When I am not blogging or writing critically acclaimed books about the Chicago Cubs, my “real” job is as a Social Studies teacher. This fall I will begin my 24th year as an educator. It is for this reason, that I use the prototypical A-F grading scale when assessing most things in life; a movie, television shows, music, food…anything! I find this grading system much better than using say…stars. The A-F system seems more tangible to me, and it allows the nuance of using pluses and minuses. The differing variation this system permits allows more accuracy and meaning…in my opinion. However, before I use this system to evaluate the performance thus far of the 2014Chicago Cubs, I have to add a caveat…I rarely award anything an A+. An A+ has to be absolutely flawless…two examples would be The Sopranos and Goodfellas (yes…I find the mafia interesting!). I just realized that I really didn’t need to even address my A+ theory, because the Cubs have no A+ players.
For the purpose of this exercise, I am only going to grade players who are currently on the roster (like a class roster I suppose)…so Jeff Samardzija, Jason Hammel, and Jose Veras(yuck!) will not be graded. So here goes…to debate, laugh at, or agree with…my assessment of the 2014 Chicago Cubs at the All-Star break:
NEIL RAMIREZ A
Ramirez has been dominant, as evident by his 11.9 K’s per 9 rate. The question going forward is whether the Cubs will keep him in the ‘pen or try him in the rotation? At this point, Ramirez is the most valuable commodity from the Garza trade.
ARISMENDY ALCANTARA A
Yes, I know, I know…very small sample size, but he is currently on the roster. For five Major League games, Alcantara has been phenomenal (1.139 OPS). Aside from the limited stats, by the “eye test” the kid looks like a player to me…smooth in everything he does.
JAKE ARRIETA A
Considering that only Clayton Kershaw was more dominant over the last month and a half, Arrieta gets an A even with a smaller sample size due to an early season injury. Arrieta leads the Cubs in most advanced metrics on Fangraphs…even when including the two Oakland cast-offs.
ANTHONY RIZZO A-
A great first half, but Rizzo’s OPS has dipped below the .900 mark recently…and I would like to see him cut down the K’s just a smidge.
JAMES RUSSELL B+
Here’s hoping he has pitched himself into a trade (an LOB percentage of 82%!)…a couple of early outings keep Russell from an A-.
STARLIN CASTRO B
His awful, inexcusable base-running decision on Sunday made me drop him from a B+. I have been a Starlin defender all year but that miscue (making the 1st out on a passed ball with the bases loaded), should never happen. His walks are up, power numbers are good, yet not enough defensive improvement to warrant an A-.
WESLEY WRIGHT B
If you like advanced metrics like WPA (winning percentage added by the pitcher), then Wrights numbers aren’t quite as good as they look…in 8 of his 34 appearances he has decreased the Cubs chances of winning. His recent numbers have been good, and he is a flip candidate as well.
HECTOR RONDON B
Rondon’s grade probably should be higher (I like to be tough on pitchers…I have had complaints from parents), but apparently Hector did something to the BAPIP family. While all of his other numbers have improved remarked ably, the .358 BAPIP seems to be a statistical anomaly.
LUIS VALBUENA B
This grade would have been higher without a bit of a tailspin lately, but I have personally done a 180 on Luis…his defensive metrics aren’t awful, he is versatile, and he has some of the better at bats on the squad. Valbuena would be the prototypical Oakland A’s type player.
EMILIO BONIFACIO B (currently on DL)
I really don’t think his first two weeks fooled many Cubs’ fans into thinking he was going to challenge Ted Williams .406…but even after cooling off (in a big way), Bonifacio still has value…to the Cubs or another club. I am in the minority, but I would like to see the Cubs’ sign him to a reasonable 2-3 year contract. His versatility and elite speed make him an asset…and we can’t trade ALL of the veterans.
PEDRO STROP B-
Strop’s 15.4 % HR/FB ratio stands out like a big zit. (Sorry…how about a mole, or a wart?) Strop is one of those maddening guys that looks so, so nasty on occasion. Strop is a possible flip candidate.
JUSTIN RUGGIANO & CHRIS COGHLAN C+
I am grading these two together because these two former Marlins’ stats are almost identical! They are like twins, except one bats right-handed and the other is a lefty. I actually think Ruggiano’s early season injury hurt the Cubs more than we realized…both are now possibly trade bait.
BRIAN SCHLITTER C+
Yes, he looks like Jesus…although I think he also looks like the lead singer from the fictional rock group Stillwater from the film Almost Famous….thus I refer to him as Jesus Stillwater or Fever Dog. (The group’s faux hit single) I have concerns with Schlitters’ low K rate of 4.68 regarding future success…but he has stranded 71% of runners and has a groundball rate of 57.5%. He has pitched well enough that apparently Ricky Renteria thinks he needs to pitch in every game.
