2018 Chicago Cubs: Two out of three?


Dick Bertell

Dick Bertell was a catcher primarily for the Cubs who hit .302 in half a season and once threw out 63% of opposing base stealers. Bertell debuted at age 24 and shared the job with Sammy Taylor, Moe Thacker and Cuno Barragan. Indtead of a manager, the Cubs were directed by a college of coaches; they seemed to try the same approach at catcher. Bertell hit .302 in 77 games in 1962, and that was enough for him to become the primary catcher. In 1963 his average fell almost 70 points and he slugged just .286, but he threw out 45 of 74 potential base stealers. The 63% is the 12th-best season for throwing out base stealers, according to the website members.tripod.com/bb_catchers/catchers/fieldsea.htm (Roy Campanella, at 68%, is 1 and 2 and has five of the top seven positions. Others in the top 12 are Gus Triandos, Jose Azcue, Thurman Munson, Johnny Roseboro, Ivan Rodriguez and Jason LaRue). Bertell threw out 54% of base stealers in ’64 but was traded to the Giants a third of the way into 1965 (the five-player deal sent Bob Hendley to the Cubs; Hendley pitched the 1-hitter for the Cubs in September of that year that lost to Sandy Koufax’s perfect game, 1-0). Bertell played just 22 games in 1965 and was traded back to the Cubs in 1967. He played two April games in his second stint with the Cubs, trupled off Hall of Famer Jim Bunning and was released six weeks later. He died in 1999 at age 64. Career numbers: .250 average, 444 games, 327 hits, 10 homers (his first off Vinegar Bend Mizell, who served in Congress, and two off lefty Jim O’Toole), .305 on-base percentage, .312 slugging, .617 OPS, 70 OPS+, 48% of base stealers thrown out (38% league average), 3.0 WAR.

Next man up: It’s not Gleyber Torres, whom the Cubs traded for Aroldis Chapman in 2016, and it’s not Eloy Jimenez, whom the Cubs traded for Jose Quintana in 2017. The Cubs have traded their best prospects as if they’re a renewable source, but they won’t be making that kind of deal this season, if only because they don’t have anyone of that caliber. Adbert Alzolay would be the first Adbert and the first Alzolay in MLB; his pitching isn’t nearly as novel. He’s rotation depth — a career 3.30 ERA, 327 strikeouts and 99 walks, 322 hits in 382 innings — which isn’t a bad thing.

What he said: Jose Quintana on his career 57-57 record: “I want more wins.” What he meant: “I’m not with the White Sox any more.”

Three reasons it will be a good year: 1. The Cubs dropped 11 games from 2016 last year, but this is still one of the best teams in MLB. They won 92 games last year, ranked fourth in runs scored and seventh in team ERA. Of the nine position players who started Game 7 of the 2016 World Series, eight are still Cubs; of the five pitchers who appeared in Game 7, four are still Cubs (three of the Indians position players who started Game 7 are gone, and a fourth, Mike Napoli, left and returned). The Cubs may not seem as good as 2016, but it’s not easy to back up 100-win seasons. Nobody’s done it since the Cardinals in 2004-05. 2. The metrics love Tyler Chatwood, whom the Cubs signed to a three-year contract. Chatwood has a high spin rate on his curveball, increased velocity on his fastball since returning from his most recent Tommy John surgery, and a 3.49 ERA on the road last year. His ERA was 4.69 overall last year, but 6.01 at Coors; his OPS was .788 overall, but .884 at Coors. The Cubs signed Chatwood to a three-year, $38 million deal this offseason, which seems a lot for a pitcher with a career 4.31 ERA, .771 OPS against and 300 walks in 647.2 innings, and for a market where Jake Arrieta and Lancy Lynn remained unsigned until recently and Alex Cobb still is. The metrics say it’s a bargain. 3. Jon Lester’s ERA spiked almost two full runs last year, while his strikeout rate increased. How does that happen? Lester wasn’t as good as he seemed in 2016 — his .258 average on balls in play was a career low, and it resulted in him yielding just 154 hits in 202.2 innings. But his .313 average on balls in play last year was just a point below his career-high. If he pitches closer to his .300 average on balls in play, his ERA is likely to go from last year’s 4.33 closer to his 3.51 norm.

Three reasons it won’t: 1. Jason Heyward can opt out of his contract after this season, and the Cubs can only hope he does. Given Heyward’s .243/315/343 first two seasons as a Cub, there’s a better chance Kyle Schwarber is catching before the season is over. Heyward’s 2017 was better than his 2016, but given his utility infielder-like .631 OPS in ’16, it would be hard not to have been. Heyward’s .715 OPS still ranked 17th of the 20 right fielders with at least 400 plate appearances. Heyward will make $28 million this year, and is due $106 million in the next five seasons after this one, which makes him the most overpaid Chicago athlete since Jay Cutler. 2. The Cubs are counting on Brandon Morrow to close, and he pitched well enough to do so last year as Kenley Jansen’s support system. Morrow had a 2.06 ERA and a .454 OPS against, much better than Cubs closer Wade Davis’ 2.30 ERA and .600 OPS against. But Morrow only pitched 43.2 innings, which was a heavy workload for him — Morrow hasn’t pitched 60 innings since he was a starter in Toronto in 2012. If Morrow gets hurt, and that’s happened annually for the previous five seasons, Carl Edwards is next up. Edwards has been to Cubs closers what Morrow was to Jansen last year, but he had four save opportunities and converted not a one. 3. The Cubs spent $126 million on Yu Darvish, who’s been on the disabled list the last four seasons and missed all of 2015 because of Tommy John surgery. Darvish is very good when healthy — he’s fanned 1,021 batters in 832.1 innings — but as the Dodgers can attest, if the Cubs get to a Game 7, they should probably have someone else start it.

Team song: Joe Jackson: Showtime in Chicago

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