Side.

Just look at someone like Double-A Tennessee’s Dan Vogelbach, a potential trade chip who’s blocked by All-Star first baseman Anthony Rizzo. Vogelbach is 22 years old and listed at 6-foot, 250 pounds, a body type that suggests he would fit as a designated hitter in the American League.

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Vogelbach woke up on Monday leading the Southern League with a .444 batting average, showing the potential the Cubs saw when they made him a second-round pick in the 2011 draft. He’s put up 13 walks against five strikeouts, generating three homers, seven doubles and 13 RBI through 15 games.

“I come from ‘The Land of No DHs,’ where that’s a very expensive position,” Maddon said. “There are not many that are really, really good at it. That’s not an easy position to play – to hit and then sit around and then hit again and perform at a high level.

“I like this eight-plus-one thing. And if you could get something good out of your group of pitchers, it might give you an edge. And that’s also pretty interesting.

“From a kid’s perspective – if you’re trying to gain more fans and you’re looking for that intellectual component – give them the National League game to follow and have them try to understand.”

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.