It goes without saying that last year’s grades were higher than most of those you’re going to read on this list.
Here’s hoping I can give the 2017 Cubs better grades come October.
Anthony Rizzo: B+ Rizzo is just about the only Cub performing near his career norms. His BA is down, a bit, but everything else is pretty close. He took well to leading off, and since June 12 is hitting .289/.389/.611 with seven home runs in 90 at-bats. Hope he keeps this going when the season resumes Friday.
Willson Contreras: B+ Willson is also performing up to expectations. His playing time in the first half just about matches how much he played in the majors in 2016. One more home run and he ties the 12 he hit last year, and he’s thrown out 31 percent of baserunners trying to steal. He does need to get better at blocking pitches.
Javier Baez: B- Javy still strikes out too much (28 percent of his at-bats) and doesn’t walk enough (only six unintentional walks). But he’s on pace for a 20-homer season and is playing his usual stellar defense. It’s always worth watching a Javy highlight:
Addison Russell: C+ He has hit better recently: .274/.321/.507 since June 11, with four home runs in 73 at-bats. Those numbers, if he continued at that pace in the second half, would give him a season resembling last year.
Kris Bryant: B+ It’s not KB’s fault that he’s on pace for about 70 RBI; the Cubs simply haven’t had guys hitting ahead of him who get on base. He’s hit second or third in all but one of his starts this year. Cubs leadoff hitters have a .323 OBP this year. Cubs leadoff hitters had a .381 OBP last year. There’s pretty much not only the difference for KB, but for the team. Otherwise Bryant’s numbers are solid and since June 20 he is hitting .310/.437/.586 with three home runs in 58 at-bats.
Ben Zobrist: C- Zobrist missed 17 games with a wrist injury and hit poorly from the time he was hurt (May 26 in Los Angeles) and the time he was finally put on the DL: 5-for-49. Since his return he hasn’t been much better: 3-for-22, all singles. The Cubs could use a Zobrist resembling the 2016 version.
Kyle Schwarber: C- The leadoff experiment, clearly, was a failure, and Kyle was sent to Triple-A to work things out. Since his return: 4-for-14 with two doubles and a home run. That’s a really small sample, but it does give some hope he can redeem his season.
Jason Heyward: C Heyward has missed 27 games with various injuries, first a thumb issue, then having skin ripped off his left hand on a sliding catch attempt. He was hitting reasonably well, the work he did in reinventing his swing appeared to be working. Since his return he’s 3-for-15, again too small of a sample to draw any conclusions. He continues to play strong defense.
Ian Happ: B Happ has hit well and for more power than might have been expected. But he’s struck out in 33 percent of his at-bats and while he has played all three outfield positions as well as second base, he doesn’t seem like a strong defensive presence.
Albert Almora Jr.: B+ I wish Joe Maddon would give him more playing time. Almora has hit well and already walked more times this year (17) in 170 PA than he did in 453 PA combined between the minors and majors in 2016 (14). His defense continues to be excellent, providing highlight-reel catches like this one:
Jon Jay: A- Jay has done exactly what the Cubs hoped when they signed him: good defense, good hitting off the bench and versatility. And that’s not even including the inning he pitched, providing entertainment on an otherwise miserable day. He’s 11-for-28 as a pinch-hitter and has a shot at the team record for pinch hits in a season (20, set by Thad Bosley in 1985, tied by Dave Clark in 1997).
Tommy La Stella: B He’s done everything asked of him this year, including a stint at Iowa. He’s 5-for-16 with two doubles and four walks as a pinch-hitter this year.
Jeimer Candelario: D I don’t get this guy. He hits well in Triple-A, then when he gets a chance in the big leagues he just doesn’t hit at all. He is 5-for-33 (.152) this year, though one of those hits was his first big-league homer, and overall in the majors is 6-for-44. Still just 23, he might have a better shot if traded.
Victor Caratini: Incomplete It’s still unclear whether Caratini sticks for the rest of the season, or whether the Cubs go out and find a veteran catcher to back up Contreras. His 3-for-3 day Sunday after entering the game shows he can hit. Defensively, his game still needs work.
Mark Zagunis: Incomplete Still seeking his first big-league hit, he went 0-for-14 during his brief callup, though with four walks and two stolen bases. Incidentally, the two steals make Zagunis tied for fourth on the Cubs this year. Bryant leads the team with six; Rizzo has five. The Cubs rank 28th in MLB in steals with 26; only the immobile Mets (22) and Orioles (18) have fewer.
