Cubs

Steve Stone's mailbag: Can Castro win ROY?

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Steve Stone's mailbag: Can Castro win ROY?

Tuesday, Sept. 7, 2010
12:36 PM

Steve Stone dives into his mailbag to answer your questions about Starlin Castro's Rookie of the Year chances, the effect of Manny Ramirez' presence and more!

Tom, Chicago -- Does Starlin Castro have a good shot at Rookie of the Year? Or do you think he has to win the batting title to achieve that?

Steve Stone: I think Jason Heyward from Atlanta has the best shot of winning. Heyward plays for a first place team, has been hitting towards the top of the order and has displayed lots of power. With his batting average in the .280's and the defense he presents, that could be a problem for Castro. As far as winning the batting title, Castro has to pick up 23 points over Carlos Gonzalez of Colorado who is hitting .340, while Castro sits at .317. I don't think that will happen but it doesn't diminish what Castro has done. He is going to be a terrific player, especially if he starts to remember how many outs are in an inning. Right now he is benched by Mike Quade, which I think is a good thing because it will hit home and show Castro what is expected in the major leagues.

That being said, there are some other great rookies out there that are going to be in the running. Just in the National League, one of the guys coming to mind is Gaby Sanchez; not sure if he still qualifies as a rookie but he is having a great season. Competition this year is pretty stiff; don't forget Buster Posey of the re-surging Giants. He is hitting .326 and the Giants' offensive resurgence as well as their knocking at the door of first place could be directly related to Posey becoming an every day player. It appears there are some exceptional young talents in the majors already and certainly on the horizon. This may be tough for Castro, I don't think he will make rookie of the year but you never know.

Ronnie, Westmont, IL -- Ted Lilly always impressed me during his time with the Cubs, do you think there is a chance that they bring him back next season as a free agent?

Steve Stone: I think the Cubs are going to reduce a bit. If you could tell me that the Cubs would be able to trade Zambrano, Fukudome, or Silva without eating too much money, then I would tell you that, yes, there is a good chance they may go after Ted. I think Lilly will be looking for a multi-year contract and wont find that with the Cubs.

Trace, Santa Barbara, CA -- Is Manny Ramirez's presence in the White Sox lineup enough to push the team past the Twins and into the playoffs?

Steve Stone: I think Manny's presence is a good thing. I don't think he can hurt your ball club at all for a month. I would like to see him get a base hit to drive in a run, which he has not done yet. He is hitting unbelievably well; Manny has always been a clutch player. I don't think the Sox have the Manny that hit .349 (in 2002), but I don't think it hurts at all. The Sox are just looking for him to drive in some runs and occasionally hit it out the ball park; which should be easy in US Cellular. With the philosophy that Manny cant hurt, I think it was a pretty good addition to the baseball team and now we will see if he can generate some run production and some power.

Pat, Highland, Ind. -- Do you think Chris Sale has the stuff to be the White Sox closer next season?

Steve Stone: I don't think he will be the closer next season. He does have the stuff to be a closer but he has always been a starting pitcher and there is no reason to think he can't be a starter at the big league level. It would be very difficult to have both your premiere setup man and your closer to be lefty. Sale is too young to put a designated tag on what he will be. Sometimes it comes down to where the ball club needs him. If you count on Peavy coming back and Garcia, I count 7 starting candidates for next year's rotation, but obviously you will go with 5. Then you go to the idea of trading and it would be a substantial trade because these guys are pretty good. There are some tough questions that have to be answered. A lot depends on dollars that you can spend and what you think you can get in return for some of the talent. If you have the enviable position of having too many starting pitchers, there will be a team that would love to take one off your hands.

Ernie, Chicago -- Who are your picks for Cy Young this season? (Ernie - Chicago, IL)

Steve Stone: The fashionable pick among the sabermetric community is Felix Hernandez of Seattle because he is going to be first or second in strikeouts, first or second in ERA, first or second in quality starts, and most likely first in innings pitched. In looking at those numbers, if the vote were today, and it's not, you would lean towards a guy having a terrific year with a contending baseball team. So I go to a guy leading the league in victories (19-5), who is 5th in ERA (3.02), second in innings pitched, second in quality starts, and will likely strike out 200 men this year. That man is the gigantic CC Sabathia, who will likely be the first major league pitcher to win 20 games this year.

And as long as we are on the subject of Cy Young awards, I will throw in an extra bonus for you and we will talk about the National League, where it really gets tough. When looking at all categories this is one of those years that the victory list doesn't add up all that well with the ERA list. Though you could make a case for Adam Wainwright, you could also make a case for Chris Carpenter or Ubaldo Jiminez who, though the second half of the year has been difficult for him, has still compiled an 18-6 record with a 2.79 ERA.

My Cy Young Vote, which will be decided down to the wire, would be Roy Halladay. Roy is 17-10 with many losses due to lack of support. As of this writing, he leads the National League in strikeouts and, by a wide margin, innings pitched. He is two off the lead in quality starts and has a 2.36 ERA, which before the end of the season may drop even lower. You must also consider the miniature ballpark he plays in, compared to Latos of San Diego, Hudson of Atlanta, Johnson of Florida, and Wainwright and Garcia of St. Louis who all pitch in very pitcher friendly ball parks. Conversely Roy Halladay pitches in home run bay. He has also completed 8 games, which places him number one in a category that everybody seems to have forgotten about.

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.