Team Awards After 40 Games

40 up, 40 down for the 2022 Chicago Cubs.

It’s always interesting to rank a team after a checkpoint has arrived, and 40 games seems like a good milestone for a baseball team.

The Cubs are 16-24 in third place with the Pittsburgh Pirates and are 9.5 games behind the division-leading Milwaukee Brewers. Things have been going as expected after almost two months so far. There were some good, a lot of bad, and some nice surprises along the way.

While there are still 122 games to play, let’s quickly distribute some hardware to various Cubs at the quarter-season. Some names are certainly surprising.

The numbers: 24 runs (1st on team), 5 homers (2nd), 14 RBI (4th), 0.382 on-base percent (2nd), 0.458 slugging percent (2nd), 0.840 OPS (1st .)

Willson Contreras has done a little of everything offensively for the Cubs so far in 2022, and in a close race he would get the team MVP nod so far.

Contreras comes to base at the highest rate of his career (11.1 BB%), which has helped lead the team in runs scored. He’s drastically reduced his strikeouts (20% strikeout rate in 2022; 28.6% in 2021) while increasing his walks, and his walk-to-strikeout ratio of 16 to 29 is very solid.

Contreras also hits the ball harder than ever, earning him a slight nod here as the team’s MVP. His hard hit rate (balls traveling over 95 mph) is 57.1%, which ranks in the 99th percentile of all hitters in baseball. It is also in the 95th percentile of average exit velocity. Contreras appears destined to start his third All-Star team this July and is by far the best offensive catcher in baseball for the first two months.

Contreras is making the most of his potential “wandering year” in the last year of his current contract.

Keegan Thompson

The numbers: 10 games (two starts, eight substitutes), 1.54 ERA (1st on team), 1.00 WHIP (3rd), 35 innings (2nd), 31 strikeouts (3rd)

The Cubs front office would have loved to see a resurgence of Kyle Hendricks and have him in that department, or maybe esteemed free agent Marcus Stroman, but Keegan Thompson stole the spotlight from the Cubs’ pitching team.

He has brought great versatility to manager David Ross as both a starter and long reliever, and is putting up numbers that could land him on the National League All-Star team if things continue like this. He leads the team in WAR (Wins Above Replacement) at 2.0, per baseball-reference.com, and has been electric since early April.

Thompson has pitched at least 2.2 innings on each outing and has never conceded more than two earned runs on any appearance. Right-handers only beat him at .212, while left-handers are at a paltry .208. At home, Thompson was particularly good with a 1.09 ERA in 24 innings. He’s establishing himself as a legitimate piece for the pitching staff of the Cubs of the future (and his present).

Seiya Suzuki

The numbers: 31 hits (2nd on team), 11 doubles (1st), 4 homers (3rd), 19 RBI (2nd), 18 walks (2nd), .342 on-base percent (3rd) , .444 slugging percent (3rd), .787 OPS (3rd)

Suzuki stormed onto the scene in April with a .279/.405/.529 triple slash line, earning quick praise from baseball and fellow teammates like Willson Contreras. Since May, however, he’s cooled off dramatically, with a .207 average, zero homers and just four tied walks compared to 22 strikeouts.

The league has made its adjustments to Suzuki and the talk about Cooperstown has settled down, but Suzuki still brought some good offense to this Cubs team. His .934 OPS in April would be difficult to sustain over six months, so give the 27-year-old rookie some time to get used to the league again in his first season in the United States.

If Suzuki can find the tremendous plate discipline he demonstrated in the first month (14 walks, 23 strikeouts) he can quickly get back on the track and hopefully add power to a Cubs lineup that is in dire need of action.

Nico Horner

The numbers: .991 operational percentage, 1 miss in 108 chances, 4 above average defensive saves, 0.6 defensive wins over substitutes

Finding a team’s best defensive player sometimes requires diving deep into analytics and using more than just the naked eye, so the numbers above, while vague, hopefully accurately represent how good defensively Hoerner was.

Obviously, committing just one error in 29 games is a very good thing, and Hoerner’s four above-average defensive saves are a deeper dive into his strong glove work to date. Despite being currently on the injured list, Hoerner has shown the team he does have the defensive skills to be an everyday shortstop.

It will be interesting to see how playing time is split between Hoerner and veteran Gold Glove winner Andrelton Simmons, who has returned from injury and has taken the position in Hoerner’s absence. Manager David Ross will have to juggle the roles of both players and may have to use Hoerner as designated hitter or third baseman at times.

Scott Effross

The numbers: 19 games (1st on team), 2.04 ERA (4th), 0.96 WHIP (1st), 2 walks allowed (1st), 11.7 K/9 percent (3rd)

Don’t you expect to see this name as the team’s best helper?

Since Keegan Thompson was already featured above (and is a quasi-starter in the rotation), let’s give Effross the credit he deserves and make him 2022’s Best Reliever yet.

Funky sidearm right-hander Effross with 19 team-high appearances has given David Ross both a talented and durable arm. In his 17.2 innings, Effross has produced great numbers for what is becoming a great bullpen for the Cubs.

The Cubs have six assists with ERAs under 3.55, in Effross, David Robertson (1.88), Mychal Givens (3.52), Rowan Wick (1.80), Chris Martin (2.57) and Keegan Thompson ( 1.54), so this award could go to almost anyone. The Cubs’ bullpen has the seventh-best ERA in all of baseball at 3.27, and Effross was a major contributor to that.

He gets the slight nod for that honor here based on his bullpen-high 17.2 innings and bullpen-low two walks. It goes without saying, but every time a reliever can restrict free passes on their outings, the better the results will be.

Check back in 40 games from now for a mid-season Cubs awards show. It will be interesting to see which of the above awards have stayed the same and which have changed hands.

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