40 up, 40 down for the 2022 Chicago Cubs.
It’s always interesting to evaluate a team after a checkpoint has arrived, and 40 games seem like a good milestone for a baseball team.
The Cubs, at 16-24, are in a tie for third place with the Pittsburgh Pirates and trail the division-leading Milwaukee Brewers by 9.5 games. Things have gone about as expected so far after nearly two months. There’s been some good, plenty of bad, and some nice surprises along the way.
While there are still 122 games to be played, let’s quickly hand out some hardware to various Cubs at the quarter-season mark. Some names are certainly surprising.
The Numbers: 24 runs (1st on team), 5 homers (2nd), 14 RBI (4th), .382 on-base percentage (2nd), .458 slugging percentage (2nd), .840 OPS (1st)
Willson Contreras has done a little bit of everything offensively for the Cubs so far in 2022 and in a close race, he would get the team MVP nod so far.
Contreras is getting on base at the highest rate of his career (11.1 BB%), which has helped lead the team in runs scored. He has cut down his strikeouts drastically (20% strikeout rate in 2022; 28.6% in 2021) while increasing his walks, and his 16-to-29 walk-to-strikeout ratio is very solid.
Contreras is also hitting the ball harder than ever, which gives him a slight nod here as the team’s MVP. His hard-hit rate (balls hit over 95 mph) is 57.1%, which ranks in the 99th percentile across all hitters in baseball. He is also ranked in the 95th percentile in average exit velocity. Contreras seems destined to make his third All-Star team this July and is far and away the best offensive catcher in baseball through the first two months.
Contreras, in the final year of his current contract, is making the most out of his potential “walk year.”
The Numbers: 10 games (two starts, eight relief appearances), 1.54 ERA (1st on team), 1.00 WHIP (3rd), 35 innings (2nd), 31 strikeouts (3rd)
The Cubs’ front office would have liked to see a resurgence from Kyle Hendricks and have him in this section, or perhaps prized free-agent Marcus Stroman, but Keegan Thompson has stolen the spotlight of the Cubs’ pitching staff.
He has provided manager David Ross great versatility as both starter and long reliever and is putting up numbers that may place him on the National League All-Star team if it continues. He leads the team in WAR (Wins Above Replacement) at 2.0, per baseball-reference.com, and has been electric since early April.
Thompson has pitched at least 2.2 innings so far in every outing and has not allowed more than two earned runs in any appearance so far. Righties are hitting just .212 against him, while lefties are at a measly .208. At home, Thompson has been especially good, with a 1.09 ERA in 24 innings. He is establishing himself as a legitimate piece for the Cubs’ pitching staff of the future (and its present).
Rookie of the Year
The Numbers: 31 hits (2nd on team), 11 doubles (1st), 4 homers (3rd), 19 RBI (2nd), 18 walks (2nd), .342 on-base percentage (3rd), .444 slugging percentage (3rd), .787 OPS (3rd)
Suzuki burst onto the scene in a big way in April with a triple-slash line of .279/.405/.529 and earned quick praise across baseball and from fellow teammates, like Willson Contreras. He has cooled off dramatically since May began, however, with a .207 average, zero home runs, and just four walks drawn compared to 22 strikeouts.
The league has made its adjustments on Suzuki and the talk of Cooperstown has quieted down, but Suzuki has still provided good offense for this Cubs team. His .934 OPS in April was going to be difficult to sustain across six months, so give the 27-year-old rookie some time to re-adjust to the league in his first season in the United States.
If Suzuki can find the tremendous plate discipline he demonstrated in the first month (14 walks, 23 strikeouts), he can quickly get back on track and hopefully provide more power to a Cubs lineup desperately in need of some.
The Numbers: .991 fielding percentage, 1 error in 108 chances, 4 defensive runs saved above average, 0.6 defensive wins above replacement
Finding a team’s best defensive player sometimes requires digging deep into analytics and using more than just the naked eye, so the numbers above, though vague, hopefully accurately portray how good Hoerner has been defensively.
Obviously, only committing one error through 29 games is a very good thing and Hoerner’s four defensive runs saved above average is a deeper dive into his strong glove work so far. Though he is currently on the Injured List, Hoerner has shown the team that he may indeed have the defensive ability to be an everyday shortstop.
It will be interesting to see how playing time gets divvied up among Hoerner and veteran Gold Glove winner Andrelton Simmons, who has returned from injury and taken over the position in Hoerner’s absence. Manager David Ross will have to juggle the roles of both players and possibly use Hoerner as a designated hitter or third baseman, at times.
The Numbers: 19 games (1st on team), 2.04 ERA (4th), 0.96 WHIP (1st), 2 walks allowed (1st), 11.7 K/9 percentage (3rd)
Not expecting to see this name as the team’s best reliever?
Since Keegan Thompson was already featured above (and is a quasi-starter in the rotation), let’s give Effross the kudos he deserves and tab him the ‘Best Reliever’ so far in 2022.
The funky sidearm right-hander Effross, with a team-high 19 appearances, has given David Ross both a talented arm to use, and a durable one. In his 17.2 innings, Effross has produced great numbers for what is shaping up to be a great bullpen for the Cubs.
The Cubs have six relievers with ERA’s below 3.55, in Effross, David Robertson (1.88), Mychal Givens (3.52), Rowan Wick (1.80), Chris Martin (2.57), and Keegan Thompson (1.54), so this award could go to almost anyone. The Cubs’ bullpen has the 7th-best ERA in all of baseball at 3.27 and Effross has been a key contributor to that.
He gets the slight nod here for this award, based on his bullpen-high 17.2 innings and bullpen-low two walks issued. It goes without saying, but anytime a reliever can limit free passes in his outings, the better the results will be.
Check back in 40 games from now for a mid-season awards ceremony for the Cubs. It will be interesting to see which of the awards above have remained the same, and which have changed hands.