Cubs 2018 First Half Grades: Position Players

Well, it’s hard to believe, but this weekend will mark the halfway point of the season. The Cubs are in contention, though most fans would agree that they have not played up to expectations. Here are my midseason grades for position players.

Chris Gimenez: Incomplete. There’s not enough of a sample size to draw much of a conclusion, though Gimenez has a reputation as a solid backup catcher. He’s not a factor at the plate, going just 3-for-26 with no extra base hits and one RBI so far.

Victor Caratini: Incomplete. With Willson Contreras playing so often, I understand there wasn’t enough opportunity for Caratini to develop before the team sent him back to the minors. Still, it’s too bad because I think he’ll hit enough to be a starter at the major league level and also can serve as a backup for Anthony Rizzo at first base. Assuming Contreras continues to have a hold on the starting job, Caratini may be used to acquire help at the trade deadline.

Tommy La Stella: B. Overall, La Stella has been a solid bat off the bench, though he’s struggled in the month of June at just 4-for-32. He’s also walking less frequently than he was last year, while he’s shown almost no extra-base power: After a combined 28 extra base hits over the past two years, he has just two this year, both doubles. Given that he’s the least-used batter besides the backup catcher, maybe that’s nitpicking a little.

Ian Happ: C. I still feel like the team called him up too soon last year, and there have been many times where it still looks like he’s overmatched at the plate. Eighty-six strikeouts in just 229 plate appearances is not good, while his BA and SLG are both down from last year. One reason to be optimistic: After drawing 39 walks last year, he’s already drawn 36 this year. We also need to give him credit for being willing to play several different positions, even if he’s not an elite defender.

Ben Zobrist: A-. After what may have been the worst season of his career in 2017, Zobrist has reinvented himself nicely in the latter part of his career. He’s not the run producer he once was, but his .290 BA would each be his highest since 2009, when he was an All-Star, while his .381 OBP would be the second-highest. It appears that the Cubs have found the leadoff hitter they’ve been seeking since Dexter Fowler left.

Albert Almora, Jr.: A. We knew coming into this season that Almora had the potential to be a decent major league player, but only the most optimistic of fans would have predicted he’d have a .792 OPS halfway through the season. On defense, it seems like he makes highlight-reel plays every time he’s in the lineup. Joe Maddon has received a lot of criticism for not playing Almora more, but as successful as he’s been at the plate this year, perhaps Maddon is using him in just the right manner.

Kyle Schwarber: B. He gets a decent grade largely because his defensive play in the outfield has been one of the most pleasant surprises of the first half. Last year, he finished with a -1.4 defensive WAR; this year, it’s at 0.5 at the halfway mark. His offense is difficult to evaluate, however. His OBP is up from .315 last year to .359, while he should match last year’s home run and RBI totals. But it seems like he should be doing more damage at the plate, and I’m sure the team would like to see his .237 BA improve.

Jason Heyward: B. We can give credit to Heyward for finally finding his stroke after more than two years of basically being a #8 hitter, but let’s not get carried away. He was batting .222 as recently as May 28, while the lack of power (just four home runs) is still a disappointment. And while he’s still strong on defense, he appears to be losing a step; with a 0.4 defensive WAR, he’s on pace for his lowest total since 2011.

Willson Contreras: B-. It’s been a somewhat disappointing year for Contreras at the plate. While he’s still getting on base (.357 OBP vs. .356 last year), his SLG is down 60 points, from .499 to .439. I think we all expected more than six home runs and 29 RBIs at the halfway point. Contreras continues to be a presence on defense, with a 1.1 defensive WAR.

Addison Russell: B-. One pleasant surprise with Russell is that he’s raised his OBP by 49 points over last year to .353, still 32 points higher than his stellar 2016 campaign. But like Contreras, the lack of run production has been a major disappointment. Russell’s .397 SLG  would be his lowest since 2015, while he has just four home runs and 21 RBIs. Defense continues to be strong, with a 1.6 defensive WAR.

Javier Baez: A-. We need to come to terms with the fact that Baez is never going to be a patient hitter. Despite the .322 OBP, which is around what we’ve come to expect, Baez has become a legitimate middle-of-the-order run producer, on pace for a 30 homer, 100 RBI season while improving his SLG 82 points over last year to .562. Meanwhile, he continues to provide us with lots of highlights on defense. It took longer than expected, but it looks like Baez is on the verge of becoming an elite player.

Kris Bryant: C. While he hasn’t been awful, Bryant’s AVG, OBP, and SLG are all down from last year, while he’s on pace for fewer walks and more strikeouts. Of particular concern is the lack of power, with just nine home runs and his SLG down by more than 50 points. Lack of clutch hitting also continues to be a point of criticism; in what Baseball Reference calls “Late & Close” situations, Bryant’s AVG/OBP/SLG line is a meager .190/.306/.333 with zero home runs and just four RBIs. A better second half from the former MVP is as critical as any factor in getting the Cubs back to the playoffs.

Anthony Rizzo: D. Rizzo has somehow been able to accumulate 53 RBIs, but other than that it has not been pretty. Amazingly, Rizzo has just 23 extra base hits; he had 30 in half a season back in 2012, his first year with the team. Also, his OPS has plummeted from .899 last year to .764 this year. His failure to adjust to the infield shift has been a major concern, as he’s hitting a mind-numbing amount of ground balls right at the “short right field” defender. Simply put, Rizzo needs to step up his game in the second half.

Brian Johnston is the author of the book The Art of Being a Baseball Fan, his story of following the 2015 Chicago Cubs, available on Amazon. He lives in St. Joseph, Michigan with his wife and two children.