You know, I could just repost the intro to last year’s midseason grades article, with different names and numbers, because many similar things have gone wrong with the Chicago Cubs over the first half of 2019.
- Three of the team’s five starting pitchers have spent time on the injured list
- They didn’t have a real lockdown closer until about two weeks ago, and even he’s been a bit of an adventure
- The lone “major” offseason free-agent signing has been a complete bust
- Several relievers have had ridiculously bad seasons
And yet, here we stand at the All-Star break with the Cubs in first place in the N.L. Central. Granted, that’s largely because the other four teams in the division have had worse first halves, but a first-place standing is better than not being in first place, any time of the year. (Repeat that often enough and maybe you’ll convince yourself like I have.)
Here, then, are my midseason grades for Cubs players for the 2019 season to date. Please remember that I’m making these grades somewhat subjectively, not only for their numbers but also for their performance relative to the expectations for that particular player.
Willson Contreras: A+ After a subpar 2018 season, Contreras worked hard in the offseason and during spring training to fix what was wrong. He has done so and posted what will wind up being career bests if he keeps it up over the second half. He’s got his second straight All-Star starting berth as a result. Here’s the highlight of Willson’s season so far [VIDEO].
Anthony Rizzo: A Rizzo is one of the most consistent players the Cubs have had in recent times. Though he’s slowed a bit lately, you know he can go on hot streaks that can carry the team. (One of these coming out of the break would be most welcome.) He will post his usual .900ish OPS and is still on pace for career highs in runs, home runs and RBI.
Addison Russell: C- My position on Russell’s status with the team is well known and I’m not going to rehash it here (and I ask that you limit your commentary on Russell here to his on-field performance only). As for his actual performance on the field, he is hitting pretty much the way he’s hit for his career: a .720ish OPS with occasional power. He’s made some mental mistakes (as last week in Pittsburgh) that have hurt the ballclub.
Javier Baez: A Also on pace for career highs in runs, home runs and RBI, Javy is having another fine season. There are times when it looks like he could use a break; he has started all but four games this year and in the 86 games he did, he played in all but 10 innings.
Kris Bryant: A I hear people complaining about KB’s season, but at the moment, he is on pace for career highs in runs, doubles, BA and OPS. He’s quietly putting up MVP-type numbers and playing his usual solid defense at third base. The only criticism I can make about his numbers is that he’s striking out a bit too much.
Kyle Schwarber: B- Like Russell, Schwarber basically is who he is after over 1,600 major-league plate appearances, a guy who will hit 30+ home runs, not put up much BA (his .227 this year is just about his career BA of .228), draw lots of walks (though his OBP is down this year) and play better defense than you think. He doesn’t belong in the leadoff spot and Joe Maddon really needs to try someone else.
Albert Almora Jr.: C Almora got off to a horrific start this year, went on a tear (.906 OPS) from late April to late May, and since then has been pretty bad again (.605 OPS). Overall his season is a disappointment, though he has matched his career high in home runs.
Jason Heyward: B+ Heyward is having his best year as a Cub, and despite going cold recently, his 14 home runs and .266/.355/.437 slash line are things we’d have happily accepted from him over the last three seasons. Given the OBP, why not try him in the leadoff spot?
David Bote: B- Bote strikes out too much, but puts up good power numbers (13 doubles, nine home runs, .434 SLG). I’d like to see him get more playing time in the second half.
Victor Caratini: B The overall numbers (.295/.367/.511) look really good, but those are skewed by an amazing start he had before his hamate bone injury in April. Since his return, his .243/.309/.419 (18-for-74) slash line probably better reflects his true abilities. Still, that’s good for a backup catcher, and he plays solid defense and frames pitches well. And you’ll surely never forget this [VIDEO].
Ben Zobrist: Incomplete I don’t see how I could give any other grade for Ben than that, as we simply do not know when or if he’ll return to the Cubs this season.
Mark Zagunis: D+ I mean, his overall numbers (.257/.333/.343) aren’t terrible, but he was mostly asked to be a pinch-hitter and he was bad at it (3-for-16 with 11 strikeouts). He’s supposedly revamped things at Iowa and I guess he could be back later in the summer.
Taylor Davis: C While Caratini was out, Davis was pressed into service as the backup catcher and... was actually not too bad at it. Defensively he leaves something to be desired (11 SB, no caught stealing), but he’ll always be remembered for this [VIDEO].
Davis likely gets a September recall for that, I’d think. That alone raises the grade a whole letter or more.
Robel Garcia: Incomplete It’s hard to grade a guy on four games played, so I won’t. He’s shown the same power in the major leagues that he did at Double-A and Triple-A this year (two homers in 11 MLB at-bats), so there’s at least the possibility he can continue to do it at this level.
Daniel Descalso: F I’m sure Daniel is a nice fellow and a good teammate. But his on-field performance has been awful. Since April 19: .116/.231/.170 (13-for-112) with 41 strikeouts. Perhaps tellingly, he has not played at all in any of the Cubs’ last five games.
Jon Lester: B Despite a couple of clunkers and some time on the injured list, Jon has been the horse this starting rotation needs. His K rate is up and walk rate down from last year and generally, he’s been quite solid. The break should do him good.
