Cubs

Kris Bryant tracker: The wait is over

kris-bryant-tracker-cubs-slide.png

Kris Bryant tracker: The wait is over

Kris Bryant Watch is officially over.

The top prospect in baseball is expected to be called up to The Show on Friday, according to CSN Cubs Insider Patrick Mooney.

Here's a rundown of Bryant's minor league action this season:

Thursday, April 16 - Iowa Cubs @ New Orleans Zephyrs

Bryant's only hit of the day was a three-run homer that could be the last of his minor league career with the I-Cubs. It was his third home run of the season, which occurred in the 6th inning. Bryant played third base and went 1-for-4, scoring a run and fanning once.

The I-Cubs won the game, 10-7, earning their fourth win of the season.

Wednesday, April 15 - Iowa Cubs @ New Orleans Zephyrs

After a rainout Tuesday, Bryant and the I-Cubs picked up play again with an early game Wednesday, in which Bryant went 0-for-3 with a walk and a run scored. He was also hit by a pitch and struck out twice as Iowa lost 3-2 in extra innings.

Bryant is now hitting .333 on the season with a 1.004 OPS, two homers, seven RBI and two stolen bases in six games.

Monday, April 13 - Iowa Cubs @ New Orleans Zephyrs

Bryant didn't homer Monday, but he did collect three hits - all singles - in helping the I-Cubs to a 4-1 victory. Bryant didn't score or drive in a run (the bottom of the order did all the damage) and stole his second base of the season. He also made two throwing errors at third base.

Sunday, April 12 - Iowa Cubs @ Memphis Redbirds

Bryant went deep again Sunday, crushing a two-run homer in the seventh to spark Iowa to a 7-2 victory. He also hit a sacrifice fly in the game and finished 1-for-4 with three RBI. Bryant hit third in the lineup, with Addison Russell collecting three hits - including a homer - and two RBI hitting ahead of Bryant.

Saturday, April 11 - Iowa Cubs @ Memphis Redbirds

Bryant broke out of his mini-slump to start the year, going 3-for-4 with a double, his first home run of the year and 3 RBIs.

He added a single and played error-free baseball at third base as the Cubs won 13-0, picking up their first win of the year.

Friday, April 10 - Iowa Cubs @ Memphis Redbirds

Bryant was the cleanup hitter, going 0-for-4 with two strikeouts. He was error-free in nine innings of work at third base.

Iowa finished the game with five hits, losing 8-1.

Thursday, April 9 - Iowa Cubs @ Memphis Redbirds

Bryant hit fourth and went 1-for-4 with a single, an RBI, a run and a stolen base while playing third. He hit behind fellow uber-prospect Russell, who had two hits, a run and an RBI.

Bryant drove in John Andreoli with a two-out single to right and then promptly stole second before Junior Lake's single brought home both Russell and Bryant.

Still, the I-Cubs wound up on the losing end in a 7-4 ballgame.

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.