Cubs

Cubs: Schwarber more excited by Bautista's bat flip than own HR

kyle-schwarber-cubs-1015.png

Cubs: Schwarber more excited by Bautista's bat flip than own HR

Kyle Schwarber seemed more impressed Thursday with Jose Bautista’s bat flip than he is with the uproar caused by the search for his celebrated homerun ball.

A day after news cameras discovered the Cubs rookie’s prodigious homer, which led to its temporary enshrinement atop the right field scoreboard at 101-year-old Wrigley Field, Schwarber admitted he enjoyed it to have his moment recognized.

But Schwarber -- who for most of his media session before Thursday’s workout answered questions about the legendary blast -- seemed much more comfortable discussing the legendary bat flip by Bautista, whose three-run homer Wednesday helped the Toronto Blue Jays advance to the American League Championship Series.

“I thought it was awesome,” Schwarber said. “That was one of the best games I’ve seen in a while. It shows you crazy how baseball is and how in the playoffs little mistakes can come back to haunt you. The Blue Jays did a good job taking advantage of what they got from Texas and Bautista put a good swing on the ball.”

[MORE: Cubs return to work after NLDS victory]

Schwarber’s teammates displayed as much reverence for the entire saga surrounding his towering homer to start the seventh inning of Tuesday’s victory over the St. Louis Cardinals.

For starters, Dexter Fowler and Starlin Castro both said Schwarber called his shot in the half inning before he hit it off left-hander Kevin Siegrist. Secondly, television footage from the TBS game broadcast never determined where the 438-foot drive landed.

It wasn’t until Wednesday that a news crew in a helicopter discovered the ball that the Cubs finally located Schwarber’s third postseason homer. The team then had the ball authenticated and returned to the location, determining to encase it where it had been found for the rest of the postseason.

“At first none of us really knew where the hell the thing went,” pitcher Jake Arrieta said. “But we saw that it landed on top of the scoreboard, saw the glass case and some of the pictures that they did and how they were going to kind of preserve that. I think that’s unique. I started talking to Schwarbs and saying: ‘That’s amazing. That’s history right there.’

[SHOP: Buy Cubs playoff gear]

“Whether they leave it up there long-term or not, or they put it in the Hall of Fame or wherever, it’s just a really cool thing for a guy like him to be able to experience and tell people about. That’s something he’ll remember forever.”  

Much like Schwarber called his shot, Cubs manager Joe Maddon suggested the team did exactly as he would have in how they handled the ball. He’s excited the ball will remain atop the brand new scoreboard for the rest of October and perhaps early November, too.

“It’s pure genius,” Maddon said. “The way the tradition and lore are dealt with around here, that could withstand the test of time. Now they definitely have to keep that scoreboard intact, right? If there’s any consideration to do anything differently, you’ve got to keep it there now.”

Asked repeatedly about the topic, Schwarber admitted the club’s gesture is “cool” and he’s honored to be part of Wrigley Field’s history. But Schwarber was far more eager to discuss Bautista’s feat, which perhaps traveled even farther in bat flip inches.

“If it’s probably the middle of the season, you probably say ‘Calm down,’ ” Schwarber said. “But for him to do that right there in that spot, you’re in a state of awe.”

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?

chavez_kamka_story.jpg
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.