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Grading the Cubs after a frustrating first half

Ryan Herrera Avatar
July 18, 2022

Just because Cubs fans knew this was likely going to be a tough season to watch, that doesn’t mean they were prepared for this.

As we head into the All-Star break, the Cubs are 35-57. They’re 14 1/2 games out of the National League Central and fighting to stay above the Reds in the division cellar. They’re 14 games out of a Wild Card spot. On top of that, had it not been for an eighth-inning rally to beat the Mets on Sunday, the Cubs would’ve ended the first half riding their fourth double-digit losing streak in just over a calendar year.

Injuries have certainly played their part in this whole thing, but that still doesn’t make it any easier to look at the on-field product most games. It’s a shame because that’s the kind of futility that wasn’t supposed to happen on this side of town anymore, but the front office didn’t build a top-to-bottom organization that could sustain a winner at the major league level last time. That’s what Jed Hoyer and Co. are trying to do now, and fans will just have to watch how low things can sink during this rebuild (or retool or whatever you want to call it).

You think 22 games below .500 at the All-Star break is bad?

The Cubs haven’t even sold off their trade assets yet. After those deals are made by the Aug. 2 deadline, it’s going to be a rough last two months watch on the North Side.

But all that is looking ahead, and why do that when we can just look back and do a player-by-player review of the first half of the Cubs’ season.

David Bote: C

15 games, .278/.366/.417, 1 homer, 3 RBI, 7 runs

Bote hasn’t had a ton of time to establish himself since coming back from the 60-day IL, but he’s managed a solid slash. Defensively, though, Bote hasn’t performed as well. He has -2 Outs Above Average (per FanGraphs) at second base, where he’s played a majority of his innings, and at least a few balls have gotten past him that probably should’ve been errors but were ruled base hits. Bote has been closer to average when taking everything into account. We’ll see where the second half takes him.

Willson Contreras: A

78 games, .254/.366/.455, 13 homers, 35 RBI, 48 runs

A 4-for-44 slump in July is the only thing keeping him from getting that A+, because prior to that, he’d been everything for the Cubs. The biggest bat in the lineup. The emotional presence on the field. The clubhouse leader off of it. He’s not one of the best defensive catchers in baseball when it comes to framing, but he still has an arm that leaves you mesmerized. If Contreras’ days on the North Side are indeed numbered, he at least put together the kind of first half that’ll get the Cubs a haul in return.

Jul 14, 2022; Chicago, Illinois, USA; Chicago Cubs designated hitter Willson Contreras (40) reacts after striking out against the New York Mets during the first inning at Wrigley Field. Mandatory Credit: Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

Scott Effross: A-

1-4, 2.93 ERA, 1.03 WHIP, 49 K, 40 IP

If there’s a guy in the bullpen who looks like a part of “The Next Great Cubs Team,” it’s Effross. His sidearm delivery is one thing, but he’s also been Ross’ go-to reliever, pacing the big leagues in appearances in 2022. He’s proven he can pitch in a variety of situations, and his team control makes him a valuable commodity for this team. A big second half — adding onto the 2.93 ERA, 5.6 walk rate, etc. in the first — would really lock in Effross as a bullpen arm for the future.

Mychal Givens: B

5-2, 2.92 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, 45 K, 37 IP

Givens has boosted his stock this season, as he owns a 2.92 ERA and has brought his walk rate down to 11.4 percent. As a veteran reliever with experience in the back end of the ‘pen, it’s likely he gets some looks from playoff teams over the next couple of weeks. Givens is one of those guys Ross has felt comfortable going to in big moments, and he’s been pretty good in that role. I’m not sure what the Cubs can get from him, but he’s at least proved he has value this season.

Yan Gomes: D+

51 games, .213/.231/.311, 3 homers, 12 RBI, 11 runs

Gomes has not been good at the plate, but his catching ability nearly offsets it. Whereas he has a 47 wRC+ heading into the break, the entire pitching staff — from the veterans down to the young arms still getting called up — rave about how important he is behind the plate. On top of that, he’s done well backing up Contreras and giving him the kind of rest that has helped him put together an All-Star season. The offense has been bad, but that defense brings the grade up.