Jon Lester: C+ That grade might have been higher if not for Sunday’s debacle. Lester has had some very good games this year and in fact was off to a really good start after his first three outings. Since then he has a 4.90 ERA. It makes me wonder whether he’s trying to gut out an injury.
Jake Arrieta: C Arrived at somewhat differently, but Jake’s season resembles Lester’s, flashes of brilliance surrounded by slogs of mediocrity. I’m no expert, but to me it appears Jake doesn’t have a consistent release point. Hopefully he turns it back around in the second half.
Kyle Hendricks: C This grade is for performance before the finger injury that’s had him out for more than a month. It’s entirely possible that this injury happened early in the year and might be responsible for Kyle’s velocity drop. Assuming he’s healthy and returns at even, say, 90 percent of what he was last year, that would be a huge boost to the rotation.
John Lackey: C- I’m giving him a higher grade than I might otherwise have done simply because he kept piling up innings. The plantar fasciitis that currently has him on the DL might have been responsible for his poor performance.
Brett Anderson: D- Bad, then injured. Might be back, but who knows what we’ll get.
Eddie Butler: D Consistently inconsistent.
Mike Montgomery: C+ As a reliever: 39⅔ innings, 2.50 ERA, 1.311 WHIP, one HR allowed. As a starter: 30 innings, 5.40 ERA, 1.467 WHIP, three home runs. Has walked almost twice as many as a starter (23) than as a reliever (12) in fewer innings. Now I ask you: Where would you put a pitcher with splits like this? (Hint: NOT in the rotation.)
Wade Davis: A Wade has done everything asked of him, been (for the most part) a lockdown closer and made the All-Star team on merit, not just because the Cubs had to have a representative. I like his demeanor on the mound and if you haven’t read this Tribune article about him, you should; it gives good insight into Davis the person. It might be costly, but I would like to see the Cubs keep him.
Carl Edwards Jr.: B CJ was off to a very good start, but since June 9 he has a 4.97 ERA in 13 appearances. He’s got an excellent WHIP — 0.962 — but that’s largely because no one hits him, only 15 hits allowed in 35⅓ innings. He still walks way too many guys, 19 in all. If he can harness his command he can be one of the best relievers in the game.
Brian Duensing: A- Duensing is having one of the best years of his career, something I doubt any of us would have expected. He’s saved the rest of the pen several times by piling up multiple innings, and since giving up six runs in his first 5⅓ innings as a Cub, he has a 1.62 ERA and 1.140 WHIP in 33⅓ innings, with 40 strikeouts. An excellent (and cheap, just $2 million) pickup.
Pedro Strop: B He’s having pretty much the same type of season he’s had since he came to the Cubs four years ago, and is pitching in all types of setup situations, a very valuable member of the pen. Before the season he was signed to a two-year deal, so he’ll be back next year as well.
Hector Rondon: C+ Sometimes, Hector shows the form that had him as a very good closer for the Cubs in 2014 and 2015. Other times... not so much. He’s still got excellent velocity, hitting 97, but there are times that fastball has no movement and he gets hit hard. Since June 18: 1.80 ERA, 1.000 WHIP in 10 appearances.
Justin Grimm: F/B Grimm gets a split grade. He gets an F for his performance before his demotion to Iowa: 7.53 ERA, 1.674 WHIP, six home runs in 13 outings covering 14⅓ innings. He gets a B since his return: 2.41 ERA, 0.750 WHIP, 20 strikeouts in 17 appearances covering 18⅔ innings. The latter grade would have been better if not for four runs allowed in three outings in July.
Koji Uehara: B I still don’t see how this guy strikes out so many hitters (9.7 per nine innings) with his 87 mile per hour fastball, but somehow, it works. He has the occasional clunker but in general throws good middle relief. Since June 1: 1.46 ERA, 1.054 WHIP in 13 appearances (12⅓ innings).
Felix Pena: C I don’t really have much of an impression of him as he pitched mainly in garbage time. Of his 10 appearances, only one was in a game that was closer than a four-run difference. Currently on the disabled list.
Dylan Floro: D Winner of this year’s Iowa Shuttle Award, Floro has been on the 25-man roster five different times, but appeared in just three games. Two of those appearances were decent; in the third, he got pounded, thus the overall 6.52 ERA and 1.759 WHIP. Even though he got into only three games, he is tied with Duensing for the most at-bats for a Cubs reliever this year: four.
Miguel Montero and Matt Szczur played for the Cubs this season and wound up traded to other teams and thus I’m leaving them out of this article.
Pierce Johnson, Seth Frankoff, Zac Rosscup, Jack Leathersich and Rob Zastryzny all pitched in exactly one game for the Cubs this year. I trust you don’t need any further information on those men than that.