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A fan's take on Cubs' 2012 starting rotation

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A fan's take on Cubs' 2012 starting rotation

The Winter Meetings have come and gone and while it was a very busy week for Theo Epstein and Co., they still have yet to make any changes to the Cubs' pitching staff.

In a conversation last week with one of my friends, Billy (who would like to be described as a "Cubs enthusiast"), we were discussing the potential starting rotation for the Cubs next year.

Jed Hoyer and Theo keep preaching run prevention and the fastest way to improve in that area is to bolster the starting rotation. Theo has already said he wants to have as many as nine starting pitcher options, which makes the five-man rotation hard to predict. Throw in injuries and potential ineffectiveness and it's near impossible.

But we can have fun anyways and still throw out our projections.

As such, here is Cubs Enthusiast Billy's projected Opening Day rotation:

1. Matt Garza
2. Ryan Dempster
3. Paul Maholm
4. Joe Saunders
5. Andrew CashnerRandy Wells

He also believes the "Dream Team" will find a taker for Carlos Zambrano.

It's interesting and entirely possible. Maholm and Saunders are free agent options and they could come somewhat cheap. They're both lefties and it would make sense for the Cubs to target a left-handed starter at some point during this offseason.

The idea of Maholm is certainly intriguing. He's the kind of under-the-radar free agent signing Theo and his posse seem most inclined to make.

Maholm is coming off the best year of his career (3.66 ERA and 1.29 WHIP despite a tough-luck 6-14 record) and could sign a deal worth 5-7 million a year or so. Not too expensive and at 29 years old, the former first-round pick could be a solid addition to the pitching staff.

Saunders, meanwhile, was just non-tendered by the Diamondbacks and has compiled a 4.07 ERA in 415.1 innings over the past two seasons. He did lead the league in losses in 2010 with 17, but he's been a steady and reliable -- if unspectacular -- starter over his career.

Cubs enthusiast Billy also thinks Epstoyer (his celebrity name for the new Cubs front office duo) could go out and sign a guy like Jeff Francis for depth and to help push the younger starters in Spring Training.

Dempster and Garza are both obvious choices to head up the rotation, assuming Garza isn't dealt sometime this winter (which I doubt he will be).

Cashner was sidelined most of 2011 with a shoulder injury, so the organization may not want to stretch him out as a starter at the beginning of the season. Whether they do or not remains to be seen, but even if he is an option for the fifth starter, Wells could be there to push him in the spring.

A very realistic rotation possibility, though. I personally like the Maholm signing. He may not be flashy, but like David DeJesus, he's a guy that will improve the team and help them take steps back into prominence in the NL.

Far better than having Doug Davis making starts, right?
Have a prediction for the Cubs' 2012 starting rotation? Comment in the section below with your projection of the five Opening Day predictions and I'll discuss each and every rotation comment here on CubsTalk.

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.