Cubs Grades at the 2014 Three-Quarter Mark
It won't be long until MLB lists the elimination number for each team in the standings.
It also won't be long until that number is zero for the Chicago Cubs. Not that it's a huge surprise for fans of the Cubs.
This year was penned as a rebuilding and development year long before Opening Day. However, what has gotten fans through a difficult 2014 is not the play at Wrigley Field but rather the future of the team fielded at the Friendly Confines.
While some of the starting rotation has been decent, other aspects of the Cubs, such as the offense, have struggled. As we pass the three-quarter mark for the 2014 season, we look back at the first 75 percent of the season from top to bottom.
Compared with last season, the Cubs' offense hasn't been much different this year. Despite this, stars Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro have dramatically improved from their disappointing seasons in 2013. One could argue that either player is the most improved from last season across all of baseball. There was even a point in 2013 in which manager Dale Sveum mentioned that the possibility of demoting either of them to the minors wasn't out of the question.
Fast forward to 2014, and both players are All-Stars and hitting .280 or better and have a combined 39 home runs. In comparison, the two hit a combined .239 while being paid a total of over $7 million in 2013.
Generally speaking, the Cubs overall haven't improved much from 2013's offense. The team average has gone up only one point, from .238 to .239, better than only the Mets and Padres. Their on-base percentage is one point lower than last season, an abysmal .299.
Too bad .299 isn't their batting average.
Despite a .239 batting average, some players are hitting the ball well. Rizzo (.280), Castro (.285), Justin Ruggiano (.281) and Chris Coghlan (.286) lead the team in average for players with at least 200 at-bats. However, the rest of the lineup is the reason that the Cubs are hitting just .239.
After those five, Ryan Sweeney's .251 is the next-highest average on the team.
The Cubs have the third-most strikeouts in all of baseball with a disappointing 1,049 K's.
The Cubs downgraded on defense a bit by dumping their only Gold Glove-winner, Darwin Barney. However, that's not to say that the Cubs' defense is poor.
In fact, the Cubs hold the No. 9 fielding percentage in all of baseball. They're No. 7 overall in assists.
Only Starlin Castro has committed more than eight errors for the Cubs, but even that is an improvement. Castro committed 27, 29 and 27 errors in his first four seasons before dropping that number to 22 in 2013 and only 12 so far this year.
Perhaps the most negative statistic is that the Cubs lead the league in stolen bases allowed with 93 while throwing out only 20 would-be base stealers. However, it's important to note that 37 of those have come against backup catcher John Baker, who saw regular playing time while Welington Castillo was on the disabled list.
Starting Rotation: C
The Cubs' starting rotation also took a significant hit at the deadline when the team sent starting pitchers Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel to Oakland for the A's No. 1 prospect.
The team's ERA (excluding Samardzija's and Hammel's statistics) is 4.56, which would put the Cubs at No. 27 overall.
The Cubs did add a solid arm to the rotation by calling up rookie Kyle Hendricks. In six games started, Hendricks holds a 4-1 record and a 1.73 ERA. Travis Wood leads current starters with seven wins, but he's started four times as many games as Hendricks.
Rookie Tsuyoshi Wada has also been solid, posting a 2-1 record with a 3.15 ERA.
Last week, the Cubs made a bold statement by claiming Phillies starter Cole Hamels off of waivers, a positive sign that the team is willing to spend a bit to boost its starting rotation. Although the Phils ultimately pulled Hamels off of waivers, it was a good sign to see the Cubs address their pitching needs.
The struggle to find good help continues.
After signing Jose Veras in the offseason, the Cubs thought they had finally found a closer.
Fast forward to now, and Veras finds himself with the Houston Astros after blowing multiple saves for Chicago. The Cubs have the seventh-most blown saves in baseball with 17. Take away those 17 blown saves and the Cubs would be standing at a game above .500.
The bullpen's ERA currently stands at 3.53, though that's an improvement from its ugly 4.04 relief ERA in 2013.
The Cubs have made a few moves as of late with the additions of Felix Doubront and Jacob Turner. Between those additions and their claim of Cole Hamels from waivers, the Cubs look to be addressing their pitching next.
Front Office: B
Perhaps the most talked-about front office in baseball, the Cubs have stated their plans to rebuild the team in the hopes of suffering now to succeed later. Overall, the Cubs' farm system is quite strong, and the team seems to be making some solid moves toward contending in the future.
As mentioned before, the Cubs seem to know which topics to address as the team moves its focus toward pitching after solidifying multiple young options for infield and outfield.
The team has done a good job of avoiding risky, expensive deals and has instead spent as little money as possible on unproven players. Their large contracts for Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro appear to have been the right moves, and hopefully the team can use the money saved during their recent years of futility toward contending in the very near future.