Joe Maddon changes his tune on Cubs hosting concerts at Wrigley Field


Joe Maddon changes his tune on Cubs hosting concerts at Wrigley Field

The day after his AC/DC comments went viral and made national headlines, Joe Maddon flip-flopped his position on the Cubs hosting concerts at Wrigley Field.

Whether or not someone upstairs told the manager to change his tune – or a master manipulator of the media didn’t realize how much his words would echo on Twitter and across the Internet – Maddon backtracked during Tuesday’s pregame media session and gave a pro-concert message for the cameras.

“That’s good stuff,” Maddon said. “I have no problem with any of that. Zero. Zilch. Nada. That was an attempt at weak humor yesterday, so I was guilty of that, and I can be very weak at times. Regarding the bad hop, I have no problem with the concert whatsoever. None. Zero. Zilch. Nada.”

[MORE: Joe Maddon blames Starlin Castro’s error on AC/DC concert at Wrigley]

Sitting in the same interview room/dungeon after Monday night’s 9-5 win over the Milwaukee Brewers, Maddon took an innocuous question about Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro finally being able to play winning baseball in September and seemingly used it to make a larger point about the franchise’s business/baseball priorities.

Maddon blamed Castro’s fielding error on last week’s AC/DC concert, which “totally messed up our infield.” The explanation roughly 18 hours later sounded like a bit from “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” one of Maddon’s favorite TV shows. 

“I was very flippant,” Maddon said. “‘Very flippant’ – is that redundant? Could you be ‘very flippant?’ Or are you just ‘flippant?’ I think I was just ‘flippant.’ Or I was just ‘very.’ One of the two.”

Do you like AC/DC?

“I do, but I’m not as current or hip to their stuff,” Maddon said. “My group is like the 60s and the 70s groups.”

Maddon enjoys talking to reporters and wants to protect Castro, who has thrived as a part-time second baseman after losing his status as a franchise shortstop.

Maddon has also complained about the inconsistent start times for weekend games at Wrigley Field, another complicated issue for Crane Kenney’s business-operations department.

Every business in the neighborhood should be hustling and hoping to cash in on the clinching celebrations and possible home playoff games in October.

The Ricketts family wants to leverage an iconic venue and turn Wrigleyville into a year-round destination. In theory, revenue-generating events like an AC/DC concert should help the Cubs get players and improve the on-field product.

“I don’t know how that all works,” Maddon said. “The citizenry really enjoys this stuff. And I’m all about that. In this particular area, my God, it’s so vibrant, why wouldn’t you do it here with that marquee?

“Springsteen was here. And then you see Billy Joel. And I think it’s great. It’s absolutely awesome. I would never want to get in the way of that. If there’s any way that we could attend at least one, I would really appreciate that.”

[NBC SHOP: Gear up, Cubs fans!]

The Cubs haven’t really answered what happens to the Masahiro Tanaka money ($20 million) rolled over from last season and built into this year’s budget. The surge of interest in this team – plus the potential for a long playoff run – should help the bottom line for Theo Epstein’s baseball-operations department. 

Ultimately, the Cubs having a big-market payroll again depends on the next TV deal and the complex leveraged partnership between the Ricketts family and Sam Zell’s Tribune Co. (which included a piece of Comcast Sportsnet Chicago, the owner of exclusive cable rights through the 2019 season).

It doesn’t sound like the Cubs will stop showcasing performers like Foo Fighters and Zac Brown Band. The synergy and access to musical talent had helped drive the decision to leave WGN-AM 720 and start a new partnership with CBS Radio this season.

“The only thing I’d like to see changed is the fact that we could attend them,” Maddon said. “I don’t know how that could happen, though. Like you’re playing a home series, it would be hard to play the game, set it up and then set up for the field afterwards. I have no problems with the concerts whatsoever. I’m a big music fan.”

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?


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.