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2021 Chicago Cubs midseason grades

This is not going to be pretty.

How many of these guys will be Cubs in 2022? Or next month?
Photo by Nuccio DiNuzzo/MLB Photos via Getty Images

It’s been two years since I’ve posted an article like this, since we didn’t have a “midseason” in last year’s abbreviated 60-game pandemic MLB schedule.

You know, a month ago these grades likely would have been a lot different. But since the Cubs reached their high point of the season, 11 games over .500 on June 13 (38-27), they have gone 6-19.

That’s... awful.

And so are a lot of these grades. Hopefully, the Cubs can perform a successful “reboot” and next year’s model will be better.

With that, on to the 2021 midseason grades.

Willson Contreras: C Willson has decent numbers, a 111 OPS+ and 2.5 bWAR, but seems to take way too many chances on the basepaths and his caught-stealing percentage is a career-low 21 percent. He’s had hot streaks before and maybe he’ll have another in the second half, but his first half has to be seen as a disappointment.

Anthony Rizzo: C Speaking of hot streaks, Rizzo usually has one after a slow start to bring his numbers up to his career norms. He did have one; between May 5 and June 2 he hit .367/.466/.483 (22-for-60)... but with no home runs. His power numbers are down and since that hot streak he’s hit just .204/.283/.389 (22-for-108) in 31 games.

It’s certainly worth another look at his epic 14-pitch at-bat against the Cardinals June 11 [VIDEO].

Javier Báez: C+ I’d have made this lower, but Javy’s 21 home runs lead the team and his .493 SLG is above his career average. He’s still playing slick defense, though a back problem slowed him in that area as well.

The strikeout total (115, leading MLB) is frightening and if he strikes out at the same pace (1.456 K’s per game) in the 72 remaining contests he’d have a total of 220, which would obliterate the franchise record (199, set by Kris Bryant in 2015) and be just three short of Mark Reynolds’ MLB record.

But what’s all that when you can have fun like this? [VIDEO]

Kris Bryant: B- This number could have been a lot higher, as KB was playing at MVP level for the first two months, but since June 1 he is hitting .179/.256/.311 (19-for-106) in 31 games. Minor injuries have slowed him (again), but give the guy credit for playing five different positions this year (all three outfield spots plus first and third base) and playing them well.

Joc Pederson: D This guy... I dunno. As you know I sit in the left-field bleachers, thus I have a closeup view of Joc for every home game. His body language is atrocious. He looks like he’d rather be anywhere else on Earth than in left field at Wrigley. His numbers are pedestrian and while we were assured he was a defensive upgrade over Kyle Schwarber, he isn’t.

We will not miss him when he’s gone. At least, I won’t.

Ian Happ: D Same thing with Happ, his body language is poor, though not as bad as Joc’s. He’s not really a natural center fielder, nor second baseman, his best real position is probably left field, but the Cubs already have one of those.

Happ has talent, he’s hit previously but not this year. He might benefit from a change of scenery. Maybe the Cubs can find a “change-of-scenery” guy on another team and make a trade.

Jason Heyward: D+ You are all probably going to say that’s too high, and maybe it is. To that I will respond: In his last 18 games since June 17, Heyward is hitting .346/.433/.462 (18-for-52) with eight runs and seven walks. His defense has also improved; many of us noticed that he appeared to have lost a step early in the year. I wonder if there was a nagging injury that we never heard about — and he did go to the IL earlier in the season.

We are stuck with him for two more years. He might have a good second half.

Nico Hoerner: B He still needs some work. Many will say he needs more Triple-A work, but that’s not going to happen at this point. He plays excellent defense and his hitting is improving every day. I would like to see him develop some power, and I think that will come in time. His ceiling is “Ian Kinsler,” and that’d be just fine.

This kind of got buried in Sunday’s recap, so ICYMI I thought I’d repost this little workout Nico has been doing every day since he returned from the injured list.

