Every year, I find myself amazed at how quickly time passes. It's May 20 already and I'm not quite sure how we've gone through four and a half months of 2014 so fast. The same is true of the baseball season; somehow we've managed to already play one-fourth of it, and while the results are certainly not what most people had hoped and what some had not even expected, they are what they are. With 25 percent of the season already passed, I figured this would be a good time to look at what the Cubs have done and assign some grades to the team.
Disclaimer: The grades presented here are mine and mine alone, and do not necessarily reflect the thoughts of the other writers of Bleed Cubbie Blue. It is strictly one writer's opinion.
With that said, here are my thoughts for the 2014 Cubs at the quarter-point of the season:
Anthony Rizzo - Compared to his 2013 performance, Rizzo would be worth top marks for improvement alone. His .400 OBP puts the Cubs at the top of the National League in the category, but his average and power put him mid-pack in most of the other categories. A solid performance in and of itself, but when compared to the other first basemen in the league it knocks him down just a notch. Grade: B+
Darwin Barney - Well, he plays good defense. And he can occasionally draw a walk. Other than that, he's basically a mess. With any luck, some team will need a second baseman that has a good glove, and hopefully sooner than later. Grade: D-
Luis Valbuena - This is a tough call for me. His OBP is excellent at .369, especially since his average is only .245. He's having one of the best years (if not the best) of his career. His bat plays well at second base, but not as well at third, and he's basically being used as a platoon against righties through no fault of his own. Better than I figured he'd be, but still limited in use. Grade: C+
Starlin Castro - He's found his stroke again and is making 2013 look more and more like an aberration. If not for Troy Tulowitzki out in Colorado, Castro would have the best numbers in the NL at shortstop. I'll gladly settle for second place in that race. Grade: A
Mike Olt - The good news is that he hits the ball really hard. But unfortunately he's having a very difficult time doing much more than that. The .705 OPS is nice, but the .176 average and .254 OBP really hurt. Grade: C-
Junior Lake - His average is okay at .263, but his .289 OBP is not as okay and he strikes out way, way too much. I don't see many games live but in the ones I've seen he's made left field look a bit like a circus act. He's another player whose bat plays better for a different position, but as the left fielder it's not really up to par. Grade: C
Emilio Bonifacio - When we acquired him, my initial thought was "meh". But that was the case of most of the offseason, to be honest. He's still slowing down from his torrid start and his OBP is down to .337, but he's still proven valuable so far with his speed and his versatility. I just hope he doesn't fall too much further to reality before it's said and done. Grade: B
Nate Schierholtz - Ugh. I don't know what happened to him. I was never that high on him in 2013 and really hoped we'd have been able to deal him before the trade deadline, but he's gone from pumpkin to "rotten Halloween pumpkin that's still on your doorstep eight months later". Grade: D-
Welington Castillo - Another player who's cooled down from a good start and seems to be trying to find his groove again. The .295 OBP is passable at best and the power's comparable to other catchers. Hopefully he'll be able to bounce back to his 2012 and 2013 performance. Grade: C
John Baker - I only have one thing to say. The one game that Baker did not catch for Jason Hammel, Hammel still won. Grade: F
Ryan Kalish - The average of .250 is okay at best, but the lack of power isn't helping matters, especially given that he's played left field most of the time. Grade: C-
Jeff Samardzija - He's second in the National League in ERA among qualified starters and 10th in FIP, and somehow he still doesn't have a win, which I know is not at all his fault. He's also been a bit fortunate with the second-lowest HR/FB rate in the NL, and that ranks him 23rd in the league in xFIP. One of these days the bats will truly come around for him. Grade: A
Travis Wood - He's unfortunately not enjoying the same success he's had the past couple of years, but there are some positives. The strikeout rate is better than it's ever been, and he can still occasionally help the team out with his bat. Hopefully he'll have more starts like Sunday's against Milwaukee in the near future. Grade: C
Edwin Jackson - This is strange, because Jackson's actually been... not bad. He's striking guys out again like he did back in Washington and his FIP is an impressive 3.02, but that's buoyed a lot by the fact that he has only allowed two homers so far and has the third-lowest HR/FB rate in the NL, right behind Samardzija. I'm still waiting for the clock to strike midnight again, though. Grade: C+
Jason Hammel - Similar to Bonifacio, I had no real hopes for Hammel when he got here and I've been amazed by what he's done so far. His 0.906 WHIP is third best in the NL and his FIP and xFIP are both good at 3.36 and 3.58 respectively. I still don't know whether or not he'll be able to keep this up and the .217 BABIP against would seem to indicate that he won't, but it's been a good ride to this point. Grade: A-
Jake Arrieta - Still haven't seen enough to be able to get a solid feel, but early returns are extremely iffy. He needs to find his control and get out of his own head. Grade: Incomplete
Hector Rondon - He seems to be fitting into the closer's role very well and has only allowed an earned run in two of his 18 appearances this year. He's 5-for-5 in save opportunities so far, and if the offense could just get him more opportunities, who knows what could happen. Grade: A
Brian Schlitter - Still trying to find a role, but has only allowed a run in three of his 18 appearances. The 0.818 WHIP is very impressive, but the lack of strikeouts is a bit concerning. Grade: B
Wesley Wright - Has only had two bad outings, and aside from that has been pretty steady both as a LOOGY and as a one-inning-or-more reliever. Grade: B-
Pedro Strop - Most of the time he was spot-on, having only allowed a hit in four of his first 12 appearances, but the six hits in two outings before his groin "discovery" certainly marred things. Grade: C
James Russell - The mileage from years past may be catching up with him. The strikeouts are up, but the control is way off and the FIP is a horrendous 5.78. Grade: C-
Justin Grimm - Maybe he's still getting used to being a reliever and trying to overthrow every pitch. The strikeout rate is excellent, but the wildness is killing him lately. Definitely the cause of the most Cub fan heart palpitations when he enters the game. Grade: D+
Carlos Villanueva - He's been pretty much awful the entire year, allowing 45 hits in 24 innings for an abysmal 2.042 WHIP. The move to the bullpen hasn't helped much in that regard. Grade: F
Pitchers Not Graded: Neil Ramirez, Jose Veras, Chris Rusin, Zac Rosscup, Blake Parker. Also incomplete based on less than 10 innings pitched, but Veras has a lot of work to do to erase the F- that would otherwise be awaiting him.
So there's one writer's view of the first quarter of the season. If it were you making the grades, what would you say?