Cubs

Cubs won't put any innings limits on Jake Arrieta

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Cubs won't put any innings limits on Jake Arrieta

All the Matt Harvey drama in New York has dominated the baseball world over the weekend, but don't expect the same issues to pop up on Chicago's North Side.

Harvey and his super agent Scott Boras are at odds with the Mets about the right-hander's innings limit about two years removed from Tommy John surgery. 

[RELATED - Cubs think Jake Arrieta can actually get even better]

Jake Arrieta isn't coming off a major elbow procedure, but the Cubs are still watching his innings ... even if there is no limit in place.

"I've been trying to keep an eye on Jake, taking him out of some games earlier than he would have liked to been taken out of," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said the day after Arrieta threw 116 pitches over eight shutout innings. 

"And then I just explained to him that we're just trying to build it up for later in the year - 'You're gonna be pitching longer than you have ever.'"

Maddon may be managing Arrieta's innings, but he's thrown at least 90 pitches in every one of his 28 starts this season.

[RELATED - Jake Arrieta redefining dominance as he makes his case for NL Cy Young]

Arrieta has thrown 191 innings this year and is on pace for 231 innings this season (not including any playoffs), a major increase over his previous career high. 

His highest innings total in a season before this year came last season when he pitched 176.2 innings between the majors and five rehab starts in the minor leagues.

Maddon said historically, the protocol is to only increase a pitcher's workload by a jump of 20 percent in innings pitched and once a guy reaches 200, "the gloves come off."

Arrieta has never reached 200 innings so by Maddon's logic, the "gloves" should still be on, but Arrieta is 29 years old, pitching in his ninth professional season and is in ridiculous physical shape. He's shown no signs at all of slowing down, either, having not allowed an earned run in his last 29 innings.

The Cubs didn't put Arrieta on an innings limit to begin the season and it's a completely different situation than the Harvey drama in New York. 

Still, Maddon understands there's plenty to be gleaned from how the Mets are handling Harvey.

[SHOP: Buy a Jake Arrieta jersey]

"If you're ever in that situation, hopefully you're able to really define [an innings limit] in advance so that this kind of thing would never occur," Maddon said. "You want to avoid that at all costs. Especially what they're doing right now - they're playing so well; you don't need any kind of distractions.

"Its a lesson learned for us moving forward and for every other team. You don't want to be put in that situation this time of the year when you're playing this well, with all of this at stake, to have to answer those questions."

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.