Ian Happ: A+

90 games, .274/.364/.443, 9 homers, 42 RBI, 41 runs

Happ’s 2022 has been a revelation. From getting sent to Triple-A at the start of 2019 to becoming a part-time player and hitting poorly for most of last season to a resurgence in the last two months of 2021 to being named to the All-Star Game. Happ is having arguably the best season of his career at the plate (from both sides), and he’s seemingly found a home in left field. This is who the Cubs thought they were picking ninth overall seven years ago. A well-deserved A+ due to Happ’s impressive turnaround.

Kyle Hendricks: D

4-6, 4.80 ERA, 1.29 WHIP, 66 K, 84.1 IP

It’s been another season full of struggles for Hendricks, only this time, he’s dealing with shoulder issues that have never really affected him this much before. It’ll be another couple of weeks before he even starts to play catch, and it may not be until September that he pitches again. He’s shown flashes of “The Professor,” which is why he only fell to a D, but if he pitches again this year, he’ll need a quick turnaround for an improved grade.

PJ Higgins: B-

33 games, .268/.348/.500, 4 homers, 16 RBI, 11 runs

His second shot with the Cubs has gone much, much better. Higgins is hitting well, coming up clutch in moments Ross entrusted him with, and he’s been a valuable third catcher. But he hasn’t necessarily earned more of a workload than what he’s gotten already. Perhaps that changes if Contreras gets traded, but for now, Higgins still earns a solid grade.

Jason Heyward: F

48 games, .204/.278/.277, 1 homer, 10 RBI, 15 runs

Heyward’s season has been interrupted by two separate IL stints, but he hasn’t performed well even when he’s been healthy. His offensive numbers are the worst of his career, pretty much across the board. He still provides value as a clubhouse leader, but it got to the point where it was hard to argue playing him over most other guys on the roster before his IL stint. It’s not going to be any easier to do that when he returns.

Nico Hoerner: A+

77 games, .307/.344/.423, 5 homers, 27 RBI, 29 runs

All things considered, Hoerner has been the Cubs’ breakout player of the season. He goes into the break with the highest WAR on the team, and he’s having the best season of his career at the plate. Better yet, he continues to prove he has what it takes to be a big-league shortstop, showing off his defensive prowess seemingly every game. Only a collision with an umpire has been able to slow him down this season. The kid is good.

Brandon Hughes: B

1-0, 3.65 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, 33 K, 24.2 IP

Debuting just over two months ago, Hughes has established himself as a solid lefty out of the bullpen. He has the second-highest strikeout rate on the team, and he clearly provides value as a multi-inning guy. All the more impressive is that he barely started pitching in spring of 2019. He has some work to do until he proves himself as a long-term member of the relief corps, but he’s done pretty well so far.

Nick Madrigal: Incomplete

31 games, .222/.263/.250, 2 RBI, 8 runs

I get fans’ frustrations with Madrigal. He hasn’t been healthy. When he’s been healthy, he hasn’t performed. He’s one of the players the Cubs traded Craig Kimbrel for, and he’s not living up to expectations. But he suffered a season-ending hamstring tear last June and then had a shortened spring training. Add on a lower back strain and a left groin strain that have put him on the shelf at different times, and Madrigal — who’s hit over .300 at every single level — just hasn’t had much of a chance in ’22. I think we need to give him a real shot to show what he can do healthy before we really get to grade him.

Chris Martin: B

1-0, 4.34 ERA, 1.31 WHIP, 35 K, 29 IP

Like the other veteran bullpen arms on the roster, Martin continues to build his own trade value. He rolls up grounders at a very high level, and prior to his last three outings (in which he allowed four earned runs combined), his ERA was at 3.42. He only pitched once this week, which raises some concern as far his health, but coming off a year in which he was in Atlanta’s championship bullpen, he should get looks from playoff teams soon.

