Normally, you’d be reading this within a couple of days after the Cubs season ended.
The truth is, I got busy with other projects and neglected this season-ending article, but better late than never, here are my grades for Cubs players for the sprint of a 60-game 2020 season.
Remember, as always these grades are subjective and my personal opinion. They are in many ways based on the expectation for the player.
Willson Contreras: A
I can’t say enough about how much Willson improved his pitch framing. He went from one of the worst framers in MLB to one of the best in one offseason. There’s no doubt this helped the pitching staff. I might have given Willson an A+, except his hitting was down somewhat from his usual standard.
Anthony Rizzo: C
Rizzo put together his worst offensive season since his first full year as a Cub in 2013. He did hit 11 home runs, which equates to 31 in a full season, just about his norm. But all his other numbers were down. I hope this is just an aberration due to the shortened season and not the beginning of a decline.
Jason Kipnis: C+
He did what he was asked to do, play a decent second base and provide a bit of offense and veteran leadership. His offensive numbers were close to his career averages. He’ll be 34 next April; to me it’s 50/50 whether he gets asked back.
Javier Baez: D-
Worst year of his career, by far. Numbers were a bit better than his rookie year in 2014, but they seem worse because of Javy’s great seasons in between. Factors such as the loss of watching in-game video and not having fans in the stands were noted as possible reasons for the bad season. We’ll see if he improves if those things return in 2021.
Javy did have two walkoff hits in 2020. This one was against the Indians September 16 [VIDEO].
Kris Bryant: D
Also had the worst year of his career, largely due to multiple injuries suffered that limited him to 34 games and 147 plate appearances.
He’s become a player many fans love to hate, and I just don’t get it. There would seem to be no reason he can’t get back to his previous level of performance if he’s healthy in 2021.
David Bote: C+
People focus too much on the .200 BA, but Bote draws his walks (.303 OBP on a .200 BA is pretty good) and hits for power (.408 SLG). He’s a perfectly suitable backup infielder, and is under contract for at least four more years at a reasonable price.
Nico Hoerner: Incomplete
If there had been a minor-league season in 2020, Nico would likely have spent a lot of it in Triple-A. Without that, the Cubs wanted him to get some playing time in competitive games, and his inexperience showed. His .222/.312/.259 line was... pretty bad. I’m not sure what the team’s plans for him are in 2021, but he clearly has talent. It’s just a matter of getting it to show.
Kyle Schwarber: D
Schwarber’s offense took a tumble in 2020 with a .188/.308/.393 season. The .701 OPS was by far his worst in a full season. Like Rizzo, his 11 home runs project to a 31-homer year in a full season, but that’s not enough. I would not be surprised to see him traded this offseason.
Ian Happ: B+
This grade might have been higher, because at one point Happ was being mentioned as a possible MVP candidate, but over his last 16 games Happ hit .159/.221/.175 (10-for-63) with 24 strikeouts. He did provide most of the Cubs’ offense in the two-and-out series vs. the Marlins, and played a competent center field.
Jason Heyward: A
On and off the field, a spectacular season. A slide at season’s end prevented him from posting a career-high OPS, and his leadership abilities shined through the entire shortened campaign. He’s a terrific human being who’s easy to root for and I hope his three remaining seasons as a Cub are great ones.
Victor Caratini: C+
Caratini is a competent backup catcher who could start for many MLB teams and who gets a lot of credit for helping Yu Darvish as his personal catcher. I’d like to see a little more from the bat, though.
Albert Almora Jr.: D-
As I wrote last month, I suspect Almora has played his final game as a Cub. He’s a likely non-tender this offseason. I wish him well and I hope he catches on with some team he can start for.
Cameron Maybin: C
Maybin is a decent fourth or fifth outfielder at this stage of his career and is reported to be a good clubhouse guy. He could be worth keeping if the price is right.
Billy Hamilton: B
The same things said about Maybin can be said about Hamilton. The thing is, 2021 might bring roster size down to 26 from 28, and that might not leave room for Hamilton. Perhaps he might accept a Triple-A assignment with a recall in September.
Jose Martinez: F
If there were letters below “F” that I could give as a grade, I’d give Martinez a “Z”. Or maybe a Z-minus.
I hope to never see him in a Cubs uniform again.
Steven Souza Jr.: D-
It was a worthwhile risk to see if he had anything left. He didn’t.
Josh Phegley: D-
Hit as you’d probably expect a third-string catcher to hit.
Yu Darvish: A+
Finally, we saw the Darvish the Cubs expected when they signed him. A couple of late-season blips might have taken him out of Cy Young consideration, but this was a spectacularly good season. Here’s to one just like it in 2021. Just for fun, here’s one of his most ridiculous sliders:
Yu Darvish, Disgusting 84mph Slider.— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) October 2, 2020
And fist pump. pic.twitter.com/Sn8AzdhlNk
Kyle Hendricks: A
If Hendricks had not pitched in Cincinnati this year, he might have rated Cy Young consideration.
