Expanding on BCB reader Zeke's "Midterm Report Card" posted yesterday, I thought I'd chime in with my own midseason grades.
I'll post letter grades and comments for the current 25-man roster plus four of the five players currently on the 15-day DL (I don't think you really need a letter grade for Chad Fox, do you?) -- Ryan Dempster, Geovany Soto, Aaron Miles and David Patton.
First, let's assign an overall grade for the team. That's got to be a C+. A team with an average record would, taking the grading system absolutely literally, get a C. Right? That's smack in the middle of the grading curve and the Cubs are quite literally exactly that. Not only do they have a .500 record, but they are very nearly dead even in runs scored and runs allowed. With 355 runs scored and 353 runs allowed, the Pythagorean run-projection system would predict a .500 record. It's not quite that simple, of course; the 353 runs allowed is the third-fewest in the National League (in fact, third-fewest in the majors, since the fewest in the AL is Seattle's 366).
So the pitching staff, despite injuries, gets an A-. The offense, though, ranks 15th in runs scored (and 14th in BA, 13th in OBA, and 13th in SLG). It's been, to use a phrase quoted here regarding Jake Fox's defense a while back, "a notch above horrific". D- for the Cubs offense to date.
Now, on to comments regarding individual players, separated by position.
Catcher: Geovany Soto, C-. Geo might have been worse had he not started to hit on May 12. From that date till he suffered the oblique injury in BP last week, he hit .264/.358/.507 with 8 HR and 23 RBI in 44 games, not too far off his pace from last year. That type of injury is tough to come back from, so who knows when he'll be back. Count this as a lost year for Geo; if he works hard next offseason, he could still come back to last year's level.
Catcher: Koyie Hill, B. That grade may sound high, but Hill has done exactly what he's been asked to do. .213/.300/.315 isn't a great line, but he's a backup catcher. Most of them can't hit. Hill plays good defense and every once in a while, comes up with a key hit. This is one offseason move that actually worked.
First base: Derrek Lee, A-. D-Lee got off to a horrendous start and was hitting .189 on May 1. Since then he has posted a .313/.390/.591 line in 55 games, with 16 HR and 47 RBI -- MVP-type numbers. If he can keep this up in the second half, that's one part of the puzzle of getting those who have hit in the past to do so again.
Second base: Mike Fontenot, C-. Fontenot's numbers are down and you can't blame simply playing him every day -- he's hitting .236/.322/.369 vs. RHP. It was telling that Lou sat him for Jeff Baker vs. RHP the last couple of days before the break.
Second base: Jeff Baker, Incomplete. Baker is 3-for-14 as a Cub; too early to tell.
Second base: Aaron Miles, F. I can't think of a single time that Miles did anything to help his club win.
Shortstop: Ryan Theriot, B+. Theriot started driving the ball to hit with more power at Lou's suggestion, and after an adjustment period, he has kept his batting average up and still hit with more pop. His .299/.354/.423 line gives him a .777 OPS -- if he could bump that up just a bit to .800, he'd be a very useful player.
Third base: Aramis Ramirez, Incomplete. A-Ram was off to a fine start when he suffered the shoulder injury on May 8. He is 6-for-24 -- all singles -- since his return. I hope the break helps him get more strength back, as well as his timing. He may not hit for his previous power till next year.
Infield: Andres Blanco, B-. Blanco doesn't hit much, but he's not expected to. He plays good defense and can bunt when asked. He serves a useful spot as the 25th man.
Left field: Alfonso Soriano, D-. Wow, has he been bad this year. Or more correctly, for some of this year. On May 17, he was hitting .280/.343/.580 with 12 HR and 25 RBI in 35 games, seemingly on the way to one of his better years. The Cubs, not coincidentally, were 21-14, their high point of the season at seven games over .500. Since that date he's hit .196/.262/.280 with 2 HR and 8 RBI and the Cubs have gone 22-29. I'm not saying Soriano's performance is solely responsible for the poor play over that period -- but we all know how he can carry a team when he's hot. It does not seem possible that he suddenly forgot to hit or lost his abilities in the middle of a season. Therefore, the only conclusion I can draw is that he's been playing hurt and refusing to go on the DL. If he's still hurt starting Thursday, the Cubs have to seriously consider putting him there, whether he wants to go or not.
Center field: Kosuke Fukudome, C. Again, a mid-May stop in production. On May 15 he was hitting .340/.462/.557 with 4 HR and 17 RBI. Since: .190/.296/.327 with 3 HR and 10 RBI. His overall OPS of .787 is better than last year, and he still leads the team in walks with 43. Platooning seems to help -- he's got an .803 OPS vs. RHP.
Right field: Milton Bradley, C-. My position on Bradley is well-known, so I won't go into detail. I proposed the other day that he be tried at leadoff, since he is drawing more walks lately and in the absence of his RBI bat, why not use him where he could actually do the team some good? Since June 29 he is hitting .303/.511/.455 in 13 games -- note the OBA higher than the SLG -- so perhaps there is hope for Bradley.
