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Cubs: Joe Maddon hears both sides of Bryan Price meltdown

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Cubs: Joe Maddon hears both sides of Bryan Price meltdown

PITTSBURGH – Joe Maddon knew Bryan Price before the Cincinnati Reds manager went viral with a bleeping meltdown that dropped 77 F-bombs on reporters. 

The Cubs didn’t give Maddon a five-year, $25 million contract just to manage the team for nine innings at a time. They also needed a ringmaster for the Wrigleyville circus.

The Cubs wanted someone to be a public face of the franchise, selling their vision to the fans. A big personality could entertain the easily distractible Chicago media, deflecting pressure from young players already viewed as saviors.

Maddon isn’t paranoid or defensive and his freewheeling style appears to be working for a team that left for Cincinnati after Thursday’s 5-4 loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates at PNC Park. 

“At the end of the day, we’re not trying to conceal weaponry being sold to Iran,” Maddon said. “I don’t view it that way. I hope I never do.”

[MORE: Cubs: Javier Baez returning from leave of absence]

Maddon did grunt work for decades before morphing into a celebrity manager. Price played for Maddon in 1985 and 1986 in Midland, Texas, at a Double-A affiliate for the California Angels.

Price went to the University of California, Berkeley. He never pitched in the big leagues before becoming a pitching coach with the Seattle Mariners and Arizona Diamondbacks.

“‘BP’ — when I had him — had a great pickoff move, because a lot of guys got on first base,” Maddon joked. “But even back then, he was a joy to be around. Very bright, analytical in a way. Great conversationalist. Very funny. So whatever motivated that, I’m sure we’ll talk about it at some point.”

Maddon called to say congratulations when Price got promoted from Cincinnati pitching coach to replace Dusty Baker, who had just guided the Reds to 90 wins in 2013 and their third playoff appearance in four seasons.

The pressure points are obvious inside a news cycle that goes 24/7/365. The Reds lost 86 games last season and Price only has one more year left on his contract after this season. Cincinnati had lost seven of its last eight games by the time Price blew up during Monday’s pregame media session.

“It was kind of amusing in some ways, but don’t be deceived,” Maddon said. “It could happen to any one of us.

“Don’t think you’re immune. I’m totally aware of that.”

[RELATED: Cubs need Jon Lester to really get rolling]

Maddon also clearly loves the attention and the interaction. He doesn’t look at it as a chore. He also has instant credibility after his successful run with the Tampa Bay Rays.

“I enjoy it,” Maddon said. “Sometimes, you ask me (bleep) that I haven’t thought about. And that’s a good thing. Then I’ll have to give you an answer that glosses over it. But I’m thinking to myself: (Bleep), I got to think about that a little more.”

Instead of doing it behind closed doors, Price unloaded on C. Trent Rosecrans, a respected Reds beat writer for the Cincinnati Enquirer, in a rant that lasted almost six minutes.

Last weekend, Rosecrans had reported All-Star catcher Devin Mesoraco wasn’t with the team during a game in St. Louis and unavailable to pinch-hit against the Cardinals. The news outlet had previously reported Mesoraco and Tucker Barnhart were on the same flight as an Enquirer reporter. Meaning Price felt like he didn’t get a chance to tell catcher Kyle Skipworth that he’d be returning to the minors before the Barnhart news broke.

When dealing with sensitive information, Maddon said: “That’s up to me to not give you something that I don’t want to reveal."

“If you get it on your own, then what am I going to do?” Maddon said. “My job is to not give it up. Your job is to find it out. And that’s cool. At the end of the day, what does that mean? I keep going back to the barroom. It’s great barroom banter, man.”

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Maddon said he first started his personal Twitter account to promote the Rays — not himself — and he’s now up to 229,000 followers. We can all agree that social media’s relentless nature — and the obsession with what’s next — would drive anyone crazy.

“At some point, it’s oversaturated with nonsense,” Maddon said. “How much nonsense do you want to hear? I don’t really want to know about everybody else’s thoughts all the time. I really don’t. That would be the next level, like if I eventually become a mind reader.

“That would really suck. Because if you know too much, man, that would be awful. It’s good that you don’t know everything. So all this stuff is getting to the point now where I don’t even know: What would be the next level of communication?

“Is it possible, outside of reading someone else’s mind? I don’t know. And I don’t want to read any of your minds at all under any circumstances. Because once you get in there, you may never get out. And you could be contaminated for the rest of your life.”

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.