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A look at Cubs top spring training performances in recent years

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There are a few names you know well, and others who might surprise you.

Who is this man? You’ll find out below
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This idea was suggested by a BCB reader in the comments a few weeks ago (sorry, can’t remember who), and I filed it away for future reference.

With today being pitcher/catcher report day, and as we await the first official team workout Wednesday, I thought I’d take a look back at who the best spring-training hitters and pitchers were for the Cubs as far back as mlb.com has complete statistics (2006).

For hitters, this is not a subjective choice. It’s a ranking by best OPS in spring games. Since in most years there are between 30-35 games, and most players don’t play in anywhere close to all the games, I’m making one decision here — the player has to have 50 plate appearances in spring games.

Here are the Cubs with the highest OPS, minimum 50 PA, for each spring since 2006:

2017: Ian Happ, .383/.441/.750, OPS 1.191, 23-for-60 (68 PA), 5 HR, 21 RBI
2016: Anthony Rizzo, .306/.410/.633, OPS 1.043, 15-for-49 (61 PA), 4 HR, 13 RBI
2015: Matt Szczur, .354/.426/.792, OPS 1.218, 17-for-48 (54 PA), 5 HR, 9 RBI
2014: Anthony Rizzo, .321/.368/.528, OPS .896, 17-for-53 (57 PA), 2 HR, 11 RBI
2013: David DeJesus, .383/.424/.567, OPS .991, 23-for-60 (66 PA), 1 HR, 5 RBI
2012: Joe Mather, .382/.425/.691, OPS 1.116, 26-for-68 (73 PA), 3 HR, 15 RBI
2011: Marlon Byrd, .431/.477/.586, OPS 1.063, 25-for-58 (66 PA), 1 HR, 7 RBI
2010: Tyler Colvin, .468/.468/.763, OPS 1.221, 36-for-77 (77 PA), 2 HR, 18 RBI
2009: Milton Bradley, .460/.526/.800, OPS 1.326, 23-for-50 (57 PA), 4 HR, 10 RBI
2008: Micah Hoffpauir, .419/.422/.742, OPS 1.164, 26-for-62 (64 PA), 4 HR, 10 RBI
2007: Derrek Lee, .471/.486/.809, OPS 1.795, 32-for-68 (74 PA), 3 HR, 22 RBI
2006: Aramis Ramirez, .483/.500/.810, OPS 1.310, 28-for-58 (64 PA), 5 HR, 20 RBI

That’s ... quite the list, I’d say. Some really good players, some flashes in the pan, some guys you’re probably surprised to see there.

Honorable mention here to Kris Bryant’s 2015 spring, the one that got him noticed by national media but doesn’t meet my 50 PA qualification (he had 44 PA): .425/.477/1.175, 17-for-40, 9 HR, 15 RBI, 14 runs scored.

Going back a bit farther, via ESPN.com there are a few numbers available but not walks or PA, so I can’t put together OPS numbers. But I did want to mention Nomar Garciaparra’s 2005 spring, where he hit .433 (26-for-60) with seven doubles and six home runs. It looked like he was going to have an incredible first full season with the Cubs. Instead, he got off to a .157/.228/.176 (8-for-51) start and then suffered a horrifying groin muscle tear that kept him out for half the season.

Also worth noting is the 2004 spring of Scott McClain, who hit .333 (16-for-48) with six home runs. McClain was the last guy cut in camp and got a September callup — the following year, 2005, when he went 2-for-14 in some meaningless late-season games.

Let’s have a look at the best Cubs pitchers from the same spring trainings listed above. Since starters don’t throw many innings in camp (generally starting with two innings, building up so they can throw six or seven on Opening Day), I’m using 20 innings as the minimum. Pitchers are ranked by best ERA.

2017: Kyle Hendricks: 21⅔ IP, 1.66 ERA, 1.06 WHIP, 4 BB, 17 SO
2016: Kyle Hendricks, 29⅔ IP, 2.73 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, 4 BB, 30 SO
2015: Jason Hammel, 25 IP, 3.25 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, 3 BB, 22 SO
2014: Jeff Samardzija, 20 IP, 5.14 ERA, 1.67 WHIP, 7 BB, 19 SO
2013: Chris Rusin, 23⅓ IP, 1.93 ERA, 0.90 WHIP, 4 BB, 10 SO
2012: Jeff Samardzija, 20 IP, 4.50 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, 1 BB, 16 SO
2011: Randy Wells, 25x IP, 2.10 ERA, 0.86 WHIP, 6 BB, 23 SO
2010: Ryan Dempster, 25⅓ IP, 2.13 ERA, 0.91 WHIP, 7 BB, 25 SO
2009: Carlos Zambrano, 25⅔ IP, 3.20 ERA, 0.99 WHIP, 7 BB, 19 SO
2008: Jason Marquis, 21⅓ IP, 4.22 ERA, 1.41 WHIP, 6 BB, 12 SO
2007: Carlos Zambrano, 20⅔ IP, 3.05 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, 6 BB, 21 SO
2006: Greg Maddux, 22 IP, 3.27 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 6 BB, 14 SO

That’s... a bit more variable. Most of the years when an ERA above 4 was “best,’ it simply means there wasn’t a pitcher with a lower one who threw 20 innings, particularly in the 2012-14 period where managers Dale Sveum and Rick Renteria were looking at a lot of different guys.

Beyond that, pitching in Arizona spring training, with the dry air, has always been considered more difficult than hitting there.

“Managers Dale Sveum and Rick Renteria.” That seems like a long time ago, doesn’t it?

Who will be the best Cubs hitters and pitchers this spring?