Cole Hamels: A- The unfortunate oblique injury Cole suffered in Cincinnati has interrupted what was shaping up to be a possible All-Star season for him. He’s already posted 3.2 bWAR, which is his best since 2016. Hopefully he’s back by early August, as this oblique injury is reported to not be as serious as the one he suffered in 2017. If he comes back and pitches well over the last two months, I would not be opposed to keeping him around for another year or two.
Kyle Hendricks: B+ Like Hamels, Kyle was having an outstanding season before it was interrupted by a minor shoulder issue. He’s made two starts since coming off the injured list and both of them felt like rehab starts. The break should also do him good. It’s certainly worth a look at his utter dominance of the Cardinals in an 81-pitch complete-game shutout May 3 [VIDEO].
Jose Quintana: C- Hey, look! A Cubs starter who has not been injured. Q is maddening — he’ll throw a great game like this one in Cincinnati, but that one came after this awful start against the Mets. I’m hoping for more consistency from Jose in the second half.
Yu Darvish: D+ Like Quintana, Yu can throw really well (this start vs. the Dodgers) but too often, he’ll have a six-inning, four-run outing in which you think he’s doing all right but the results are mediocre. He’s allowed 20 home runs this season, by far the most on the staff. He’s just going to have to be better for the Cubs to have a chance of taking over the division.
Tyler Chatwood: C- Chatwood has actually been... not awful this year. He’s had a couple of outings that were very good, in fact, including six shutout innings in a start vs. the Diamondbacks and four shutout relief innings in that 15-inning game vs. the Brewers. His walk rate is still too high (5.2 per nine innings), but that’s at least in the range of his career average.
Mike Montgomery: D After two and a half pretty good seasons as a swingman between starting and relieving, Montgomery has been pretty bad in 2019. He had some rough outings early, went on the injured list, came back and threw well for a time, but his last three appearances: eight innings, 9.00 ERA, 1.750 WHIP, three home runs. Yikes.
Pedro Strop: B- Some rough outings and another trip to the IL with a hamstring injury have made this Pedro’s worst season as a Cub. However, his last six appearances: six innings, four hits, no walks, 0.00 ERA, six strikeouts. Now that he can resume his usual setup role, I think he’ll have a much better second half.
Steve Cishek: B Cishek has pretty much had the same season this year as he did in 2018. He’s a solid setup guy.
Brandon Kintzler: A What a revelation. Kintzler was awful after the Cubs acquired him in 2018. He exercised his player option for $5 million and I was skeptical he’d be worth it. But he has been outstanding, with an excellent walk rate and often getting the ground balls he was known for before he came to the Cubs. He’s on pace to have the best year of his career.
Brad Brach: F Another disaster of a free-agent signing, along with Descalso. His ERA and walk rate are the worst of his career, and in 16 outings since May 20: 10.26 ERA, 2.040 WHIP, .375 opponents BA, two blown saves. Yes, the Cubs would owe him money for 2020 if they just let him go, but at this point they probably just ought to.
Kyle Ryan: B Ryan has flashed good ability to get ground balls when needed, and he has a decent walk rate. LH and RH batters hit him about equally, so he can throw full innings in middle relief. A useful guy to have around.
Craig Kimbrel: Incomplete I have a feeling Kimbrel was placed on the major-league roster a bit too soon. He was pronounced “ready” but some of his four outings have been high-wire acts. I think he’ll be fine — he was throwing 97-98 miles per hour vs. the White Sox on Saturday — but the break should also do him some good.
Randy Rosario: D I really want this guy to pitch well, he clearly has talent, but just can’t seem to put it together. For the moment, he’s on the 25-man roster and has not been scored on since his most recent recall. I suspect he’s headed back to Iowa soon, though.
Carl Edwards Jr.: Incomplete There are a lot of incompletes this year at the break, and with CJ having a stint at Iowa and currently staying on the injured list (and he’ll stay at Iowa for a rehab assignment after the break), that’s really the only grade I can give him. After his recall from Iowa in May he threw quite well: 2.03 ERA, 0.525 WHIP, .093 opponents batting average in 15 appearances. The Cubs pen could use more of that.
Adbert Alzolay: Incomplete Alzolay burst on the scene with a solid relief outing in his MLB debut, then put together a pretty good start in his second appearance. The third one... let’s not talk about that. The Cubs say they have “second-half plans” for him but have not been specific. He would be in line to start July 16 vs. the Reds if they choose to go in that direction.
Dillon Maples: C I will admit that this grade is probably higher than many of you would likely give. I am a big Maples fan. He’s got an electric slider that’s almost unhittable:
Adam Jones on a Dillon Maples Middle/Middle 90mph Slider. pic.twitter.com/HTs11S2tKV— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) April 27, 2019
Dillon Maples, 1-0 Slider vs Encarnación— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) May 2, 2019
[AKA how to end an AB on the 1st strike] pic.twitter.com/MOyCBPvZDR
Maples’ issue is fastball command, and he had a couple of bad outings before he was sent back to Iowa last week. As I noted above, I’d still rather have him in the pen than Brad Brach.
Rowan Wick: Incomplete Wick also has a good arm and has shown well in a couple of brief callups this season. I suspect he’ll be back as needed on the Iowa shuttle.
Carlos Gonzalez, Jim Adduci, James Norwood, Xavier Cedeno, Allen Webster, Tony Barnette and Tim Collins also played in at least one game for the Cubs in the first half.