2022 Season Review: Chicago Cubs

Check out my 2022 Season Preview Article for the Cubs here.

Image: Larry Radloff / Icon Sportswire

2022 Record: 74-88 (.457 win%, 3rd in Division)

2022 Payroll: 166,068,737 (14th)

2022 Lineup:

1. C Willson Contreras, .243 AVG/.349 OBP/.466 SLG, 3.9 fWAR

2. 1B Alfonso Rivas, .235 AVG/.322 OBP/.307 SLG, 0.5 fWAR

3. 2B Nick Madrigal, .249 AVG/.305 OBP/.282 SLG, 0.7 fWAR

4. SS Nico Hoerner, .281 AVG/.327 OBP/.410 SLG, 4.5 fWAR

5. 3B Patrick Wisdom, .207 AVG/.298 OBP/.426 SLG, 0.9 fWAR

6. LF Ian Happ, .271AVG/.342 OBP/.440 SLG, 4.3 fWAR

7. CF Christopher Morel, .235 AVG/.308 OBP/.433 SLG, 1.4 fWAR

8. RF Seiya Suzuki, .262 AVG/.336 OBP/.433 SLG, 2.0 fWAR

9. DH Franmil Reyes, .234 AVG/.301 OBP/.389 SLG, 0.0 fWAR

10. OF Rafael Ortega, .241 AVG/.331 OBP/.358 SLG, 0.3 fWAR

2022 Rotation:

1. Marcus Stroman, 138.2 IP/3.50 ERA/1.147 WHIP, 2.5 fWAR

2. Justin Steele, 119.0 IP/3.18 ERA/1.353 WHIP, 2.0 fWAR

3. Drew Smyly, 106.1 IP/3.47 ERA/1.194 WHIP, 1.9 fWAR

4. Adrian Sampson, 104.1 IP/3.11 ERA/1.227 WHIP, 2.1 fWAR

5. Kyle Hendricks, 84.1 IP/4.80 ERA/1.292 WHIP, 0.5 fWAR

2022 Top 4 Relievers:

1. Rowan Wick, 64.0 IP/4.22 ERA/1.688 WHIP, 0.0 fWAR

2. Keegan Thompson, 115.0 IP/3.76 ERA/1.270 WHIP, 1.2 fWAR

3. Brandon Hughes, 57.2 IP/3.12 ERA/1.092 WHIP, 1.4 fWAR

4. Michael Rucker, 54.2 IP/3.95 ERA/1.280 WHIP, 0.5 fWAR

Regular Season Recap:

Going into the season, the Chicago Cubs had two goals in mind: find out who on their roster can help them in the next few seasons, and develop their deep prospect pool.

At the major league level, this team had trouble finding footing. A 17 game stretch in the spring saw them go from 6-4 to 9-18 in the span of 3 weeks, and having a 10 and a 9 game losing streak in June and July ended up having them as among the worst teams in the National League around All Star break. 

The early season play was plagued by a large amount of inconsistency, characterized by them averaging 3.8 runs per game in the 12 games before their 21-0 victory over the Pirates on April 22nd, only for them to then score 2.6 runs per game in their next 16. 

An early July slump had them at 34-57 a day after the break, 23 games under .500, tied with the Reds for last in the NL Central and 3rd worst record in baseball. An exodus of well performing players wouldn’t help much either, with David Robertson, Mychel Givens, and Scott Effross all turning their brief stints in Chicago and sub-2.70 ERAs into pitching for playoff teams. 

With no new influx of talent, it wasn’t out of the realm of possibility that this team might end up with next year’s #1 pick.

However, great late season performances saved this team from that humiliation. A 40-31 record the rest of the way, including an 11-4 stretch in August and a 16-6 stretch in their final 22, with sweeps over the Mets and Phillies, parlayed this season into giving Cubs fans a solid amount of hope, and allowed the team to enter the offseason on a high note.

This team was full of breakout performances and guys who just couldn’t get going. The acquisitions of Jonathan Villar and Andrelton Simmons didn’t go well, slashing .206/.259/.281 in 251 combined plate appearances. Frank Schwindel couldn’t parlay his 2021 breakout into anything, being well below league average in wOBA and xwOBA before being released. 

Kyle Hendricks, the staff’s ace for the past few seasons, struggled to get it going. He spent the first few months mired in being unable to create soft contact. His sweet spot % has gone up each of the last 4 seasons, culminating in the 40.5(!)% mark he posted this year in 84 innings. 

This gave him the distinction of being in the bottom 10% of the league in xwOBA and bottom 5% in xSLG, before he then missed the remainder of the season with a right shoulder strain. Hendricks hasn’t looked great the past few seasons, and there has to be serious concern if the struggles continue into next season. 

