Through Sunday, four Cubs position players were on a pace for 4 fWAR or better. That is All-Star level by a Fangraphs.com rule of thumb for putting wins above replacement into context.
That doesn’t mean all four will be All-Stars. Javy Baez (2.8 fWAR), Kris Bryant (2.4), Anthony Rizzo (1.9) and Willson Contreras (1.6) have rugged competition for fans’ votes.
For those who take a metric approach to filling out their ballots, here’s the case for each:
Baez: Among National League shortstops with enough plate appearances to qualify for the batting leaders, Baez tops the offensive list.
Weighted runs created plus, which weighs all offensive events, adjusts for ballpark and competition and normalizes so 100 is average, lists Baez at 135. He’s followed by the Cardinals’ Paul DeJong (127) and Rockies’ Trevor Story (120).
By traditional stats, Baez leads NL shortstops in batting average (.299), home runs (16) and RBI (44). His .914 OPS leads the way, with Story (.901) and DeJong (.847) next.
Baez has been strong with 6.7 defensive runs, but DeJong has been even better at 7.4. DeJong also leads Baez with 3.2 baserunning runs to 0.8.
The bottom line is that Baez and DeJong are tied atop the NL shortstops list at 2.8 fWAR apiece, with Story at 2.5.
Bryant: Third base is a loaded position in the NL, where Bryant’s 2.4 fWAR ranks behind the Rockies’ Nolan Arenado and the Nationals’ Anthony Rendon (2.9 each).
To judge strictly by offense, Bryant’s 141 wRC+ trails Rendon (170) but leads Arenado (135). At surface level, Arenado’s .331 batting average and .979 OPS blow away Bryant’s .273 and .916, but advanced metrics adjust Arenado’s numbers for the Coors Field effect.
Arenado catches Rendon and surpasses Bryant with stellar defense. His 5.7 defensive runs are far beyond Rendon’s 0.8 and Bryant’s minus-0.6.
Rizzo: With a 145 wRC+, Rizzo is producing at 145 percent of an average player. Problem is, the Pirates’ Josh Bell (170) and the Braves’ Freddie Freeman (158) have been even better.
Rizzo’s 16 homers have him on pace to break his career high of 32, which he had in 2014, 2016 and 2017, but Bell (18) and Freeman (17) have more.
Once defense and baserunning are factored in, Freeman’s 2.5 fWAR leads, followed by the Dodgers’ Max Muncy and Bell (2.3 each), the Mets’ Peter Alonso (2.1) and Rizzo (1.9).
Contreras: Contreras is a no-doubt All-Star on offense. His 142 wRC+ tops the Brewers’ Yasmani Grandal (133), his NL catching co-leader at 13 homers. If we set a standard at 150 plate appearances, given that catchers play fewer games than other position players, it’s a long drop from Grandal to the Mets’ Wilson Ramos at 110 wRC+.
But defense and pitch-framing drop Contreras to third in fWAR, with his 1.6 trailing the Phillies’ J.T. Realmuto (2.6) and Grandal (2.5). There’s a chasm between Realmuto’s 15.6 defensive runs and Contreras’ minus-2.4, and Contreras’ minus-7.4 framing runs are last in the NL.
Offense-first voters will give Contreras a shot, but the numbers say the Cubs’ best candidate is Baez.