MLB Power Rankings: Do Cardinals have a deal with the devil?


MLB Power Rankings: Do Cardinals have a deal with the devil?

The 2015 MLB season has been fraught with disappointment - from teams and players. The San Diego Padres, Cleveland Indians, Milwaukee Brewers, Seattle Mariners and the White Sox will all be sitting in unenviable positions on July 1. Meanwhile, the Cardinals must be practicing some sort of witchcraft in St. Louis given how they continue to win despite injuries to so many key players.

With that comes another week of MLB Power Rankings from's Tony Andracki and JJ Stankevitz. Stay tuned for updated rankings every Monday throughout the 2015 campaign. Here's where we're at so far: Preseason rankings | Week 1 | Week 2 | Week 3 | Week 4 | Week 5 | Week 6 | Week 7 | Week 8 | Week 9 | Week 10 | Week 11

Rank Team
Last Week Comment
1 1

Do they have a deal with the devil? How are they still THIS good??!?

2   2

Hey, we’re down to only five Royals leading All-Star voting. One of them, though, still is Omar Infante and his .562 OPS.

3 12

Max Scherzer is on pace to allow just 47 ER in 234.1 IP. By comparison, Joe Kelly has allowed 47 ERA in 74.2 IP this season.

4   3

Falling back to earth with a 13-14 June record entering the week, but still comfortably atop the AL West.

5 5

I like this team overall, but are they really comfortable starting guys like Brett Anderson, Mike Bolsinger or Carlos Frias down the stretch or even in the playoffs?

6 4

Francisco Cervelli is tied for 5th in MLB in fWAR (1.8) in just 58 games. 

7 11

Ubaldo Jimenez has a 3.09 ERA and Chris Davis has 16 home runs. And with their career resuscitations comes the O’s in first entering the week.

8 8

Taking advantage of the Cubs' losing streak to leapfrog into the NL's final playoff spot for the time being.

9 6

Solid pitching, strong defense and an average offense have been enough to keep them in the thick of the playoff race.

10 10

Josh Donaldson for MVP, anyone? He has 4.3 WAR (4th-most) and 18 home runs (12th-most) while bringing the Blue Jays’ menacing order together awfully well.

11   9

Did well to split a four-game series in Houston after allowing 24 runs in a series loss to the lowly Phillies last week.

12 7

After beating Kershaw and Greinke and going 9 games over .500 for the first time since 2008, Cubs then go on a 5-game losing streak. Sounds about right.

13 13

Ervin Santana comes back on the Fourth of July, but will he be enough to keep this upstart side in a pennant race?

14 16

Justin Verlander is scheduled to start Tuesday, and Detroit needs him to be better than his six-run, three-homer showing in his last outing June 19 against the Yankees.

15 15

Despite having another MVP bid from Mike Trout and Albert Pujols’ 23 home runs, their position players have combined for the seventh-lowest WAR total this season.

16 17

Maybe they should just have Steven Matz play 3B on days he doesn't pitch?

17 14

The returns of Matt Harrison and Josh Hamilton look like they’re coming at the right time for a team that’s on the verge of sinking out of the playoff race.

18 18

Welington Castillo has a .901 OPS in Arizona. Hmm.

19 19

Think their recent 5-game losing streak ensures they will become sellers soon.

20   21

Can they even trade any of those guys they acquired over the winter besides JUpton? Myers has another wrist injury, Kemp has a .661 OPS, Norris is hitting .197 since May 16, Middlebrooks has a .250 OBP, Shields has a 4.24 ERA and 1.33 WHIP, Kimbrel has a 1.31 WHIP...the list goes on and on.

21 20

They won three straight series, then promptly swept out of New York by the Mets. Reds should sell, sell, sell in July.

22 25 Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez, in 134 combined games, have been worth -0.7 WAR.
23 23

Robinson Cano has 0.0 WAR and 8 1/2 years left on his deal.

24 24

Even if they trade Scott Kazmir and Ben Zobrist (Cubs, anyone?), don’t rule them out of an AL West that could become wide open if Houston continues to slide.

25 22

Jason Kipnis' monster year is being wasted on this lagging team. Shame! Shame! Shame!

26 26

Nolan Arenado is on pace for 52 HRs and 147 RBI. And he's only 24. (But he's also on pace for only 28 BBs. Weird!)

27 28

Want to see how bad defense affects pitching? The Sox pitching staff has a 3.74 FIP but a 4.23 ERA, the largest gulf in the American League.

28 27

Without Giancarlo Stanton, will anybody watch this reality show in Miami?

29 29

Matt Garza's ERA by month: 5.52/6.34/4.60. Remember when he was traded for Chris Archer? Fun times.

30 30

Things are such a mess, Sandberg forfeitted millions of dollars to quit now, rather than wait another month or so and get fired and still get all that money. 

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.