Nick Madrigal, the premier trade acquisition in the Craig Kimbrel deal in 2021, started off his Cubs career going 4-23 with one double. Two days later, he would have his best slash of the season, sitting at .281/.343/.344 after going 5-9. He followed that up with a .354 OPS – not OBP, OPS– in the next 15 games and spent much of the season hovering at around a .600 OPS. 

A back strain, left groin strain, and right groin strain plagued his first year after tearing his hamstring in 2021, so it isn’t shocking that he struggled to get on track. 

Patrick Wisdom, another veteran hero from the 2021 team, put together a shocking year, hitting 25 homers and posting a 102 OPS+ whilst also having the highest strikeout rate in the league and getting on base at around a quarter of the time. Rafael Ortega couldn’t follow up on his 2021 season either, as the 31 year-old had a 95 OPS+ and 0.3 bWAR in limited time before fracturing his finger in September. 

Jason Heyward’s painful stint in Chicago also came to an end, as his .556 OPS in 48 games before a right knee inflammation cost him the season culminated in the decision to move on from him following the 2022 season.

However, there were a few newcomers who were able to make their mark on the team. Marcus Stroman, after signing a 3 year, $71 million deal last offseason, improved from his slow start to be one of the better arms on the Cubs. His 5.32 ERA in early June was a big sign of concern, but after rehabbing a right shoulder injury, he posted a 2.56 ERA and 3.55 FIP in 91.1 innings, much more in line with his career totals. 

Drew Smyly, who signed with the Cubs in 2018 but missed the whole season with Tommy John, put together a 3.47 ERA and 4.23 FIP in his first season with the team, and for a while was a potential trade piece for the team. 

Seiya Suzuki quickly mastered the MLB strike zone, being among the league’s best in chase rate and an above league average hitter overall, resulting in a .770 OPS. 

Christopher Morel, an early season call up, exploded onto the scene with a homer in his first ever plate appearance and was one of the league’s best rookies after the first month of the season. While his numbers took a slight dip in the latter portion of the season, he was still an above league average player, showing his excellent ability to barrel up the baseball. 

While his high swing and miss rate will cost him if he doesn’t improve, the success of his rookie campaign should have him pegged as a potential regular in a future lineup. 

There was also a solid amount of returning talent who managed to put it all together in 2022. 

Ian Happ decided to forgo his usual routine of being the best and worst hitter on the team in consecutive months and slashed .271/.342/.440, with an .808 OPS by the break rewarding him with this first All Star game appearance. 

Justin Steele absolutely shoved, posting a 3.21 FIP and 3.18 ERA in 24 starts. The 26 year-old showcased his ability to miss bats by being 95 percentile in barrel %, a testament to how good his slider was this year, posting a -10 RV. While his high walk rate and inconsistent fastball do show some holes in his game, considering the development he’s made from last year to this year, he provides a bright spot for the future rotation of the team. 

Nico Hoerner took a few steps forward in hitting this year, posting a.736 OPS in his long first stint of MLB action. He was one of the best in baseball at avoiding striking out, and the elite speed he has pairs well with his ability to put the barrel on the ball consistently. 

While his power numbers aren’t anything to write home about, his 98th percentile in Outs Above Average certainly is, especially considering he played at short most of the year whilst being a much better defensive player at second. His great defense and improved hitting had him as the 37th in fWAR, with a 4.0 mark. If the hitting continues to improve, he’ll definitely be one to watch for in the 2023 season. 

The last key contributor was Willson Contreras, who showed out in his contract year. The 30 year-old catcher showed why he is one of the best backstops in baseball, posting a career high in wRC+ at 132 and hitting 22 homers whilst having a 3.9 bWAR in around 400 at bats. His .815 OPS was the highest on the team by far, and 26th in baseball for players with at least 450 plate appearances. 

He excelled at barrelling up the baseball and creating hard contact, and even managed to lower his strikeout rate to below the league average. While his defensive framing still needs work, he has enough offensive power to be a consistent starter for a team over the next few years. His career .810 OPS as a DH is in line with his OPS as a catcher, meaning that teams worried about his age at a demanding position can still utilize his services as a hitter.

All in all, this Cubs team was mired with some abysmal performances, some new faces excelling, and prior Cubs developing or setting new career highs on the way to an overall poor season. 

M-SABR Predicted Record (76-86) vs. Actual (74-88):

When I predicted the season back in April, the word of the day was “mediocre”. The team had talent in some areas, so they weren’t going to be a complete trainwreck, but they didn’t have nearly enough talent to be considered seriously as any type of contender. 

