Yesterday, we looked at the hitters. Today, we hand out first half grades to the pitchers.
Mike Montgomery: F. After being a reliable swingman over the past couple of seasons, Montgomery for the most part has been anything but reliable out of the bullpen this year. His 5.67 ERA would be by far the worst of his career, while he’s allowed 44% of inherited runners to score. Two big reasons he’s struggled: His strikeout-to-walk ratio has fallen from 2.21 last year to 1.38 this year, while he’s given up six home runs in just 27 innings this year after allowing ten in 124 innings last year. Rubbing salt into the wound: Daniel Vogelbach, who the Cubs traded to get Montgomery, is an All-Star for the Mariners.
Tyler Chatwood: C. Chatwood was becoming a decent bullpen option before being pressed into starting duty with the injuries to the Cubs rotation. His two June starts did not go well, though, and after having a 2.76 ERA through May he posted a 7.98 ERA in June, allowing batters to hit .345 against him. At least the walks have come down, from 8.2 per nine innings to a manageable yet still too high 5.2 this year. Hopefully he can return to the bullpen and perform well in the second half.
Kyle Ryan: B. Ryan has quietly emerged as a decent option from the left side on a team that badly needs them, though he’s been effective against both right and left-handed batters. Ryan was especially solid in June: Before allowing a run on June 30, he had gone 10.1 straight innings without allowing a run. Ryan has allowed just four hits – with no extra base hits – in 20 at-bats in what Baseball Reference calls “high leverage” situations. More than half of his at-bats have been in “low leverage” situations, so maybe he’ll get the ball with the game on the line more in the second half.
Brad Brach: F. Brach was supposed to be the team’s big bullpen acquisition this offseason. Instead, he’s posting by far the worst ERA of his career. His ERA was 2.41 was late as May 18, but since then he’s posted a 9.92 while allowing batters to hit at a .371 clip. Walks have also been an issue: He’s allowed 25 of them in 35 innings. As a result, Brach hasn’t been getting the ball in many high-pressure situations.
Brandon Kintzler: A. Expectations weren’t too high after he struggled down the stretch last year. But Kintzler has been a pleasant surprise, posting a 2.04 ERA while allowing just 17% of inherited runners to score. Currently, he hasn’t allowed a run in his last 14 innings pitched. His 5.3 hits per nine innings would be by far the best mark of his career, while his 3.88 strikeout to walk ratio would be his best since 2011 (when he only pitched 14.2 innings).
Steve Cishek: A-. Cishek is having another solid year, and he’s posted a 1.91 ERA since April 28. In high leverage situations, opponents are batting .180, while he’s allowed a .280 SLG in such situations. Joe Maddon has not hesitated to give Cishek the ball with the game on the line, and for the most part, Cishek has rewarded him.
Pedro Strop: C+. Strop has had a tremendous career as a middle reliever for the Cubs, but this has been his most difficult season so far, as they’ve relied on him more in the ninth inning than ever before and he’s missed time due to injury. Still the overall numbers are not horrible, and he’s been better as of late, working on a stretch of six straight scoreless outings, the last four in the eighth inning. Overall, he’s allowed nine earned runs in 14.1 innings in the ninth, while he hasn’t allowed an earned run in 6.1 innings elsewhere. Perhaps with Craig Kimbrel on the roster, Strop will feel more comfortable in the second half.
Jon Lester: C+. It’s been an up-and-down year for Lester, who’s looked brilliant at times and has looked awful at others. He’s had five outings in which he’s allowed at least four earned runs, yet his ERA is a respectable if not great 3.72 (last year it was 3.32). One big problem has been the home run ball: With 15 allowed, he could set a career high (currently 26 in 2017). Lester is a candidate to make the Hall of Fame, but he’s likely going to have to do a little bit more to have a serious chance. Hopefully he can step up and be the ace the team needs in the second half.
Kyle Hendricks: B. Overall, his numbers are about where we have come to expect them, with at least one exception: His 4.65 strikeout-to-walk ratio would be by far the best of his career. His best stretch of the year came in early May, when he allowed one earned run over 25 innings in three starts. Other than that, Hendricks has been mediocre. Having just come back from injury and given that the rotation as a whole has underperformed, the Cubs will need Hendricks to step up in the second half.
Yu Darvish: D. He’s spared an F because he’s stayed healthy and he’s turned in a decent outing here and there, but overall we haven’t seen much reason to believe that Darvish will ever again be the pitcher he once was. Twenty home runs allowed and 49 walks through half a season is a guaranteed recipe for disaster, and Darvish has struggled to keep his ERA below five for most of the season. The Cubs are paying him to be a front-line starter, but at this point he looks like a #5.
Cole Hamels: A-. It’s a shame Hamels got injured when he did, because he was on a roll. His 2.98 ERA would be his best mark since 2014, while he seemed to be getting better as the season was moving along. He’s had eight outings of at least seven innings, including five in a row in June before the start he had to leave early. Hopefully he’ll come back soon and be effective in the second half.
Jose Quintana: C. I still think trading Eloy Jimenez and Dylan Cease for Quintana was not a bad decision; Quintana simply has not performed to expectations since coming to the more pitcher-friendly National League. His 4.19 ERA this year would be the worst mark of his eight-year career. That being said, it hasn’t been all bad; he leads the team in innings pitched, while he’s allowed three earned runs or fewer in all but three of his starts. The problem is that the Cubs traded for him expecting a #2 starter, but he’s pitched more like a #4, #3 at best.