WELLINGTON CASTILLO C+
Did anyone else notice that the Cubs’ best stretch of the season happened to be when John Baker and Eli Whiteside were doing the catching? Oh, definitely not for their offense…but the pitching was very good during that stretch. Castillo’s offense isn’t bad for a catcher, and I will admit that the C+ may be based on one play; when I saw Castillo gun down Billy Hamilton with ease. (Probably shouldn’t determine a grade based on one play)
JUSTIN GRIMM C
Grimm shows promise, and he may also suffer from Ricky’s “he can pitch every day plan”. I will throw out the metrics here and just offer an assessment based on the “eye test” again. Grimm’s fastball appears straight, and at 92-94 that won’t play as a reliever. I think a conversion back to a starter would be best for Grimm; work on command of that fastball, and develop complimentary pitches. He’s 25, so I still see much upside.
TRAVIS WOOD C
Yes…this might seem a bit high for a guy with a 4.96 ERA, but I am giving Travis a break. (Call him a teacher’s pet if you must) Wood still has 10 quality starts, and a couple of really, really (really) bad outings killed that ERA. I think he gets up to a solid B- by the end of the term. (season)
CARLOS VILLANUEVA C-
That Carlos gets a passing grade at all may anger some people, but he also has a high BAPIP (.369). At this point in his career Carlos seems to be able to fool a team once through the line-up, which is…ahem…a little tough to do as a starter.
NATE SCHIERHOLTZ D+
A very slow start, coupled with a career year in 2013 needs to factor into Schierholtz grade not being a bit lower. However, I can’t sugar coat a .564 OPS for an outfielder.
JOHN BAKER D+
With Baker’s paltry offense, I can’t believe I am passing him. Here’s why; he was Hammel’s personal catcher, and that worked out pretty well…so Baker avoids the F.
JUNIOR LAKE & MIKE OLT D+
There two are long overdue for parent/teacher conferences! Their prodigious pop keeps them passing, but their at bats are really tough to watch right now. Here is what I can’t figure out; are they being coached?…and if they are, they must not be listening. I was only a high school coach, but I am confident that I see things in their approach and mechanics that should be altered. These two are way too young to give up on.
EDWIN JACKSON D
Cubs’ fans favorite punching bag has once again been a huge disappointment. I won’t even get into ALL of the (mostly ugly) numbers, just this…he needs to at least start getting 6 innings in his starts. Complaining about his contract is silly, $11-13 million a year for 2 years…please…do we forget 2010 when we had Zambrano, Sori, Fukudome, and a washed up D-Lee…eating up over $80 million? From all accounts he’s a great teammate, just let him pitch and hope (pray?) for the best.
DARWIN BARNEY D
Yes, he still makes defensive plays that make me go “wow”, and he is a slightly (emphasis on slight) better offensive player than he has shown. Yet he has had the better part of four seasons to hit now…it’s time to pull the plug. Alcantara, or any of the other 50 Cubs’ infield prospects with more offensive upside, need to start getting at bats.
RYAN SWEENEY F
Why is he on the team? That is all.
DALLAS BEELER, TSUYOSHI WADA, CHRIS RUSIN, & KYLE HENDRICKS INC.
These players have basically just been added to the class.
BILL MUELLER (HITTING COACH) INC.
Too early for me to make an accurate assessment…Castro, Rizzo making huge bounce backs, but I see some of the same things over and over again(Lake & Olt). Chris Coghlan recently credited him for his resurgence…so I will wait until the end of the year to assess Mr. Mueller.
CHRIS BOSIO (PITCHING COACH) A
This is the third straight year that Bosio has turned a project into a very valuable flip candidate…and more pitchers seem to be improving than regressing. The guy is doing something right.
RICKY RENTERIA C
Some may feel he deserves more time as well…but personally I have been frustrated with his over managing of the bullpen. I realize that Wood and Jackson rarely give him 6 innings, and he HAS to use the pen…but I have seen many games when he has used 5-6 pitchers and could have easily done it with 3-4. The bullpen wearing out this season won’t matter much, unless one of them gets injured. On the positive, you have to give him partial credit for the Castro/Rizzo bounce backs. Renteria also appears to be an upgrade over Svuem in how he deals with the media. My gut says he will be okay…of course I thought the same about Mike Quade. (I kid, I kid!)
Now it’s your turn! Agree, disagree, tell me I am stupid…I am very interested to hear your opinions,
…class dismissed. (I don’t think I have ever said that in 24 years…kids just get up and leave at the bell…looking at their phones as they walk out the door.)