I placed a lot of faith in the wrong places on the team: Frank Schwindel, who was shortly DFA’d; Manuel Rodriguez, who struggled to stay healthy and missed most of the season with elbow issues; and Nick Madrigal, who was absolutely abysmal with a sub .600 OPS. Those many players being bad or not contributing was a perfect recipe for this team to be terrible, which it was very early on in the season.However, several players emerged and pushed this team back above “horrid” and into “not very good”. 

Nico Hoerner began to show some level of consistency in his play. Ian Happ finally managed to put together a complete season and be good for a large portion of it. Adrian Sampson, Justin Steele, Keegan Thompson and Drew Smyly were perhaps the four best pitchers on the Cubs this season. David Robertson, Mychel Givens, and Scott Effross were sensational in their short time with the Cubs before being traded. Christopher Morel went from the 20th best prospect in the system in 2021 to the shining beacon of hope for Cubs fans. 

A lot of new faces and names stepped up and proved themselves on the big stage, and gave fans a reason to be excited, and the above-average play towards the end of the year was able to mitigate the damage of the early season terribleness to deliver a record that most fittingly described the Cubs in 2022: mediocre.

Surprise of the Season:

Where did Christopher Morel come from? He was always highly rated in the Cubs farm system, with MLB ranking him as the Cubs 20th best prospect and Fangraphs the 16th, pegging him as a platoon player. He debuted on May 17th, posting a .945 OPS in 28 games at Double-A Tennessee. 

He started off his career with a bang, going yard on a 3-2 count against Chase de Jong in a 7-0 win against the Pirates. In his first 22 games, he hit .303 with a .916 OPS. While he would slightly struggle the rest of the way, his season totals of a 107 OPS+, 108 WRC+, and 1.6 fWAR in 379 plate appearances provides a strong foundation for future success. 

His defensive versatility will give him a great number of games in the coming future, and there is no reason why he cannot establish himself as a clubhouse leader and fan-favorite after his exhilarating 2022 performance.

Players We Watched: 

Despite the constant floating of trade rumors throughout the season, Willson Contreras put together a career year, making a claim for the best offensive catcher in baseball. Career-highs in wRC+ (132) and fWAR (3.3) complemented his .357 wOBA, .815 OPS, and his 4th season of hitting 20+ homers with 22. 

A more aggressive approach at the plate and a higher contact rate resulted in a reduced K%, meaning that even with an extremely unlucky season (.270 BABIP), Contreras was still able to amass a solid amount of offensive production. If this was his last hurrah in the Windy City, Willson surely gave Cubs fans something to cheer for day in and day out.

Seiya Suzuki came out of the gate on fire, hitting 3 homers in his first 4 games and spending all of April flirting with a 1.000 OPS. However, he slightly regressed in May, and an injury late in the month that kept him out for all of June paved the wave for a rough ending, culminating in a difficult August with a sub .700 OPS. 

In spite of all that, he still managed to put up a 2.0 bWAR in less than 400 plate appearances, and his patience translated well from Japan, ranking in the 90th percentile for Chase rate. Defensively, he struggled, being in the bottom 15th percentile for both OAA and outfielder jump. But his 14 homers, better than league average barrel % and walk rate, and understanding of an MLB strike zone all contributed to a good rookie campaign from the 28 year-old. 

Patrick Wisdom and Frank Schwindel were the poster childs of one of the potential downfalls of the 2022 Cubs: veteran players regressing. Schwindel had a .326 batting average and an OPS of .962 in almost 300 plate appearances last year, signifying that potentially he had solid MLB hitting skills that could make up for his mediocre defense and provide the Cubs with some value. 

However, he was fairly lucky in that 2021 season, outpacing his xwOBA by nearly 70 points, going from greatly above league average to slightly below. This year, there would be no such luck. 

He began the year with 2 home runs in 36 games, posting a .221 average and a .313 slugging. While he began to hit well in late May and early June, even getting his OPS back above .700, he spent the last 28 games as a Cub going 15 for 82 with 18 strikeouts and 1 extra base hit, a double. 

While his 2021 success was exciting, he just couldn’t replicate that same level of luck in 2022, leading to his release from Chicago. Patrick Wisdom’s numbers on the surface look solid: .725 OPS and 0.9 bWAR in 469 at bats. He even hit 25 home runs, tied for 41st in baseball. 

However, what those numbers hide are his immense struggles at making contact. He was the worst player in terms of expected batting average and strikeout rate, and was in the 3rd percentile for whiff rate. He also managed to be the worst player by OAA, unable to even generate value defensively. 

While his raw power and ability to barrel the ball are excellent, his inability to consistently make contact, recognize pitching, and play anywhere close to acceptable MLB defense will definitely put him on a tight leash for next season.

