Cubs

Cubs-Mets: The mind-blowing statistics that prove Daniel Murphy just might have a deal with the devil

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Cubs-Mets: The mind-blowing statistics that prove Daniel Murphy just might have a deal with the devil

It would probably be safe to say half of Cubs fans didn't even know who Daniel Murphy was before the MLB playoffs started this season.

That's not a knock on Cubs fans - Murphy has been a solid (yet unspectacular) player for the Mets for seven years and the Cubs just do not see the Mets often enough for casual fans to take notice.

The entire country has certainly taken notice now. Murphy is hitting .357 this postseason with a .929 slugging percentage while leading all of baseball with five playoff homers.

It's not just the power that has been impressive. It's been who he's hit the homers off of - Clayton Kershaw (twice), Zack Greinke, Jon Lester and Jake Arrieta.

In fact, he's the first player to homer off all three top Cy Young candidates (Kershaw, Greinke, Arrieta) this season.

Murphy's been so hot, the Cubs actually intentionally walked him in the third inning of Game 2. That's not a common occurrence for a guy with only 62 career homers and a career high of 14 longballs in a season (set this year).

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"He's locked in," Cubs catcher David Ross said. "We're not scared of anybody. We're gonna try to put ourselves in the best scenario to win, whether that's to pitch to him or around him. That's for him to figure out and us to know.

"He's obviously feeling sexy right now, so we're gonna try to change that."

Murphy's homer off Arrieta in the first inning of Game 2 was maybe his most impressive. It came on a courveball on a 1-2 pitch that sat at the knees and on the inside portion of the plate.

On 1-2 counts this season, Arrieta allowed just one homer, a .102 batting average and a .156 slugging percentage.

The pitch was so low, it was only 12.76 inches off the plate. Which makes Murphy's homer even more improbable. From FoxSports:

 

According to the data mined from PITCHF/x via Baseball Savant, major-league hitters swung at 14,318 pitches that were as low or lower than Arrieta's curveball to Murphy. Seventy-four percent of the time, they swung and missed, because simply putting the bat on the ball down there is difficult. Sixteen percent of the time, they fouled the ball off. Only 10 percent of swings -- 1,457 to be exact -- ended up resulting in a ball in play. 

 

So it's rare enough to take a pitch that low and hit it fair, but Murphy didn't hit it, he elevated it. And that's pretty amazing too. 

 

Of the 1,457 balls in play on swings at pitches no higher than 12.76 inches off the ground, 73 percent resulted in ground balls. Even hitters who made contact at swings in these locations almost always hit it on the infield, which makes perfect sense given how low these pitches are. Only 12 percent of balls in play on these low swings resulted in a fly ball or a popup, and that's 12 percent of the subset of swings that put the ball in play to begin with. As a percentage of total swings at pitches that low, only 1.2 percent resulted in a fly ball or pop fly. 

 

In terms of exit velocity, the numbers don't exactly back up Murphy's homer, either. He hit the ball at just 91 mph, according to Statcast, which is right around the average exit velocity for a ball put in play in the MLB this season.

Murphy's bomb was only the 46th homer over the fence on a ball hit 91 mph or less in all of baseball in 2015.

So maybe Murphy does have a deal with the devil? Either way, Cubs' Game 3 starter Kyle Hendricks knows he needs to be careful.

[RELATED - Kyle Hendricks welcomes pressure of pitching in 'must-win' game]

"He's swinging a hot bat," Hendricks said after the Cubs' workout Monday at Wrigley Field. "Sometimes, the best thing to do is pick your spots. See when guys are on base, when they're not, when you can pitch around him.

"Regardless, when he comes up, you've definitely got to be careful. You can't make any mistakes with him. But you do want to get the ball down.

"That one yesterday was down, but it was coming towards him and he just got to it. So hopefully I can stay on the edges more and keep it down with him."

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.