Hendricks in Cincinnati: two starts, 10⅓ innings, 9.58 ERA, 1.839 WHIP
Hendricks in all other parks: 10 starts, 71 innings, 1.90 ERA, 0.873 WHIP
It’s not just 2020, either — Kyle has a 6.67 ERA and 1.518 WHIP in 10 career starts at Great American Ballpark. That’s bad enough that without those 10, Kyle’s career ERA would be 2.92 instead of 3.12.
I wrote a whole article about that last month. If you can figure out why Kyle pitches well everywhere except GABP, let David Ross know.
Alec Mills: B
The no-hitter will forever be a highlight of Mills’ career; it was one of the best things about 2020. (Not just the baseball season of 2020, but the whole year.)
Mills made 11 starts. Five of them were really good, three more were “okay,” and the other three were bad.
He’s a perfectly competent fifth starter.
Jon Lester: D
Jon would probably grade himself this way. Like Mills, he had several really good starts, but three that were awful. In those three Jon posted a 16.88 ERA and 2.438 WHIP.
If the Cubs think they can fix that, they’ll probably invite Jon back for one more season.
Adbert Alzolay: B+
In his last two starts, Alzolay displayed a new slider he’d worked on in South Bend. It was really good. If he can do that on a regular basis, he’ll be a key part of the rotation in 2021 and beyond.
Tyler Chatwood: D
Chatwood started off well, then had a couple of bad outings and got hurt. I suppose I could have given him an “incomplete,” but this year seemed like the other two he spent in a Cubs uniform. I’m 100 percent certain he won’t be back.
Jeremy Jeffress: A
He saved the closing role from being a complete disaster when Craig Kimbrel had some early failures. I’d love to see him back, but after this year he might wind up being too expensive.
Craig Kimbrel: B-
Kimbrel, first 10 appearances: eight innings, 10.13 ERA, 2.500 WHIP, 12 walks, 15 strikeouts
Kimbrel, last eight appearances: 7⅓ innings, 0.00 ERA, 0.409 WHIP, no walks, 13 strikeouts
If you can promise me the second of those Kimbrels will show up in 2021, the Cubs could probably do without Jeffress.
Ryan Tepera: B
Did pretty much what he was asked to do, and had an excellent K rate of 13.5 per nine innings. He turns 33 in November and might wind up too expensive to retain.
Dan Winkler: C+
His numbers were decent (2.95 ERA, 1.200 WHIP) but I never had the sense that he could be more than the guy you put into a blowout. I’m perfectly fine if they move on from him in 2021.
Rowan Wick: Incomplete
Wick’s injury really hurt the Cubs, as he could have been quite useful in the Pirates series in the season’s last week as well as in the Wild Card series vs. the Marlins. Hopefully he’s healthy in 2021.
Jason Adam: B
Got off to a poor start, but in September was really good: 10 appearances, 1.80 ERA, 1.000 WHIP, .118 opponents BA, 12 strikeouts in 10 innings. He might be worth a look next year.
Kyle Ryan: D+
Ryan regressed from a solid 2019 to have a poor 2020. His K rate was down and he allowed five home runs in just 15⅔ innings. Time to move on, I think.
Duane Underwood Jr.: D
I’d really like for him to succeed, but I suspect he’s a Quad-A player. Too many long balls and he’s already 26, so maybe the Cubs should look elsewhere.
Colin Rea: C-
He got his chances, including a couple of starts, but at age 30 might be past his sell-by date.
Dillon Maples: D-
You all know I have an irrational like for Maples due to his velocity and slider, but he just can’t seem to throw enough strikes to stick in the big leagues. I suspect the Cubs move on from him this winter. If only he could do this all the time:
Adam Jones on a Dillon Maples Middle/Middle 90mph Slider. pic.twitter.com/HTs11S2tKV— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) April 27, 2019
Jose Quintana: Incomplete
What can you say? The trade didn’t work out. Q threw only 10 innings in 2020 due to various injures, showed flashes of brilliance but in the end he just wasn’t what the Cubs hoped. He’s a free agent and I wish him the best, as he almost certainly won’t be back.
Andrew Chafin: Incomplete
I can’t really say much about four outings, one of which resulted in a walkoff homer by Jacob Stallings of the Pirates. He’s a free agent who likely won’t be back.
Tyson Miller: Incomplete
He has talent, but again, it’s hard to say much about two outings totaling five innings. He could be in the bullpen mix for 2021, I don’t think he sticks as a starter.
Brad Wieck: Incomplete
Injuries ruined his season, but the Cubs need him to be fully healthy in 2021. He’s a guy who could make a difference in the pen if healthy.
Brailyn Marquez: Incomplete
Oh, come on. That single inning vs. the White Sox on the last day of the season doesn’t define Marquez. He’s still a big part of this team’s future.
Ildemaro Vargas, Hernan Perez, Patrick Wisdom, Ian Miller, Casey Sadler, Rex Brothers, Josh Osich, James Norwood, Brad Wieck and Matt Dermody also played in at least one game for the 2020 Cubs.