Jake Marisnick: B Did everything he was asked to do, provided good defense, baserunning speed and some energy for the ballclub. Hit for a bit of power. He should probably be given an extended look at starting in CF. The club has a $4 million option on him for 2022 that they should probably exercise.

Patrick Wisdom: B+ This came out of nowhere, and he’s been one of the best surprises of 2021.

He’s cooled off a little since his incredible stretch of seven homers in nine games from May 31-June 8, but he still has a good .964 OPS and leads all rookies in home runs with 12 — despite having just 115 at-bats.

I can see him having three or four decent MLB years. He’ll strike out a lot, but if he hits 30+ home runs, who cares? He plays solid defense and seems to bring some positive energy to the team.

His 15-pitch at-bat against the Marlins June 20, which resulted in a single, is worth watching again [VIDEO].

David Bote: Incomplete Bote’s been out since this nasty injury happened May 29 [VIDEO].

Injuries are tough anytime, but Bote had been hitting well since a very slow start. Through that game he had hit .265/.359/.529 with three home runs in 11 games before the injury.

He’s heading to a rehab assignment later this week and perhaps will be back by the end of July.

Matt Duffy: Incomplete Yet another player who was hot before he got hurt. He’d gone 6-for-17 (.353) in the six games before his injury. He is headed for a rehab assignment this week as well.

When Duffy and Bote return to action, the Cubs will have some decisions to make regarding who to keep, unless trades open up roster spots.

Rafael Ortega: D I mean... I just don’t understand the appeal. Lefthanded pinch hitter, maybe? Before 2021, Ortega had 447 MLB plate appearances with a .229/.287/.290 slash line. That screams out “bit player on rebuilding team,” not a spare part on a contender.

He’s likely one of the players gone when Duffy or Bote return.

He’ll always have this, though — a walkoff grand slam in a spring training game March 9 [VIDEO].

Sergio Alcántara: D+ First 14 games as a Cub: .290/.343/.742 (9-for-31), two doubles, three triples, two home runs. Since then (21 games): .100/.211/.120 (5-for-50), 20 strikeouts.

You can see why the Tigers gave up on him. Too many K’s, probably overexposed from having to start more games than expected.

But he plays strong defense at three infield positions, and thus could be useful as a spare-part infielder. He’s only 24, and worth hanging on to.

Eric Sogard: D Pitches better than he hits.

Kyle Hendricks: B The Professor gets an F for April (7.54 ERA, 1.765 WHIP, 10 home runs in 22⅔ innings), and an A for everything after that (2.73 ERA, 1.105 WHIP, 10 home runs in 82⅓ innings). He’s looked like his old self again since that lousy start, and entering 2021 his career ERA was 3.12. He’s got a real chance to have a 2021 season with an ERA that low, and not that it matters much, also has a shot at a 20-win season.

Zach Davies: C- Like Hendricks, Davies, who has a similar pitching style, had a horrific start: 8.22 ERA after six starts. Since then: 13 starts, 3.10 ERA, just six home runs in 69⅔ innings.

Does he have trade value? I’d say not much, as a pending free agent. Ten years from now, people will say, “That guy pitched for the Cubs?”

Jake Arrieta: D- This could have been an “F”, but Jake pitched really well in April before going on the injured list with a finger abrasion. Since his return he’s been just awful: 7.74 ERA, 1.884 WHIP, 12 home runs in 43 innings in 11 starts.

Now he’s back on the injured list again, and after that we found out:

“Last night” on that tweet was last Tuesday — but the real question is, if Jake had hamstring issues two months ago, why has he made 10 or so starts since then? That would go a long way toward explaining the bad performance.

If he’s healthy, maybe he can pitch better the last two months.

None of this erases his wonderful contributions to the Cubs from 2013-17.

