Cubs

Cubs will find out what they're made of

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Cubs will find out what they're made of

Thursday, April 7, 2011
Posted 7:27 p.m.
By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

Tony La Russa has already gone viral in 2011, storming away from the podium after ranting about how: Its the first week of the season!

WATCH: La Russa quits his press conference

Each manager deals with the stress in his own way. La Russa has the juice to pull that off in St. Louis, and there is roughly 96 percent of the schedule left to play.

When Lou Piniella called you sir, you knew he was seething inside. Mike Quade still addresses reporters by their first name, and it doesnt take much effort for him to put a positive spin on the days news.

The Cubs have lost 40 percent of their rotation. Theyve so far scored 26 runs and allowed 26. They play in a city where every bullpen and pinch-hit decision is second-guessed. If that wears on the manager, he hasnt let it show yet.

I always say its about the process of giving yourself a chance to win every game. Quade said. Ive said all along: If we play intelligent baseball and we get a quality effort every game, the rest of its supposed to take care of itself. I certainly cant go back on that now (because) we had a 3-3 homestand.

The Cubs live in their own bubble and thats the only way to make it through 162 games. With pitchers Randy Wells (forearm) and Andrew Cashner (rotator cuff) heading to the disabled list, they will have to move on to a nine-game, three-city trip that begins on Friday in Milwaukee.

There are no negatives at all, outfielder Marlon Byrd said. Now its time to go on the road and see what were made of.

From here until April 17, the Cubs will have to go through the Brewers, a trendy pick in the National League Central. Theyll head to Houston, where on Tuesday night theyll need a new fifth starter. Then theyll have to deal with the Rockies and three games in Denvers thin mountain air.

By then, everyone will have forgotten that the Cubs were almost injury-free in spring training. The Cardinals had to put a brave face on Adam Wainwrights Tommy John surgery. The Brewers had to make excuses for Zack Greinke, who cracked a rib while playing pickup basketball.

When they heard about that, the Cubs didnt gloat. They knew that the injuries would balance out over the next six months they just didnt think it would happen this soon.

Unbelievable, thats the way this game is its become such a matter of health, general manager Jim Hendry said. Sooner or later, You have to overcome adversity to be in the hunt. ... Were going to get ours a little unexpectedly in April.

Through six games, the Cubs have committed five errors and stolen zero bases. Starlin Castro the youngest player in the majors shows his inexperience but still looks like an elite shortstop.

Alfonso Soriano has launched three homers and Aramis Ramirez is hitting .333. Yet that only added up to a split against the Pirates and Diamondbacks, two last-place teams in 2010.

We can be better, Soriano said.

It could be worse. Publicly, the Cubs are trying to be philosophical about the whole situation.

Wells was accommodating and patient with the media while laying out his timeline a little soreness after his final spring training start, but nothing through his side session or while warming up in the bullpen before Mondays game. But even he had trouble pinpointing a reason.

Its hard to explain, Wells said. I know you guys are looking for the answer, and I am, too, but its just one of those freak things. As disappointing as it is, I think were going to came away a lot stronger.

That means its time for the Cubs to raise their game. The front office has invested tons of capital in Carlos Zambrano and Matt Garza, and theyll carry the rotation the first two nights at Miller Park.

This much is certain the answers will start coming quick. At a certain point, you cant say its still early in the season.

Were going to see what were made of, Wells said.

PatrickMooney is CSNChicago.com's Cubs beat writer. FollowPatrick on Twitter @CSNMooneyfor up-to-the-minute Cubs news and views.

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.