Cubs

Scott Boras explains how Kris Bryant lives up to MVP hype with attitude Cubs need now

Scott Boras explains how Kris Bryant lives up to MVP hype with attitude Cubs need now

LOS ANGELES — “Nope,” Kris Bryant said when asked if any sense of panic crept inside the Cubs clubhouse, pausing for four seconds, giving a death stare and turning to his right with a next-question look. “I’m not concerned at all.”

Bryant stood at his locker after Tuesday night’s 6-0 loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers extended the scoreless streak to 18 consecutive innings, the Cubs falling behind 2-1 in this best-of-seven National League Championship Series. With a backpack slung over his shoulders, Bryant answered every question from any reporter, finally walking out of the room at 9:01 p.m.

The “M-V-P! M-V-P! M-V-P!” chants echoed throughout Dodger Stadium the last time Bryant played here in late August. He managed the only two hits off ex-Cub Rich Hill in six innings, knocking two curveballs for singles, and then showing the attitude this team needs now.  

“He has the classic fighter-pilot personality,” super-agent Scott Boras said. “The more planes that are in the air, the calmer he gets. You know why? Because he goes: Great, I just get to shoot more things.

“That’s just his way of looking at life. Pressure – whatever it is – it’s just: Let’s go.”

Whatever happens next at Dodger Stadium, Bryant’s warp-speed development is a major reason why the Cubs believe they will keep playing deep into October for years to come.

As pointed and as personal as Boras could get while the Cubs tore it down to build the best team in baseball – “Meet the Parents,” “All-Day Sucker,” etc. – this time the agent didn’t at all oversell his client.

Bryant has been even better than advertised since the Theo Epstein administration made a franchise-altering decision with the No. 2 overall pick in the 2013 draft.

Within the last two years, Bryant has accounted for 65 homers and 201 RBI and put up a .900 OPS while playing six different defensive positions. During that time, the Cubs have won 200 games and made back-to-back trips to the NLCS.

Since his junior season at the University of San Diego, Bryant has been the national college player of the year, the consensus minor-league player of the year, an NL Rookie of the Year and possibly a unanimous MVP.

“I remember when he was in college, I went to see him play in Irvine,” Boras said. “They had a night game. He hit a ball to the wall in right field, center field, left field. And then hit one out about 410. I go: ‘I’ve been watching games here forever – I’ve never seen anybody (do that).’ You’re talking about 1,500-1,800 feet of at-bats.

“He goes: ‘Yeah, you know, it’s funny. I came to the ballpark today and I really wasn’t so concerned about it. It was kind of relaxing.’”

Boras asked: “Why?”

“Well, I had three finals today,” Bryant told Boras.

“He took three finals and goes and rakes,” Boras said. “He’s just that kind of guy. Nothing fazes him.”

Like what could be the unbearable pressure of playing for a franchise that hasn’t won a World Series since 1908 – and being one of its centers of attention from the moment you got drafted – and playing with “Embrace The Target” on your chest all season. 

Inside his home office in Southern California, Boras keeps an old photo of himself as a Cubs minor-league infielder. Before launching his career as the game’s most powerful agent, Boras worked as an attorney at a Chicago law firm, riding the El from Lincoln Park/Old Town and going up into a Loop skyscraper.     

Boras knew Bryant had no chance to make the 2015 Opening Day roster, the Cubs wanting to gain that extra year of club control and push his free-agency clock back until after the 2021 season. No matter how loud Boras yelled through his megaphone or whatever the Major League Baseball Players Association does with that service-time grievance.  

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But there is truth in advertising. Adidas got it right putting up that “WORTH THE WAIT” billboard in Wrigleyville last year. Red Bull then filmed Bryant with a goat in New Orleans for that “Down on the Farm” commercial.

“I figured if we’re going to be 11 days in the minor leagues, we’re going to do something special,” Boras said. “God gave us a big storm and (Kris) was wearing rubber boots. The Red Bull people really created it. Once we saw that, I (said): ‘Yeah, that looks good. Let’s do that. If we can’t play in the big leagues, at least we can kill the curse.’ And being a former Cubbie, we know a lot about that curse.”

No matter how many Cubs fans freak out on Twitter – or how lost the rest of this lineup sometimes looks against these Dodger lefties – Bryant still thinks this could be The Year. And that’s all that really matters now.

“Super calm,” Bryant said. “Nobody’s throwing stuff. Yeah, on the outside, you would kind of think that’s what would be going on because it’s fun to hit.

“But there’s no panic – nothing in here. That’s good. That’s right where we need to be.”

 

 

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.