Wade Miley: Incomplete

1-0, 2.84 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, 12 K, 19 IP

It doesn’t seem fair to give Miley a first-half grade, because he only pitched four times. Sure, the best ability is availability, so maybe that would earn him an F grade, but he also looked pretty good when he was healthy and on the mound for the Cubs. Even if he was supposed to be a trade chip this season, he was expected to be one of the top three starters, and his injuries haven’t let us see if either were accurate.

Alec Mills: F

0-1, 9.68 ERA, 1.75 WHIP, 11 K, 17.2 IP

This maybe could’ve gotten an incomplete grade, because Mills has missed so much time with injuries. But even when he was healthy, there was really nothing good. He has a 9.68 ERA. Opponents have a .368 average against him. Now he has the same back injury as the one that caused him to miss the first two months of the year, and all the Cubs can do is hope it’s not going to keep causing problems moving forward.

Christopher Morel: B+

55 games, .266/.338/.477, 9 homers, 26 RBI, 36 runs

Morel’s call-up has been one of the few bright spots of this brutal Cubs season. He set the world on fire and set a club record by reaching base in each of his first 22 games, and even though he hasn’t been as hot lately, he still has some of the best numbers of all MLB rookies. His defensive versatility is the reason he got called up, and it’s one of the biggest reasons why he hasn’t gone back down. He isn’t at an A-level yet, but he’s close.

Jun 16, 2022; Chicago, Illinois, USA; Chicago Cubs third baseman Christopher Morel (5) rounds the bases after hitting a solo home run against the San Diego Padres during the first inning at Wrigley Field. Mandatory Credit: Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

Daniel Norris: F

0-4, 6.90 ERA, 1.47 WHIP, 43 K, 30 IP

Norris’ DFA on Sunday felt like a long time coming. The Cubs took a shot with the Norris signing this offseason, but he ended up with a 6.90 ERA and negative-0.3 fWAR and you just never really felt confident when Ross brought him out of the bullpen. The lasting image of Norris in a Cubs uniform will be him throwing the ball into center field on an errant pickoff attempt that was ultimately the Mets’ game-winning run. Just a move that didn’t work out.

Rafael Ortega: C+

79 games, .240/.333/.359, 4 homers, 23 RBI, 24 runs

Ortega was on a strong run for well over a month, but he’s fallen back to earth since the end of June. In his last 12 games, Ortega is hitting .116 with a .412 OPS and a *20* wRC+. He could probably still be a solid lefty bat against righties for a playoff team, but this slump has hurt his trade value. If a trade doesn’t work out, the Cubs still have years of control and could just see if he’s able to bounce back post-deadline.

Alfonso Rivas: D+

64 games, .236/.313/.323, 3 homers, 23 RBI, 17 runs

Rivas just hasn’t done enough to claim the starting first-base role this season. The Cubs haven’t optioned him multiple times this year for no reason. His defense is good, but he hasn’t done enough at the plate to warrant an everyday job. A second half that looks a little more like what Rivas did in a small sample last year would do wonders for him.

David Robertson: A

2-0, 1.93 ERA, 0.99 WHIP, 48 K, 37.1 IP

A couple of tough blown saves dropped him down just a bit, but Robertson has still had a resurgent season with the Cubs. He has a 1.93 ERA and 11.57 K/9. Despite Ross not naming a closer preseason, Robertson locked it down by being as sure-fire of a backend option as Ross had this season. That grade will be good for teams looking to add a veteran reliever with World Series experience who knows how to pitch in the big markets.

Frank Schwindel: D+

65 games, .238/.283/.383, 8 homers, 34 RBI, 22 runs

Schwindel has looked better at the plate after he was sent down to Triple-A and recalled a day later, but that’s the thing: he was sent down to Triple-A. For someone who had such a great end to 2021, Schwindel struggled mightily for the first month of ‘22. A month on the shelf didn’t help, but he still has a negative fWAR on the year. He hasn’t established himself as a first baseman of the future yet, so the second half is going to be important for him.