Outfield: Reed Johnson, C. Johnson's numbers are down a bit from last year and he again spent time on the DL with back problems. If healthy (and he appears to be now) and if he can bump his production up to last year's level, he is one of the better 4th OF in the league.
Outfield: Sam Fuld, B. It's hard to give a grade for 16 at-bats, but Fuld plays hard and has produced while he's been in the lineup. I'd like to see him stick around.
Bench: Micah Hoffpauir, C+. Hoffpauir's numbers are down from last year, and I had hoped he'd hit closer to .300 than the .244 he's posted so far. His 8 HR have helped, including the three-run job he hit in Sunday's first game. His outfield play has been acceptable; I had worried that he'd be horrendous out there, but he's actually been a decent backup outfielder.
Bench: Jake Fox, B-. It was well-known that Fox could hit major league pitching, but there was that "notch above horrific" knock on his defense. Finally pressed into service at 3B after virtually everyone in the known universe said "TRY HIM THERE!", he was... well, not horrific. There's no reason he shouldn't have been playing there within a week of A-Ram's injury. Fox is better suited to DH'ing, but I'd like to see him stay anyway.
Starting pitcher: Carlos Zambrano, B. Z has had, as he often does, some good games... and some bad ones. He has pitched at least six innings in 13 of his 16 starts and his ERA of 3.53 is just about his career average. He's got to step that up in the second half. Give some credit for his hitting, too: 3 HR and a .719 OPS. In fact, among all pitchers who have at least 500 career plate appearances, Z has the fourth-highest career SLG (.393) and the best of anyone whose career began in the expansion era.
Starting pitcher: Ted Lilly, A-. Congrats to Ted on his All-Star selection, his second, well-deserved. He has gone at least six innings in 16 of his 18 starts. And look what the maitre'd of the Italian Village restaurant, celebrating 50 years in that job, said about Ted in today's Tribune:
Favorite recent visitor: "A pitcher for the Cubs was here, Ted Lilly, one of the most beautiful persons there is. Him and his wife both. Unbelievable."
Starting pitcher: Ryan Dempster, Incomplete. Despite the serious illness of his infant daughter, Dempster went at least six innings in 15 of his 17 starts before the bizarre broken toe incident. That'll heal and I expect him to come back strong in a few weeks.
Starting pitcher: Rich Harden, D. Harden has been far from the dominant pitcher the Cubs got from the A's last year. He's had a couple of dominant starts where you think he's going to get back there, and then he gets pounded again. The Cubs need him to get back on track.
Starting pitcher: Randy Wells, A-. I cannot say enough good things about Randy Wells, who was barely on the radar screen during most of his Cubs career; they thought so little of him a year ago that they let him go in the Rule 5 draft. Thanks to the Blue Jays for sending him back; Wells is a ROY candidate, and if he had enough innings to qualify, his 2.72 ERA would rank fourth in the NL.
Swingman: Sean Marshall, B. Marshall is being misused as a LOOGY by Lou, but he has done as he's been asked. Since June 1, when moved to the bullpen full-time, he has a 1.80 ERA in 15 innings covering 18 appearances. Only 5% of his inherited runners have scored, best in the NL.
Relief pitcher: Kevin Gregg, B+. After a rough start, Gregg has become one of the more reliable closers in the NL. He has saved 16 in 18 chances, and since that nasty meltdown vs. the Astros on May 16, he has a 1.48 ERA in 24 appearances covering 24 innings, with 6 walks, 22 strikeouts, and only 2 HR allowed. This has turned out to be another good pickup by Jim Hendry.
Relief pitcher: Carlos Marmol, C. Marmol's troubles with control have been well-documented and discussed on this site. He has to get that back to be successful in the second half, and the Cubs need him to do that. It's just that simple.
Relief pitcher: Angel Guzman, A-. Guzman, once heralded as "the next Zambrano" in the Cubs farm system, suffered through several years of injuries before becoming the most reliable reliever in the 2009 bullpen. He may be the closer-in-waiting, rather than Marmol. Keep up the good work!
Relief pitcher: Aaron Heilman, D-. If this man would ever learn to throw strikes on a consistent basis, he'd be valuable. Until then, I'd use him in mopup duty only. I read somewhere (can't find the link now) that he's never been the same since he allowed the game-winning HR to Yadier Molina in game seven of the 2006 NLCS.
Relief pitcher: Jeff Samardzija, Incomplete. Samardzija has been in only eight games this year, only three since his recent recall, and only one the Cubs have actually won. If they want him to succeed, they probably should send him back to Iowa.
Relief pitcher: Jeff Stevens, Incomplete. Stevens has talent, but it's impossible to grade him on one major league appearance.
Relief pitcher: David Patton, Incomplete. Patton, too, has talent; perhaps the Rule 5 rules need to be changed so pitchers like this don't waste half a season appearing in garbage time, then get stashed on the DL (I saw Patton throw in the bullpen on Sunday and he doesn't look injured.)
The overall grade may be middling now, but this team has more talent than it's graded out to be so far. There is still time for players with abilities they've shown in the past to do it again.