I’ve been a Cubs fan for the vast majority of my conscious life. My first major league baseball memory is the Sandberg Game, and that was really it for me. I was in love with the ivy, the bleachers and the blue pinstripes. As the years have gone by the Cubs have made me laugh and cry. When they won the World Series in 2016 it was one of the greatest moments of joy I’ve ever experienced — and when they tore it all down in 2021, I felt viscerally gutted and hurt in a way that only those who you love can hurt you.
Through all of it, though, the heartbreak of 1984, 1989, 2003 and 2007, the joy of Aramis Ramírez walkoffs and Javier Báez manufacturing runs with what can only be called Jedi mind tricks, I have never considered abandoning this team or sport. I make my way to the Friendly Confines at Clark and Addison as much as time and money will allow, because even in a middling, forgettable season like 2022, there is indescribable joy lurking in that old ballpark. So on the eve of Thanksgiving I wanted to take a minute and reflect on the five moments I am most thankful for during the Cubs 2022 season.
The real Ian Happ finally stood up
Ian Happ came up in 2017 and hit a leadoff home run on the first pitch he saw to start the Cubs season against the Marlins in 2018:
But things were a bit rocky after that swing. At his best, Happ was an MVP candidate, but by the end of the 2018 season he was striking out 36.1 percent of the time and wound up spending the bulk of the 2019 season working on his swing and approach in Triple-A before returning a substantially improved player at the end of 2019. You can see Happ’s struggles most clearly in the FanGraphs rolling wOBA chart, as a reminder, wOBA is just a fancy on-base percentage that gives you more credit for extra base hits than walks (because those have better game outcomes):
I also included his K rate in this chart because the two track each other pretty closely. As Happ has gotten the strikeouts under control you’ll notice that his peaks are less high, but his valleys are also less low. Both are good developments because it makes him a more consistently above average player. That same chart limited to just 2022 shows a vastly improved player with a season long strikeout rate of 23.2 percent (12.9 percent lower than his career worst in 2018) and a well above average .339 wOBA.
Couple that with a gold glove in left field and I am very interested in seeing if the Cubs can come to extension terms with Happ, who at 28 likely still has a few years before he declines.
Nico Hoerner is an above average shortstop
I will admit that I was skeptical of Nico Hoerner’s ability to stick at shortstop coming into the 2022 season. Maybe it’s because I’d seen so much of Javy there, and Nico is basically the anti-Javy. Where Javy is uncanny quick twitch ability, incredible instincts and tools so loud that they sometimes result in unintended consequences, Nico is methodical, process-oriented and with a plus tool set that absolutely plays, but maybe doesn’t scream at you as loud as some of the other shortstops in the league. But outs above average (OAA) do not lie and Nico Hoerner had more of them than every other shortstop in MLB in 2022 except one:
There are a lot of interesting things going on in that chart, and please forgive me for just screenshotting the whole thing and including it, but first, it’s notable just how good Nico was in 2022. Second, while Cubs free agent target Dansby Swanson has substantially more OAA than any other SS it’s notable that he’s much better in and to his right than back and to his left. Nico, on the other hand, was a plus defender everywhere but deep in the hole.
Which leads me to one other table, the Statcast arm strength leaderboard at shortstop:
Now, clearly Nico is less of a standout here, but at 15th in MLB he looks like a guy who can stick at shortstop or be an outstanding second baseman if he needs to move off short. More notably, two of the big four SS free agents don’t appear on this list at all. Xander Boegarts is 34th on the list, just ahead of Wander Franco and Corey Seager. Dansby Swanson is 48th on this list, just behind David Fletcher and ahead of Dylan Moore.
Hayden Wesneski’s debut
This summer my parents visited Wrigley Field with me for the first time and by chance the game we got to see together was Hayden Wesneski’s debut. I was able to get tickets behind home plate and we had a view of this absolutely filthy performance from the 24-year-old the Cubs acquired from the Yankees for Scott Effross:
It was one of the strongest debuts I’ve ever seen at Wrigley Field, and I’ve had the privilege of witnessing a few over the last eight years that I’ve lived in Chicago. Being able to share that experience with my parents for their first trip to the Friendly Confines felt like a gift from the universe, some higher power ensuring my parents would have not just a memorable night at one of baseball’s greatest cathedrals, but a truly historically notable one.
Wesneski threw five complete innings of two-hit baseball. He walked one guy and struck out eight. While this is not actual footage of my reaction to the game, it pretty much sums it up:
Christopher Morel introduces himself (literally) to MLB
Christopher Morel debuted on May 17 with a leadoff home run that elicited one of the all time great reactions from Willson Contreras and yes, we are going to watch that again [VIDEO].
He started his career with a franchise record on-base streak (previous record holder, Contreras) and honestly all of the above is fun, amazing and not my favorite thing about Christopher Morel, because watching him literally introduce himself to the entire league is the most heartwarming amazing thing in baseball and I will die on this hill:
This highlight reel of his first 20 games is truly the stuff of legend. It even made me smile when he introduced himself to Yadi Molina, because Morel is just that type of guy. Here’s to Morel adjusting at the plate a bit and reintroducing himself to MLB in 2023:
Willson Contreras walks it off, one last time
After a tumultuous summer of trade deadline worries, rumors, woes and about forty-seven standing ovations, Willson Contreras was still a Cub, for at least a few final months. Contreras has never done anything small in his life, so this season saw him hit a grand slam for his 100th career homer, but August 20th was still a big day, even by the standard of a man who went off against the White Sox at the Friendly Confines on his bobblehead day. Early in the game, Contreras became the only Cubs catcher in history to hit 20 home runs in four different seasons with this shot [VIDEO].
But late in the game, the Cubs were trailing before Nick Madrigal hit an RBI-single to tie it with two outs in the ninth. The Cubs and Brewers traded Manfred Man runs through the 10th and the top of the 11th, when Willson Contreras came to the plate with runners on second and third with two outs [VIDEO]:
I was at this game, hanging out with friends a few rows behind the Cubs dugout and while I do not have statistical proof of this, I promise you I let out a scream of joy that could be heard in Milwaukee:
The greatest thing on the internet today. pic.twitter.com/oY9YIC1mS4— Sara Sanchez (@BCB_Sara) August 20, 2022
Share the Cubs moments you are most thankful for with us in the comments below and I wish all of you a happy and safe Thanksgiving.