Kapler, Egraphs aim to improve interaction between fans and players


Kapler, Egraphs aim to improve interaction between fans and players

Gabe Kapler is known around Chicago for hitting the ball that produced arguably the greatest defensive play in White Sox history. But if his new business venture is successful, he could be known around the city for something else.

Kapler, who retired from baseball in 2011 after 12 seasons in the majors, is the director of business development for Egraphs, a start-up that recently launched to the public. The concept is to offer fans and players a more personal interaction than they could get elsewhere, although Kapler doesn't want to compare it to other fan-to-player moments.

"We're not trying to re-invent anything else," Kapler said. "We're trying to show fans a new way to share an experience with their favorite celebrity. An Egraph is a shared experience between a fan and celebrity that lasts forever, sort of the new generation of autographs."

Users on the site can choose to give or receive a personalized message from 17 players -- three of whom are already sold out -- including David Price, Andrew McCutchen, R.A. Dickey and White Sox third baseman Kevin Youkilis. The entire endeavor, which costs 50, is done on an entirely digital platform, with players able to record messages on their iPads and fans able to access them on their computers, smart phones and tablets.

Youkilis did a demo Egraph for Hawk Harrelson and Steve Stone, for example, that features him belting out Hawk's famous catch phrase. Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins did one for a newborn who's third word was "J-Roll" that Kapler said was the perfect example of what the company is trying to do.

"That's what the players like about it, they know they're having a one-on-one interaction with the fan, and the fans feel that authentic energy," Kapler, who has a business background investing in a handful of other ventures, said. "When a player has a chance to sit down in their own space and time, be creative and really give a piece of themselves to a fan, it's a priceless interaction."

Youkilis, who's close with Kapler, was happy to join the project.

"I've been a friend of Gabe's for a long time, so I jumped on board," Youkilis said. "My whole basis behind doing it was, Gabe started it and I support him, and it helps gives an enhanced interaction with the fans, so it works on all levels."

Kapler spent parts of a dozen seasons with Detroit, Texas, Colorado, Boston, Milwaukee and Tampa Bay and was happy to interact with fans along his journey. But Kapler said he felt rushed trying to connect with fans, especially when he had other things to do at the park.

During spring training, Kapler and the Egraphs team went around to major-league clubhouses to pitch players on the idea. And Kapler said he didn't have to do much convincing.

"They were extraordinarily receptive, in some cases outwardly excited and so, we knew we had a hit when we saw the eyeballs in the clubhouses light up," Kapler explained.

"This platform allows for a player to really give themselves fully to the experience because they're doing it in their own space and time rather than, at the ballpark when they might have to go to batting practice, for instance, or maybe they have too many things going on and they feel a little bit rushed," he continued. "There's still a place for those in-person interactions. This is just a quality way for a fan to really get a larger, more in-depth look at who a player is.

"As a player myself, I absolutely wished I had this when I was playing."

Kris Dunn to miss 4 to 6 weeks with MCL sprain

Kris Dunn to miss 4 to 6 weeks with MCL sprain

The hits keep coming for the Bulls, and after the latest one it might be time to fire up the 2019 mock drafts.

Fred Hoiberg revealed Tuesday before practice that point guard Kris Dunn suffered a moderate sprain of his left MCL in Monday’s loss to the Mavericks and will miss the next 4 to 6 weeks.

“To have him out of the lineup for an extended period, it’s extremely difficult,” Hoiberg said. “When you have a guy who is out there and really made strides over the course of last season and the summer he had and the way he played during training camp, it’s difficult to miss him.”

It’s yet another freak injury for Dunn, who suffered the injury midway through the second quarter while landing after a layup over DeAndre Jordan. Last year Dunn suffered a dislocated finger in the preseason and then suffered a concussion that cost him 11 games. A toe injury then ended his season as the tanking Bulls shut him down for the final 14 games.

But Dunn was expected to play a significant role in Year 2 of the Bulls’ rebuild. As well as leading the team in assists and being the most sure-handed closer, Dunn’s defensive prowess was going to help a Bulls team that finished 29th in efficiency and lost David Nwaba, perhaps their second best defender, in the offseason.

Even prior to Dunn’s injury the Bulls had been addressing the position behind him, claiming Tyler Ulis off waivers on Oct. 14 and signing Shaq Harrison on Sunday. They opted to keep Ryan Arcidiacono on the final roster and will now rely on some combination of those three behind Cam Payne, who tied a career high with 17 points on Saturday against the Pistons.

That’s why Dunn’s injury could affect the team more than Lauri Markkanen’s or Denzel Valentine’s. The Bulls were able to cover up Markkanen’s absence with Bobby Portis and free agent acquisition Jabari Parker, while they invested a first-round pick in wing Chandler Hutchison and guaranteed Antonio Blakeney’s contract over the summer.

