Let’s state one thing right up front.
I’m not writing this article to embarrass these players, instead I simply wish to point out the worst WAR (by baseball-reference) posted by Cubs cumulatively over the last 10 seasons. I’m sure these players all worked hard and did their best — they just didn’t produce, for whatever reason.
In each case I’ve located some video of something they did well or interesting while a member of the Cubs. You’ll note that for six of the 10 players, they “accomplished” their bWAR number in a single season. That’s likely because if a player isn’t doing well, he’s gone.
Also, I have ignored batting WAR for pitchers, otherwise this list would have included Kyle Hendricks and Jose Quintana, both of whom have been pretty bad with the bat.
Edwin Jackson: -3.5
E-Jax was one of Theo Epstein’s worst mistakes. He even admitted so, after finally dealing Jackson to the Braves in 2015. To Jackson’s credit, he never complained, never made excuses for his poor performance, and always was seen as a good teammate and hard worker. The results on the field just weren’t any good.
The Cubs won that game 3-0, all three runs driven in by Anthony Rizzo.
Joe Mather: -2.0
Often called “Best Cub Ever” around these parts, Mather started out 2012 well. On May 25 he was hitting .279/.376/.517 (17-for-58) with three home runs. Late bloomer, perhaps?
Nope. The rest of the way: .180/.210/.257 (30-for-167) with 35 strikeouts.
He recorded the final out of a disastrous nine-run ninth vs. the Brewers August 27, 2012, the only Cub who pitched and did not allow a run that inning. Unfortunately, there’s no video of that, but since I promised video of every one of these guys doing something good, here’s a nice throw he made to the plate from third base [VIDEO] to cut down a Pirates runner May 27, 2012:
Chris Volstad: -1.5
The Cubs wanted to dump Carlos Zambrano’s contract, and all they could get in return was Volstad. To be fair, Volstad had a decent 2010 season, followed by a bad 2011, and the Cubs hoped he could get back to his 2010 form.
It didn’t happen. He was awful most of the year and was claimed on waivers by the Royals after the 2012 season ended.
Volstad was still pitching, for the White Sox, as late as 2018.
Daniel Descalso: -1.4
Okay, okay, I know you really don’t want to hear that name again, but here he is. And with any luck, he won’t be a Cub in 2020.
Descalso did, however, get off to a blazing hot start in a Cubs uniform, hitting .364/.429/.523 (16-for-44) in his first 14 games with four doubles and a home run. That included this two-run double [VIDEO] against the Marlins April 17.
John Grabow: -1.4
Here’s another guy who had pretty good seasons with another team, in Grabow’s case a 1.9 bWAR year as a middle reliever with the Pirates in 2008.
That was enough for Jim Hendry to trade for the lefthander in the middle of the next season. The Pirates got the better of that deal, too: Josh Harrison, then struggling in A ball, was a throw-in. He wound up being a two-time All-Star in Pittsburgh and produced 10.1 bWAR in eight seasons there.
It didn’t work out well at all. Grabow pitched pretty well the rest of 2009, but was awful in 2010 and 2011 and that’s where this negative bWAR comes from.
This is the best I can do for some video of Grabow doing something good as a Cub. On May 6, 2010 in Pittsburgh, the Cubs lost 11-1 to the Pirates. Grabow threw a perfect eighth inning.
Josh Vitters: -1.3
The Cubs spent a first-round pick on Vitters in 2007 largely because Matt Wieters, who was available and who would have made a much better choice, was thought to have contract demands the Cubs would not meet.
Vitters never dominated any minor-league level, but late in 2012 Theo & Co. called him up, I suppose just to see if they had anything there.
The bratwursts seen briefly in the beginning of that clip look tasty.
Justin Germano: -1.3
Germano was one of 12 pitchers who made at least one start for the sad-sack 2012 Cubs, who lost 101 games. He started 12 times, and honestly only one of them was even close to being “good,” five innings of one-run ball against the even-worse Astros September 11, 2012 in Houston.
Trust me, it ain’t easy finding video of good stuff some of these guys did, particularly since MLB has done a very good job of hiding pretty much all its video before about 2015. Here is a double play [VIDEO] Germano began against the Cardinals July 21, 2012 in his first Cubs appearance. Sadly, the Cubs lost the game 12-0.
If you’d like something better, here is the last out of a perfect game Germano threw for Triple-A Columbus in 2011:
John Baker: -1.2
Baker wasn’t very good as a hitter, though he was a decent defensive catcher. He’s better-known now as a key member of the Cubs mental skills department.
Oh, and MLB? Don’t you dare ever take away long extra-inning games like that. They are fun and people talk about them and they become part of baseball lore.
Koyie Hill: -1.2
Hill was a favorite punching bag here at BCB while he was a Cubs backup catcher, mainly because he couldn’t hit at all. He hit all right in 2008 and 2009 (in 2009 posting positive bWAR, 0.9), but from 2010-12 (the time frame and bWAR we’re concerned with here): .204/.252/.281 (79-for-388) with 108 strikeouts.
Xavier Nady: -1.0
Here’s another case of a player who had a precipitous decline in hitting ability, and in Nady’s case it was largely due to injury. He’d posted a 3.1 bWAR season between the Pirates and Yankees in 2008: .305/.357/.510 with 37 doubles and 25 home runs. But the following April he suffered an elbow injury, eventually having Tommy John surgery, and never did get back to his previous form.
The Cubs tried to squeeze a decent season out of him and instead got one of .256/.306/.353 (81-for-317) with six home runs. He hung on for a few more years with the Diamondbacks, Nationals, Padres and Giants but was never the same after the injury.
That was the game-winner — it ended up 1-0 Cubs. It was Nady’s final home run as a Cub. Check out the huge roar from the Cubs fans at Miller Park that night.
I hope you’ve taken this article in the spirit in which it was written — to remember these Cubs who didn’t play well, but every now and then put together a good performance. It’s a reminder that everyone who plays major-league baseball has tremendous physical talent; it just doesn’t work out for all of them.