Photo courtesy of Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports
Yesterday was June 1. This means, I am semi-reliably informed, that it was President’s Day in Palau, and also that it’s time for me to take a look back at the month that was—in this case, May—and provide for you, dear readers, a summary of the top Cubs’ contributors and moments. If you want a brief technical summary of what this means, please feel free to hop on over to last month’s version of this same post, in which I lay out the criteria I use to pick the players and plays for these recaps. If you don’t care, and just want to move on to the good stuff, please note only that the top plays I indicate are the top plays for each player I mention, and may or may not (probably not) correspond to the top plays of the month overall.
Enough of that. On to the action! As we did last month, we’ll begin with the position players, and here the fifth biggest contributor to the Cubs in May, at least by WARP, was a guy who is only now starting to heat up:
5. Jorge Soler, RF (0.6): Yes, it’s Mr. George Solar, who has struggled through unfortunate headgear and an incredibly wide strike zone to put up the fifth-highest WARP of any Cub in May. His top play of the month came on the 23rd, when, with the Cubs down two in the top of the eighth inning against the Diamondbacks, he rocketed a double to right field, scoring Miguel Montero and Starlin Castro, and improving the Cubs’ chances of winning by a whopping 34.1 percent. The Cubs went on to win that game, 9-6, although the series as a whole didn’t really go their way, thanks to the utter dominance of Paul Goldschmidt.
4. Miguel Montero, C (0.8): Montero, who scored on the play described above, actually put up slightly more value in May than Soler despite fewer plate appearances. As Matt Trueblood wrote earlier this month, he’s been a revelation. He actually had two plays that tied for his most significant this month, and astute readers should already know what they are. In a May 15 game against the Pirates, Montero singled Castro to third base in identical fashion in both the tenth and twelfth innings, both times increasing the Cubs’ chances of winning by 19.3 percent. The only difference between the two innings, actually, was the fact that Gregory Polanco fell over and failed to catch Matt Szczur’s subsequent fly ball in the 12th, allowing Castro to score, but made the play, routine as it was, in the 10th. Baseball is weird.
3. Anthony Rizzo, 1B (1.5): Third?! After a first-place finish in this piece last month, it seems a little jarring—if gratifying, because he didn’t do badly at all—that Anthony Rizzo was only the Cubs’ third-best position player in May. It’s important to note, therefore, that his 1.5 WARP put him 11th in the big-leagues this month, meaning the Cubs have (count with me!) three players in the top eleven. Quite something. Rizzo’s top play this month actually came in the same game as Soler’s, on the 23rd, when he drove a three-run home run to right field to put the Cubs up 9-6 in the top of the ninth inning. That single play improved the Cubs’ chances by a whopping 38.3 percent, making it Rizzo’s single most consequential hit so far this season.
2. Addison Russell, 2B (1.6): Seeing this name here makes me happy. After a tough start to his big-league career, Russell has really come on in May, and his 1.6 WARP total puts him in the top ten overall for the month. You probably remember his top play; it came just a few days ago, against the Nationals, and it was a walkoff. In the bottom of the ninth inning of a tie game, with pinch runner Jonathan Herrera on second base, Russell drove a pitch into the gap in right-center, scoring Herrera and salvaging at least one win from a very tough Nationals series. That hit improved the Cubs’ chances by 39.9 percent to (you guessed it) 100.0 percent.
1. Kris Bryant, 3B (1.7): Ladies and gentleman, the sixth most-valuable major-league player in May. Bryant has been everything Cubs fans could have hoped, and after ending his homerless streak 91 plate appearances into his big-league career, has started putting on quite a power show as well. Bryant’s top play of the month was a whopper: a home run that nearly cleared the video board in left, to tie the game that Russell would later win in the walkoff described above. The homer improved the Cubs’ chances in the game by 32.3 percent, but it’ll be remembered mostly for just how big it was. Watch it here:
Mmm. That was fun to watch again. And again. But enough celebrating home runs. Let’s turn our attention to the guys who work hard to avoid giving them up. The fifth most-valuable pitcher for the Cubs in May, according to WARP, was a man who wears high-socks better than almost anyone else:
5. Jason Motte, RP (0.1): Motte, who by all accounts seems to be a good guy, did little to endear himself to Cubs fans with a shaky April. May was a little bit better, and Motte put up a series of solid outings to return the fifth-highest WARP on the pitching staff. His top play of the month came on May 20, against the Padres, wherein he struck out Matt Kemp swinging with runners on first and second, and his team up by a run. Kemp was the only batter Motte faced in that game, and in striking him out he improved the Cubs’ chances by 8.9 percent.
4. James Russell, RP (0.1): Russell, who was a big part of the Cubs for a number of seasons before being shipped, somewhat unceremoniously, to the Braves, is now back. And he’s doing all right, putting up the highest WARP of any reliever the Cubs had this May. His top play of the month came in the same game that Miguel Montero put on a show with his twin heroics, against the Pirates on May 15. With the game still tied in the top of the tenth, Russell managed to induce Jordy Mercer to ground into a double play, ending a Pirates’ scoring threat and improving the Cubs’ chances by 17.5 percent.
3. Jason Hammel, SP (0.8): I’ll admit to having a soft spot for Hammel, who seems to genuinely like Chicago and the Cubs. That’s not all, though: He’s also been pretty darn good this month. His top play of the month came against the Padres on May 19, when, in the bottom of the fifth inning of a one-run game, Hammel got Will Venable to ground into a double-play. That well-placed pitch improved the Cubs’ chances by 11.4 percent.
2. Jake Arrieta, SP (0.9): Arrieta had a bit of a rough final outing in May, giving up more home runs than he ever had before in a Cubs’ uniform, but the overall performance for the month was still pretty darn good. His top play came, oddly enough, in the first inning of a game on May 7 against the Cardinals, when with the game tied at, well, zero, he got Jhonny Peralta to line out to second, which also allowed Jon Jay to be thrown out at third on a quick throw by Addison Russell. Although I hesitate to assign too much credit to Arrieta here, as pitchers can’t really control where a line drive goes, that play did improve the Cubs’ chances in the game by 11.6 percent, so it counts.
1. Jon Lester, SP (1.3): Well, this is the guy the Cubs thought they had. Five excellent starts in May (chronicled, by the way, here on BP Wrigleyville by the excellent Andrew Felper) left him as the Cubs’ top pitching performer from the month. His top play also came against the Cardinals, a day before Arrieta’s. With the Cubs leading 5-4 in the sixth inning, and runners on second and third, Lester managed to strike Matt Adams out swinging, leading Adams to slam his bat to the ground in frustration. Watch it, in all its glory, here:
And that’s it! The Cubs had, overall, a more pedestrian month than they might have liked—finishing at an even .500 for May—but they remain firmly in the Wild Card race thanks to strong performances from their stars. June, with its tough schedule, will present even more tough challenges ahead. For now, the team will work to focus on the present, and will, I’m sure, be celebrating Palau’s Presidents’ Day with abandon.
Rob McQuown of Baseball Prospectus assisted with the research for this piece.