Cubs

Mooney: Looking out for Colvin's future

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Mooney: Looking out for Colvin's future

Tuesday, Feb. 15, 2011
4:31 p.m.

By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

MESA, Ariz. Albert Pujols is baseballs biggest story. The Cubs are a big-market team that needs to fill seats and hundreds of hours of television programming. Inevitably the two will be caught in the crossfire of Internet rumors.

Already trying to shift the focus, Tony La Russa suggested Tuesday that the union will pressure Pujols to take the largest deal possible, a claim denied by the Major League Baseball Players Association. Wednesday looms as a self-imposed deadline to negotiate a contract extension.

Cubs fans can dream about stealing from the St. Louis Cardinals, but their team has more immediate issues at first base.

A serious injury to Carlos Pena would be devastating. And with Pena using Wrigley Field as a platform to launch himself back into the free-agent market, the Cubs dont have a long-term option either.

So Tyler Colvin is working out at a position that he hasnt really played since he was an undergraduate at Clemson University. Even that was in a backup role. Any hesitation manager Mike Quade may have had throwing Colvin out there near the end of last season is gone.

No backing off this year, Quade said. Youre going to see him at first base some this spring. We cant afford to get into a situation where, God forbid, something happens to Carlos. Well make sure that were protected.

Insurance policy

Quade meant to pull Colvin aside at Fitch Park on Sunday and tell him first about these plans, but couldnt locate him in time. The manager then accidentally let it slip during his media briefing, something he regretted immediately. It didnt matter.

I knew it was coming, Colvin said. Its a great idea.

The 25-year-old outfielder doesnt get caught up in any of the hype. Hed be the last person youd expect to lash out or publicly complain about a position switch. And this versatility could be good for his career, and the Cubs need to find out whether or not he can play there.

On Tuesday he patiently answered the same questions about the freak accident that ended his promising rookie season last September. Yes, Colvin will continue to use maple bats, the same kind that punctured his chest. No, he wont play scared.

Colvin is self-contained and typically keeps his comments serious and brief. But he did joke that the Cubs will put up a protective screen whenever he plays first base.

Im going to go about my business the same way I did last year and get ready, Colvin said. You cant ever be comfortable here. You always have to try to get better, but, yeah, I know the league a little better. (And) they know me, too.

Colvin 2.0

A first-round pedigree helped, but Colvin forced his way onto the team last spring by crushing Cactus League pitching. It became a billboard for everyone else in the organization. Brett Jackson, the 31st overall pick in the 2009 draft, certainly noticed.

He attacked (with) his work ethic and really made his strides getting to the big leagues and then making an impact, Jackson said. Colvin is a good example for us all. Thats the dream to come out to spring training and tear it up.

Jackson hit .297 with 12 homers, 66 RBI and 30 stolen bases during his first full professional season, 128 games split between Class-A Daytona and Double-A Tennessee. MLB.com has ranked the 22-year-old outfielder as the games No. 46 prospect overall.

Cubs ownership is clearly more inclined to invest in the player-development system, and its uncertain how eager the Ricketts family would be to put together the type of contract it will take to lure someone like Pujols to the North Side.

The front office has visions of Jackson and Colvin forming an outfield built on speed and athleticism. Given those expectations, Jackson was asked about nerves, and he sounded like the Cal-Berkeley kid he is, and nothing like Colvin.

You just got to get goofy and have a good time, Jackson said.

PatrickMooney is CSNChicago.com's Cubs beat writer. FollowPatrick on Twitter @CSNMooneyfor up-to-the-minute Cubs news and views.

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.