Adbert Alzolay: C- He’s got tremendous talent but hasn’t been able to harness it. I’m thinking this might be part of the problem:


What stands out there? A good, successful MLB starting pitcher needs more than two pitches (and, essentially, the “sinker” and the four-seamer are one pitch, a fastball). Alzolay has a changeup, but he barely uses it. This is something he ought to work on — a good changeup will give him a better pitch arsenal.

Trevor Williams: D+ I wish I could have graded him better, but he had several rough outings and then an emergency appendectomy, the latter obviously not his fault.

Williams had, in fact, put together a really nice start May 26 against the Pirates when the appendectomy happened, and then he got hit hard in a relief appearance on his activation from the injured list, and missed out on a start when Sunday’s game was rained out.

Here’s hoping for a better second half for Trevor.

Craig Kimbrel: A This is the guy the Cubs thought they had signed back in 2019. Seems like a very long time ago, right?

He’s done everything he’s been asked to do and struck out 54 of 117 batters faced this year (46.2 percent).

The only question: Whose uniform will he finish the 2021 season in?

Andrew Chafin: A Also did everything he was asked, seems like a good clubhouse guy, but he likely won’t be around much longer, either.

Ryan Tepera: B Could have had an “A” except for a couple of bad outings right before he went on the injured list. He seems healthy now; I suppose he might have some minor trade value, but the Cubs could also extend him for not very much money and have a good setup man for 2022.

Rex Brothers: C Has had some good outings and some bad ones. Can dial it up to 97 miles per hour, but doesn’t always know where it’s going (5.0 walks per nine innings). I doubt he’ll be back next year. He is the 10th player in MLB history named “Rex.”

Dan Winkler: C+ He was better than expected early, and then, his last nine outings: 7.36 ERA, three home runs in 7⅓ innings. Another fungible reliever who can probably be replaced.

Alec Mills: C- At some point the Cubs are going to have to find starters who throw faster than 90 miles per hour, no?

Keegan Thompson: B Now here’s one of those possible future starters. Thompson has a good pitch mix and has generally thrown well. The walk rate is a bit higher than you’d like (4.9 per nine innings), but he’s allowed only four home runs in 33 innings. He’d probably be better served sent back to Iowa to stretch out to start rather than throw once a week for the big-league Cubs.

Tommy Nance: C- First 14 appearances: 0.64 ERA, 0.786 WHIP, 14 strikeouts, no home runs in 14 innings. Last five outings before being sent to Iowa: 13.50 ERA, 1.636 WHIP, three home runs in 7⅓ innings. Nance has talent and can throw hard. He likely needs some more Triple-A time, but I think the Cubs really like him and he could be a key part of the 2022 bullpen.

Brad Wieck: A- He was having a really good year when he had some heart issues that forced him to the injured list. He had similar problems in 2020 spring training. I wish him a speedy recovery and return to the Cubs bullpen.

Dillon Maples: C I mean... these are pretty good numbers, even though the walk rate is still too high (5.6 per nine innings). He struck out 32 of the 95 hitters he faced and allowed only nine hits. It seems like he’s finally figuring things out at age 29, not too late to have a decent MLB career.

Justin Steele: Incomplete Steele was throwing very well when he was injured running the bases May 20 against the Nationals. (Grrrrr... universal DH please.) He’s been optioned to Iowa to be stretched out to start. Depending on trades, he very well could be back in the major leagues soon.

Cory Abbott: Incomplete Another pitcher who could possibly be in the mix for the 2022 rotation.

Trevor Megill: D Throws hard, but the MLB results have not reflected any ability to get guys out.

Kohl Stewart: D This guy was drafted two picks after Kris Bryant in 2013. You can see why two teams (Twins and Orioles) gave up on him.

Jason Adam, Robinson Chirinos, Taylor Gushue, P.J. Higgins, Jose Lobaton, Nick Martini, Shelby Miller, Austin Romine, Robert Stock, Pedro Strop, Ildemaro Vargas, Tony Wolters and Brandon Workman also played in at least one game for the 2021 Cubs. i trust you don’t need me to tell you anything more about those 13 players.