There’s quantity on the Bulls’ depth chart behind Dunn, but quality is another story.

“Cam had his best game of maybe his career a couple games ago against Detroit,” Hoiberg said. “He has some things he can build on. The biggest thing at that position is you have to get us organized at both ends of the floor. That’s where Kris had taken a big step in the right direction with that. Arcidiacono is one of the better communicators and hardest-playing guys on our team. We’ve got guys who have some starting experience. It’s big shoes to fill. But I’m confident our guys will give great effort.”

It could mean more ball-handling responsibilities for Zach LaVine, who has been a terror in pick-and-roll sets three games into the season. Though he’s only averaged 2.7 assists, the Bulls offense has been humming, with his 32.3 points per game leading the way. Using LaVine as a primary ball handler could allow Hoiberg to run a point guard-less offense and mix and match the other backcourt position.

They’ll have to do it on the fly. The group of point guards the Bulls will face in the next 11 days include Kemba Walker (Charlotte) twice, Trae Young (Atlanta), Steph Curry (Golden State), Jamal Murray (Denver), Darren Collison (Indiana) and James Harden (Houston). It could get a lot worse for the Bulls before it gets any better, and with Markkanen, Valentine and now Dunn on the mend. 

For those looking into such things three games into the season, the Bulls are currently tied with the Thunder, Cavaliers and Lakers for the worst record in the league. The NBA changed its Lottery rules for this upcoming season, with the three worst teams in the league all sharing the same odds at receiving the top pick in the draft.

No-brainer: The Cubs should absolutely bring back Jesse Chavez in 2019 bullpen

No-brainer: The Cubs should absolutely bring back Jesse Chavez in 2019 bullpen

Should the Cubs bring Jesse Chavez back for the 2019 bullpen?

This question shouldn't have anywhere near the polarizing effect the Daniel Murphy query had earlier this week, and for good reason.

It's hard to find any real downside for the Cubs working Chavez back into the fold next season. 

Sure, he's 35 and he'll turn 36 in August, but Chavez just had far and away the best season of his 11-year career and all signs point to it being legit.

He won't have a 1.15 ERA forever, of course, but he clearly found something with his mechanics that helped lead to the remarkable consistency he showed in a Cubs uniform (4 saves, 4 holds, 1.15 ERA, 0.79 WHIP, 42 Ks in 39 IP). 

The Cubs will be looking to add some reinforcements to their bullpen this winter and Chavez fits the bill in many areas.

When asked about how to address the bullpen this winter, Theo Epstein said his front office will be "looking for guys who can throw strikes and execute a gameplan and take the ball and pitch in big spots."

The Cubs have publicly placed an emphasis on "strike-throwers" out of the bullpen over the last two winters now and that is right up Chavez's alley.

He threw 68.5 percent first-pitch strikes while with the Cubs, which would've ranked near the top of the league in 2018, right up there with aces like Miles Mikolas, Clayton Kershaw, Aaron Nola and Justin Verlander. Among all relievers, Chavez ranked 5th in baseball in first-pitch strike percentage in the second half.

Expanding further (since the first pitch isn't the only one that matters): Chavez threw the fourth-most strikes in baseball among all MLB relievers after the All-Star Break. Since the day Chavez put on a Cubs uniform, Philadelphia's Tommy Hunter (70.5 percent) was the only reliever in baseball (minimum 30 innings) to throw a higher percentage of pitches for strikes than Chavez (69.8 percent).

If you want strikes, there's no better reliever on the market right now than Chavez.

He also shouldn't be all that expensive at age 35, even despite the breakout and high level of importance placed upon relievers these days. A similar deal to the one Brian Duensing got last winter - $7 million over 2 years - seems appropriate and would be a steal if Chavez can continue to find even a modicum of the success he had since putting on a Cubs uniform.

Speaking of the Cubs uniform, Chavez reportedly doesn't want to wear another logo in 2019, saying this after the NL Wild-Card Game:

That was an emotional time, but Chavez repeatedly raved about the Cubs clubhouse and culture throughout his time in Chicago and really appreciated the way his teammates made him feel comfortable from Day 1.

When the Cubs first acquired Chavez in that under-the-radar trade, they touted his versatility which has become a valuable asset, especially in today's game where relievers are often asked to pitch multiple innings. If necessary, he could also represent depth for the starting rotation, having made 70 starts over his MLB career. 

Unless there's a surprising market that develops for Chavez, bringing him back to the North Side of Chicago on a 1- or 2-year deal is a no-brainer.