Andrelton Simmons: F

35 games, .173/.244/.187, 7 RBI, 8 runs

It’s been a tough go for Simmons this season. Multiple stints on the IL have limited him to just 35 games and 75 at-bats so far. Could he have been given an incomplete grade? Maybe, but I can’t see better health changing the direction of his season. His offensive numbers are the worst of his career, but considering he hasn’t been an offensive presence in a couple of years, that’s not the biggest surprise. He still plays good defense and his willingness to move to second is a plus, but that doesn’t do much to balance things out.

Drew Smyly: C

2-5, 4.22 ERA, 1.35 WHIP, 39 K, 49 IP

For a while, Smyly was the team’s most consistent starter. He was pitching into the fifth inning in every start, wasn’t shutting anyone down but also wasn’t getting lit up (3.80 ERA on May 30). That oblique injury, then, was a big blow for both Smyly and the pitching staff. If he’s still viewed as a trade chip, getting another couple of solid turns through the rotation is necessary.

Justin Steele: B+

3-6, 4.15 ERA, 1.41 WHIP, 79 K, 82.1 IP

Steele is so close to getting into the A-range. His ERA is still at 4.15, he’s only now consistently getting through six innings and he still has that one frame seemingly every game in which he gets in trouble and has to work harder. Still, he’s limited barrels at an elite level, he hasn’t failed to finish five innings since the end of May and he’s missing more bats more often. He’s coming into his own right now and looking like another piece of the future staff.

Marcus Stroman: C-

2-5, 4.69 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 54 K, 55.2 IP

Stroman had a rough April, then a very good May after dealing with COVID. But he got obliterated by St. Louis in his only start in June, and then he went on the IL again. All the while, Stroman said he never really felt where he wanted to be. He’s had a couple of good starts since coming back to go along with times the “Stro Show” was on display, but those were outweighed some by the tough outings he’s had along the way.

Seiya Suzuki: B-

54 games, .272/.355/.451, 6 homers, 26 RBI, 23 runs

The Cubs’ big offseason prize has had an up-and-down season. His April was so good that it earned him the National League Rookie of the Month, but then he struggled throughout May and ended the month spraining his left ring finger and not playing again until July 4. He’s bounced back in a big way, raising his OPS back up to .807 and his wRC+ to 124. He hasn’t yet shown he’s a cornerstone, but there have been enough flashes of a potential All-Star that an excellent second half is definitely possible.

Jul 4, 2022; Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA; Chicago Cubs right fielder Seiya Suzuki (27) runs the bases to complete an inside the park home run during the ninth inning against the Milwaukee Brewers at American Family Field. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Keegan Thompson: A

7-4, 3.43 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 75 K, 81.1 IP

Had it not been for a few rough outings since joining the rotation, Thompson would’ve been an easy A+. Alas, all those outings count, too, but Thompson ended the first half with a 3.43 ERA and 1.3 fWAR. Like Steele, Thompson is still coming into his own, so some struggles as a starter were expected. But before he moved into the rotation, he looked like an elite, multi-inning reliever, so the Cubs should feel confident he can at least play an important role in that regard for them moving forward.

Rowan Wick: D+

2-5, 4.69 ERA, 1.81 WHIP, 40 K, 40.1 IP

Wick was pretty good through his first 16 appearances, but then he had a brutal next 19 that ballooned his ERA to 5.30 on July 9. He’s had a better last three outings, but that tough stretch really brought down a season in which it looked like he was establishing himself as a dependable bullpen arm, so this break could certainly help as a reset of his season.

Patrick Wisdom: B

88 games, .220/.316/.441, 17 homers, 46 RBI, 48 runs

Wisdom is always going to be a high-strikeout, low-average kind of bat. The fact that he’s been able to rein in that strikeout rate over the last two months (down to 34.5 percent) shows he could be an everyday player at this level. The pop is enticing as always (17 home runs in the first half), and he plays a solid third base. The Cubs will listen if a buyer calls about Wisdom, but he could also still be a good player on a competitive Cubs team.

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