Offseason Outlook:

The commentary from the Ricketts’ family and friends all year has been “We are not averse to spending money, we just need the right pieces to spend it on”. After missing out on marquee names like Carlos Rodon, Nick Castellanos, Carlos Correa, George Springer, Corey Seager, Kevin Gaussman, letting go and passing on Kyle Schwarber in back to back off seasons, and not resigning Anthony Rizzo, Javier Baez, or Kris Bryant, patience is beginning to run thin on the brain trust of the organization. 

This certainly won’t be helped if the Cubs don’t manage to re-sign Contreras, a home-town favorite who appears to be the premier free agent at the catching position. Mike Zunino and Gary Sanchez offer high upside and could be serviceable replacements while the Cubs wait for younger prospects to develop.

There are a few veteran names that the Cubs could possibly take a flier on to see if they can contribute within the next few years: former White Sox Jose Abreu, utility infielder Adam Frazier, third baseman Brandon Drury, and outfielder Joey Gallo can all get regular at bats in this team next year and either develop into deadline trade bait, be let go at no large cost, or provide this team with quality performances that can lead it to winning baseball games.

On the higher end of the talent spectrum, shortstop Trea Turner is a great lead-off hitter, with a career .353 OBP and .841 OPS, with solid defense, which would allow Nico Hoerner to slide into second, a position he has been defensively the best at. Carlos Correa could also possibly opt out of his Twins deal, and has previously expressed interest in playing for Chicago. His veteran presence and 140 WRC+ last year, above his career average, would definitely improve this squad quickly. 

Of course,the biggest fish in the pond is Yankee outfielder Aaron Judge, coming off a season where he set the AL record for homers with 62 and had a baseball savant page with so much red the USSR would have blushed. 

Betting on himself paid off in a big way, opening the door for the 31 year old to land a huge contract in his first free agency. With the Yankees, Mets, and Giants all looking to land his services, the Cubs would need to spend enormous amounts of money, but it would reestablish their image as a postseason contender and give the clubhouse a burst of energy.

Pitching-wise, it would be interesting to see if the Cubs made a move on either Carlos Rodon or Craig Kimbrel. It appears that Rodon, after establishing himself as a premier starter in 2021 with the White Sox, will opt out of his deal with the Giants to hit the open market. The Cubs have a slew of young, talented arms, but with Kyle Hendricks slowly aging, it may be wise to pair Marcus Stroman with a solid #2 to buoy the ebbs and flows of developing Justin Steele and Keegan Thompson. 

Kimbrel struggled early when he was previously with the Cubs, but he was able to transform himself back into his prime version in 2021, reigniting beliefs from teams that he could once again be a dominant closer. After hitting a bumpy stretch in 2022, with a 4.04 FIP and only converting 22/27 save opportunities with the Dodgers before being demoted, it would be intriguing to see if the Cubs could unlock his potential for a second time.

All in all, the Cubs are still a few years away, with the bulk of their prospect pool looking to debut in 2024 and 2025. This off season marks a solid spot for the Cubs to either bring in veteran players in the hope of having future contributors or trade pieces, or signing established superstars to establish a winning culture in the locker room before the cavalry arrives. 

Either way, this is a time where the Cubs cannot sit on their hands and not make moves. Carter Hawkins needs to come out of the gates strong and prove to MLB and the fanbase that this team is looking to contend sooner rather than later.

Something to Watch:

David Ross has been managing the Cubs for 3 years now. In that time he has won an NL Central title, saw his former teammates and friends exit the building, and is now overseeing a rebuild. However, for how long?

This isn’t saying that David Ross is a bad manager or the Cubs will certainly fire him. But as the remains of that championship core slowly leave the building, and as the fanbase becomes more and more frustrated at the state of the team, and as two teams who fired their managers after poor starts made the playoffs (and one is in the World Series), it seems plausible that this season is as much an audition for the players as it is for the manager. 

Remember that in 2014, Rick Renteria managed this team to a 73-89 record where the young talent debuted late in the season and catapulted them into some level of competitiveness for the last two months. But when Joe Maddon was available, the Cubs immediately made the move to change managers. 

Will there be a manager of Joe Maddon’s quality available in 2024? Probably not. But if the Cubs are still a bad team in 2023 and finish with 75 wins or less, will there be people within the organization looking to make a scapegoat out of someone? Yes. And the easiest target would be a former player who was given his managerial start 3 years ago and hasn’t done much winning in that position.

It’ll be interesting to see which managers are available in the offseason. Don Mattingly is already a name out there, and he has had playoff success with the Dodgers, although his attempts at managing a rebuild in Miami weren’t great. Do the Cubs pivot to a more experienced manager for their young player group? 

Rossy isn’t on a hot seat, but it will be interesting to see how the chatter evolves on his current position in Chicago after all the musical chairs have been moved and sat in.

Categories: 2022 Season Review, Articles, Post-COVID

Tags: ,

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: