Cubs

Jake Arrieta - MLB's ERA leader - claims he has had 3-4 'bad' starts this season

Jake Arrieta - MLB's ERA leader - claims he has had 3-4 'bad' starts this season

Jake Arrieta cares not for the expectations placed upon him by other people.

He operates solely on his own insane expectations.

As if to reiterate how "insane," the reigning National League Cy Young winner and current Major League Baseball ERA leader said he has actually had three-to-four starts with "bad" stuff in 2016.

Yes, the guy with the 1.29 ERA and four starts removed from his second no-hitter in the last calendar year has said he's had "bad" stuff in half of his starts this season.

"That's part of being a starter," Arrieta said Thursday morning in Milwaukee. "The old cliche - you're gonna have 10 [starts] where you're good, 10 where you're average and 10 where you're bad - as far as stuff goes. 

"You can still win those games when you don't have your best stuff and that's what I've already done three or four times this year."

An incredulous reporter followed up, clairfying that Arrieta has already had some "bad" starts this season.

"Yeah, of course," the 30-year-old right-hander said as if it were obvious. "If you can't tell that it's one the nights where I haven't been as sharp as I'd like, that's what you're going for. You want to present to the other team and people in the stadium that you were on your game that night, regardless of how you actually feel.

"I've been able to disguise that well and kind of put my best foot forward regardless of my stuff that night and still get wins."

Arrieta is tied with Stephen Strasburg for the NL lead with seven wins in eight starts (plus a no-decision) and only White Sox ace Chris Sale (9-0) has more victories here in mid-May.

Arrieta's 1.29 ERA is .25 points lower than the next-closest guy (White Sox lefty Jose Quintana - 1.54). However, the Cubs ace is only third in the big leagues in WHIP (0.84), behind Clayton Kershaw (0.70) and Sale (0.72). 

Part of that is because Arrieta has walked 18 batters in 56 innings, including multiple free passes in five straight starts (three of which he walked four hitters).

Arrieta takes the mound Friday night, looking to be something of a stopper against the San Francisco Giants after a rough week for the Cubs.

Joe Maddon pointed to the Cubs' four-game sweep of the Giants at Wrigley Field last August as a major turning point in the season. 

That was the weekend Starlin Castro was benched and Addison Russell became the Cubs' shortstop. It was also when Maddon started managing like the Cubs were already in the playoffs, removing Jason Hammel after allowing only two runs and five baserunners in four innings.

"I definitely felt it going into that series," Maddon said. "We took Jason out early that one game when I thought we had to. Kind of like a momentum/paradigm shift the way we were thinking at that particular time in general.

"That was a good thing. We were doing good, but we had to do a little bit more than that. You never want guys to just be satisfied with this nice little thing you got going on.

"[Wednesday night's 13-inning thriller] is a classic example. We could easily have emailed it in. I'm really proud of our guys regarding that."

The Cubs were hoping Wednesday's five-hour, 2-1 victory was going to be a springboard to get back on track after a little hiccup, but the feeling was short-lived thanks to Thursday's 5-3 loss to the Brewers.

The Giants sit atop the NL West at 25-18, riding the high of an eight-game winning streak.

But the ultra-confident Arrieta is ready for the showdown in San Francisco, talking casually about his start in between his claims that he's had "bad" outings and a brief discussion about how he'd like to connect with Blackhawks star Jonathan Toews to do some Pilates.

"We're two really good teams going at it in their park," Arrieta said. "It's gonna be a battle. 

"I don't really remember that [series at Wrigley last year] very well. It's a new series. New team, new year. We're tough to beat. They're good, too, so we're gonna be ready.

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.