Now that the season has ended, it’s a good time to look at some of the best and worst Cubs of 2014 by checking out some advanced metrics. The cut-off used for this study is going to be 200 ABs (so I could include John Baker and Javier Baez, both of whom were just a little over 200 ABs for the year) and 30 IP for pitchers (to be sure to include Neil Ramirez and other relievers that had great years, but didn’t get used as much).
Most Valuable Cub (WAR)
Hitter: Anthony Rizzo-5.3 WAR
The Riz had one of the best seasons for a Cubs first baseman since Derek Lee called Wrigley home (side note, those numbers D-Lee put up in 2005 were insane!). Rizzo slashed .286/.386/.527 with 32 HRs and 78 RBI. He led the team in walks and cut down his K’s from 2013. He reaffirmed the belief that he is indeed a huge and important part of the core.
Pitcher: Jake Arrieta-4.9 WAR
Something definitely clicked for Arrieta this season as he finally put all that promise together and had his most-complete season as a pro. After missing the first month-plus, Jake came back with a vengeance to finish with 25 starts; he won 10 games while striking out almost 10 batters per 9 and walking just over 2 per 9. He was the ace of the staff and is now an exciting piece of the core. I am left to dream all off-season of paring Jake with Jon Lester and another arm for the makings of one heck of a dominant rotation.
Least Valuable Cub
Hitter: 3-Way Tie between Nate Schierholtz, Junior Lake, and John Baker: -0.9 WAR
These three all came in this year with their expectations: Nate had just come off a career year in 2013 and looked like a possible solution in RF, Junior Lake held his own in 2013 and looked like he could be a possible super-sub or at least a passable OF and John Baker was brought in just to back up Beef as a left-handed hitter. Schierholtz and Lake proved to be imposters that could not be counted on, Baker really didn’t disappoint (due to very low expectations), but he didn’t add much besides humor to the team.
Pitcher: James Russell: -0.2 WAR
James Russell began the year as one of the longest-tenured Cubs on the team. In 33.1 innings he put up a 4.27 FIP and walked a enormous 4.32 per 9. He was also only able to strand 51.7% of the runners on base…league average is around 70-72%. Luckily, he was moved on to ATL with Emilio Bonafacio in a deadline deal and he became the Braves’ property (he hasn’t done much better for them either).
Best Batters’ Eye (BB%)
Tie between Luis Valbuena and Anthony Rizzo: 11.9%
The at-bats these two provided for the Cubs were outstanding; both were also able to keep K% down while carrying solid slugging percentages (Valbuena .435 and Rizzo .527). All in all, they set great examples and were in control of the zone.
Worst Batters’ Eye
Junior Lake: 4.3%
Technically, Darwin Barney was the leader at 4.1%, but I wanted to focus more on the players that are still here so I went with Lake. Not only did he not walk much but he K’d in over 1/3 of his trips to the plate. Lake has always been raw, but I’m in the camp that thinks he is too raw to put it all together. He could be a sub, but even down the stretch he did not get much playing time, which leads me to think that the powers that be do not think highly of him either.
Best Control (BB/9)
Kyle Hendricks-1.68 BB/9
One of the things that stuck out the most to me after the Cubs acquired Hendricks from the Rangers was his control. He doesn’t strike out a ton of guys (5.27 K/9), but he kept his pitch count low during the season and really didn’t hurt himself with gopher balls (just .45 HR/9). The sparkling control he displayed in the minors carried over to the big leagues and he didn’t disappoint. As far as locks can go for next year, I would have no problem seeing Hendricks be part of the rotation in 2015.
Edwin Jackson-4.03 BB/9
This probably doesn’t come as a shock to anyone, but Edwin had some issues this season. He had an all-around terrible year and may have pitched himself out of the rotation for 2015. He has always been a stand-up guy though and never dodges the media after a rough start (read: every start), but the results do not match the salary and that usually ends in a break-up, which could very likely happen this winter.
Luckiest Hitter (BABIP)
Justin Ruggiano: .375 BABIP
Justin Ruggiano did very well in his limited healthy time during the season. He appeared in just 81 games and had a variety of lower body issues. He did finish the season with a .281 BA and slugged .429. I would say the Cubs got what they expected out of him this year. Some pop, less than average defense, and a handful of injuries. The team could do worse for a 4th outfielder, but I think with the injury concern and price tag, they may be better off going another direction. That may mean giving Matt Szczur a chance at it; at least he will give the team more on defense.
Mike Olt: .203 BABIP
Mike Olt came into the season in a timeshare at 3rd with Valbuena and actually did okay when the season first started. He didn’t hit for a high average (which was expected), but the power numbers were there. As the season progressed though, the power slowed and his average continued to fall lower and lower. He even had a stint back at AAA to see if he could right the ship.
Olt didn’t make a great deal of contact all year (K% of 38.8), but the contact he did make was impressive (12 HRs and an ISO of .196, second to only Anthony Rizzo). I don’t think the Cubs can view him as an everyday player, which may be why he is now going to work out in LF and RF in order to add some value to his bat as a sub.
Serving up BP (HR/9)
Edwin Jackson: 1.15 HR/9
Not to keep tearing a guy down, but two things were a given when Edwin Jackson started: he was going to walk several people and there was a very good chance that one of his pitches would leave the park. In fact, his HR/FB rate (measures percent of fly balls that leave the park as HRs) was 11.9%, which means that almost 12% of the time he gives up a fly ball that it will keep going until it is over the fence. I do think that this contract may be one that the front office would like a mulligan for.
Keeping it in the Park
Hector Rondon: 0.28 HR/9
Rondon was extremely stingy when it came to giving up the longball, allowing only two all season. His first one wasn’t until June 23rd to Devin Mesoraco of the Reds and even that one got a rating of 1 in number of parks in ESPN’s HR Tracker site, meaning with the conditions of the park that day, it only would have gone out of that park. His other HR was a no-doubt-about-it shot to Travis Snider of the Pirates; that hit would have left 28 different parks on that day.
Rondon had an amazing year, he didn’t walk many (2.13 BB/9), K’d several (8.95 K/9) and had an ERA of 2.42. All in all, a dominant season as the closer of the Cubs. It will very interesting to see how next season goes, as the ‘pen was an asset most of the season.
That is all the awards I’m handing out at this point for the 2014 Chicago Cubs. There were some great performances and some not-so-great ones (looking at you Edwin), but the season showed a great deal of promise for the future and I can’t wait to see what the team does this off-season.