I thought I’d take a break from the drumbeat of little or no news on the MLB labor front and take a dive into Cubs history.
Let me begin by saying I am not writing this article to disparage any of these players. They’re all good MLB players — in fact, some had really good years, and even with the Cubs — but they had one season which ranked in the bottom 10 by bWAR in Cubs franchise history, since 1920.
Why 1920? Because prior to 1920, the minimum requirement to qualify for the batting title — which is the criterion I used to look up these players — was:
a player must have appeared in 60% of the team’s games to qualify for a title. This number was rounded to the nearest integer.
Dode Paskert posted -1.1 bWAR for the Cubs in 1919. He appeared in 88 games, with 309 plate appearances. The 1919 season was 140 games, thus he cleared the 60 percent bar by a small margin (62.8 percent). That’s not even close to what a modern player would have to do to qualify, thus I made the cutoff year 1920. Paskert is the only player since 1900 who had a bWAR low enough to make this list who I’m leaving off.
Also, you might recall this 2018 article in which I posted the 10 best seasons in Cubs history, by bWAR, since 1901, so I have noted those here previously.
Now, on to the rest of the list, and we’ll start with the “best” of these negative bWAR figures.
Larry Bowa, 1982, -0.9 bWAR
Bowa, as you know, came over to the Cubs prior to the 1982 season from the Phillies along with some kid named Ryne Sandberg. Bowa was one of Dallas Green’s Philly favorites and was expected to provide veteran leadership. That he did, but he really couldn’t hit much at all. His .305 slugging percentage was the worst in the NL that year. Oddly, the next-worst was the player Bowa and Sandberg were traded for, Ivan De Jesus (.313). Bowa would have a better year in 1983, posting 3.0 bWAR.
Don Hoak, 1956, -0.9 bWAR
The Cubs acquired Hoak from the Dodgers before the ‘56 season, along with with Russ Meyer and Walt Moryn, for Don Elston and Randy Jackson. This was not a good trade, though the Cubs eventually got Elston back.
Hoak had posted 2.5 bWAR as a part time player for the World Series champion Dodgers in 1955 (not that anyone knew what WAR was back then). The Cubs thought they were getting a guy they could slot in at third base for several years, as he was 27 at the time of the deal.
Apparently, Hoak absolutely hated being a Cub, said former Cubs pitcher (and Hoak teammate) Jim Brosnan:
“Don Hoak played for the Brooklyn Dodgers, a very good team, before he was traded to the Cubs, a very bad one,” remembers Brosnan from his home in suburban Chicago. “It was hard for Hoak to relate. As far as he was concerned, he went right from Brooklyn to Pittsburgh without ever stopping in Chicago.
“He refused to accept that he was a Cub. He had nothing but obscene words for the Cubs and their organization; he even hated (former club owner) P.K. Wrigley.
“Hoak,” he concludes, “is quite possibly the only man who ever conquered his Cubness.”
Hoak wasn’t totally wrong. As you know, the Cubs of the mid-1950s were awful. He apparently demanded a trade and got one. The Cubs sent him to the Reds, along with Warren Hacker and Pete Whisenant, for Ray Jablonski and Elmer Singleton. He eventually played for another World Series winner, the 1960 Pirates.
Darwin Barney, 2013, -1.1 bWAR
This was the year after Barney won a Gold Glove and tied a record for consecutive errorless games at second base. In 2012, Barney managed 4.6 bWAR despite batting only .276/.313/.353. That WAR figure was 13th-best in the NL.
But his batting crashed in 2013, his OPS dropping by 84 points. If he could have only hit like he did in 2012, he’d have had a long career as a Cub, his defense was that good. Here are four minutes of Barney defensive highlights:
Mickey Morandini, 1999, -1.1 bWAR
This was very much like Barney’s downfall. Morandini hit well enough to produce a 3.9 bWAR season and he finished 24th in NL MVP voting in 1998 for the NL Central champion Cubs. Like Barney, his offense cratered the following year, dropping 117 OPS points. He left the Cubs via free agency after the 1999 season and went back to the Phillies, where the Cubs had acquired him for Doug Glanville. Morandini had one last mediocre season split between Philadelphia and Toronto, then retired.
Eddie Miksis, 1953, -1.1 bWAR
Miksis was never really that good a player and his defense was mediocre. He hit well enough for a couple years after the Cubs got him from the Dodgers in the disastrous Andy Pafko trade to play regularly, but his 1953 season was pretty awful.
Jerry Martin, 1980, -1.2 bWAR
This was all defense. Martin hit pretty well in 1980: .227/.281/.419 with 22 doubles and 23 home runs (the latter a career high), but his defense was atrocious. The defense accounted for -2.1 bWAR, negating a small positive batting WAR number.
This is largely because the Cubs didn’t really have a center fielder in 1980 and Martin was forced into the role, for which he was truly unsuited. He started 98 games in center field and the other Cubs starting CF in 1980 were Carlos Lezcano, Jesus Figueroa and Scot Thompson.
Things are better now.
Ivan de Jesus, 1981, -1.3 bWAR
This would have been worse if not for the strike. It was weird, too. From 1977-80 de Jesus hit .272/.339/.353 in 632 games, played good defense and stole 133 bases, posting 9.5 bWAR. He just fell off a cliff offensively in 1981, posting a .509 OPS which was by far the worst of any qualifying batter in the NL that year.
Even with that, the Phillies still wanted him and if not for that, the Cubs wouldn’t have acquired Ryne Sandberg.
Alfonso Soriano, 2009, -1.6 bWAR
This one surprised me. Soriano played well for the Cubs in 2007 and 2008, combining for 6.3 bWAR for those two seasons.
He was injured much of 2009 after running into the wall in left field in April, and playing through it. He still managed a .726 OPS with 20 home runs in 117 games, but that was his worst OPS number in a full season to that point. It was largely defense that made his WAR figure that low — -1.9 bWAR defensively.
Ronny Cedeno, 2006, -1.7 bWAR
This was the only season in Cedeno’s career where he played 150+ games, and it was largely because of his defense. The guy just couldn’t hit. He batted .245/.271/.339 and walked just 17 times and struck out 109 in 572 plate appearances.
This is why he spent most of 2007 at Triple-A Iowa and never came back to the majors full-time with the Cubs. Eventually they traded him to the Mariners for Aaron Heilman.
Well, look at it this way: That deal didn’t work out for either team.
Cedeno is still an active player — he’s 38 and currently with a winter ball team in Caracas in his native Venezuela, where baseball-reference says he’s batting .275/.337/.360 in 41 games.
Keith Moreland, 1986, -1.7 bWAR
This surprised me, as Moreland had been a productive player for the previous five years with the Cubs. But his power dropped in 1986, with his SLG under .400, and his defense, never good, suffered that year. He’d have made a perfect designated hitter, if the NL had the rule at the time.
Moreland recovered to have a 1.4 bWAR season with the Cubs in 1987, when he hit a career-high 27 home runs. (Look it up, though, a LOT of players had career highs in home runs in ‘87, and likely that was due to a “rabbit ball” used that year.)
In February 1988 the Cubs traded Moreland and Mike Brumley to the Padres for Goose Gossage and Ray Hayward, yet another deal that didn’t really work out for either team.