Grading the Chicago Cubs After the 1st Quarter of the Season

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Grading  the Chicago Cubs After the 1st Quarter of the Season
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So far in 2013, the Chicago Cubs have been the epitome of a “head-scratcher.”  There are times when you watch them play, look at their record and think to yourself, “Yep, that’s about right.”

Then, there are other times that you watch them play, look at their record and think, “What? They cannot be that bad, can they?

(BaseballReference.com’s Pythagorean W-L formula shows the Cubs record should be 19-21 rather than their actual 17-23.)

It also seems like in each individual game, a different facet of baseball is what influences the outcome; hitting, fielding, starting pitching, relief pitching, etc.

Almost as if for three or four games, they cannot make a play when it matters, then they go through a stretch of three games that when a play needs to be made, it’s made.  As soon as it appears they have a grasp on some aspect of the game, they regress, only to rebound for two or three games after the fact.

When I was in elementary school, the district used a simple grading scale for students through the third grade of satisfactory (S), in progress (I) and the dreaded unsatisfactory (U).

This season the Cubs have racked up their fair share of all three.

Their performance has not been static in 2013 causing the would-be grades for each different component of the team—and in some cases, players—to be fluid. 

At times, they have played well enough to earn a grade of “S.”  Then there are times when each and every player receives an overall grade of “U.” 

But throughout the first 40 or so games, the different aspects of the club and the players have not provided the necessary grounds to grade the team as being satisfactory or unsatisfactory.  That is why I have decided to give the Cubs the grade of “I.”

To see part of the reason why I have concluded to grade the Cubs as “incomplete,” we should take a look at the two of the highest profile Cubs: Anthony Rizzo and Jeff Samardzija. 

First up, Rizzo.

Through the first quarter of the season, it would be illogical to bestow a grade of either “S” or “U” upon the young slugger.

To begin the season, Rizzo struggled at the plate.  Through the first 21 games, his stat line was 173/.256/.420 with 14 hits, six HRs, 14 RBI and 26 strikeouts.  Ergo, “unsatisfactory.”

His early season struggles culminated with a woeful performance April 25 at the Miami Marlins; going 0-4, striking out three times.

Then, he made a slight adjustment before the next day’s game against the Marlins. 

“With 75-100 friends and family looking on, Rizzo might have found his swing in Miami,” writes Jesse Rogers of ESPNChicago.com.

That night, Rizzo went 3-4 with two home runs and four RBI.  In the same ESPNChicago.com article, Rizzo was quoted as saying:

It was a good day, especially looking at the video after the game…The swing is where I want it to be. Now it’s just staying consistent with it...It’s going to sound stupid but the single there in my last at-bat was probably my favorite one because I stayed inside the ball.

Since, and including, that April 26 game against the Marlins, Rizzo has had a stat line of .392/.451/.635 with 29 hits, three HRs, 15 RBI and only eight strikeouts in 19 games.  Ergo, “satisfactory.”

Combining the quality of the two splits, Rizzo’s grade would be an “I.”  His first half of the first quarter was nowhere near deserving of satisfactory, and the latter of the first quarter of the season is in no way unsatisfactory.

Now, take a look at Samardzija.

Samardzija is an example of a player deserving an “S,” then a “U,” then an “S,” then…you see where this is going. 

I understand the argument of grading Samardzija as satisfactory, but so far this season, Samardzija has been reminiscent of Kerry Wood in the sense that he’ll have a couple or three good starts—then gets blown up in one start.  To me, that inconsistency is unsatisfactory.

He had a great start against Pittsburgh and then struggled against Atlanta.  He had a decent start against the Giants but then had a shaky start against Milwaukee.

Samardzija followed up that start with a great outing in Cincinnati.  Then he had two decent home starts against San Diego and Cincinnati, before getting crushed by the Nationals and bouncing back again in a great outing against the Rockies in his most recent appearance.

As you see, while there are some good aspects of Samardzija’s first quarter, there are also some negative.  This is why I would give him a grade of “I”; because I cannot say he has performed satisfactory, but under no circumstances can I say he has been unsatisfactory.

And while Rizzo and Samardzija are just two examples of the numerous players and areas of the club—hitting, fielding, base running, starting and relief pitching—chosen to illustrate why I have decided to grade the Cubs’ first quarter of the season as “in progress,” I believe the Cubs have satisfactorily met the unsatisfactory expectations that were held to them before the season began.

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