Cubs

Mooney: Quade doesnt see Castro at leadoff yet

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Mooney: Quade doesnt see Castro at leadoff yet

Thursday, Feb. 24, 2011
Posted 7:25 p.m.
By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

MESA, Ariz. The Cubs want to push Starlin Castro without overwhelming him. There will already be enough pressure on the young shortstop.

Castro, who will turn 21 next month, knows he has to focus on his defense. With more game experience he should cut down on the 27 errors he committed last season. He will realize when to throw the ball, when to hold it and when to take a moment to let the game slow down.

Eventually Castros natural instincts should take over, and with his range and ability to track pop-ups he should become a quality defender.

And if Castro continues to evolve offensively, he could become the more traditional leadoff hitter the Cubs have been lacking. But manager Mike Quade isnt ready to give him those responsibilities just yet.

He hasnt earned the right to figure hes going to hit anywhere, Quade said Thursday at Fitch Park.

The Cubs dont want to hand Castro anything, but he finished 10th in the National League last year with a .300 average and settled nicely into the No. 2 spot.

Theres all sorts of value where hes at right now, Quade said. Id like to think hes going to be talented enough to possibly be that guy someday. But for right now itll be something well consider, (though) Id just as soon leave him and hope he proves me wrong.

Castro can only draw from less than 1,500 at-bats as a professional. Hes played in only 125 games in the majors. But hes also shown the ability to adapt.

Castro hit .339 (43-for-127) against left-handers and finished with 41 hits last August, the most for any Cubs rookie in any month since Ernie Banks in 1954. The Cubs are getting tired of the sophomore jinx story line.

I am leery about the second-year thing, Quade said. If we want this guy to play well (and) get off to a decent start with all the adjustments that are going to be made by other clubs on him, (then) well leave him somewhere we believe hes comfortable.

It may not be all that statistically significant where Castro hits in the lineup. But like the Opening Day starter question, it can be revealing about a manager and his clubhouse.
Ryan Dempster will pitch April 1 because he earned it with his performance and professionalism. Quade looked at the matchups and felt good enough about his relationship with Carlos Zambrano to tell him that he wouldnt be starting that day.

Quade will make concessions to Aramis Ramirez, who wants to hit cleanup and has been an RBI machine when healthy.

He doesnt figure to be one of those guys Ill mix and match with, Quade said. Some guys dont care, and I know he does. He seems like the four-hole to me.

The Cubs used nine different leadoff hitters and nine different cleanup hitters last season, a sign of their offensive dysfunction. Depending on his mood, Lou Piniella could be amused or annoyed by the daily lineup questions.

Quade tries to work two or three days in advance while scheduling this out. Ultimately, hell take the long view, on Castro and anyone else who produces enough to demand playing time.

Im a grown-up I reserve the right to change my opinion, Quade said. (But) the less worrying I have to do about lineups, the easier my summer will be, and thats the Gods honest truth. Because that means that guys have really taken charge and are doing things that make it easy for me.

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.