I'm a sucker for great defense. I'm the type of guy that'll take a phenomenal play with the leather over a 500 foot home run. Yes, those types of people exist. Because of that, I'm going to spend a bit of my time each week breaking down some outstanding defense from around the game. Heck, I may even delve into some historic teams and examine their defense. The bottom line: defense wins championships. The story's not any different in baseball.
Oddly enough, this week's focus in discussing defensive performance is actually going to include a healthy chunk of offense. Then again, if you're talking about the work that Darwin Barney actually does with the stick, it may be a rather unhealthy chunk, as his plate performance has ranged from average to downright putrid in his time with the Chicago Cubs. But let's get to the good stuff first.
The good stuff includes just about everything that Darwin Barney does in the field. He won a Gold Glove in 2012 for a reason and the fact that the 2013 season was considered a down year for him with the leather is pretty indicative of where expectations are for this guy as a defender.
Just a quick overview on where this guy stands defensively:
Plenty of impressive figures there, for sure. That 2012 season was particularly impressive, which is why he took home accolades for his defensive play that year. He saved over twice as many runs and made more plays out of his zone than he did in 2011 and 2013 combined. His 2013 season proved that he's a very good defender, although he wasn't as outstanding as he was in the previous season.
As far as where he stacks up against the rest of the league, his Range Runs (RngR) was 22nd among position players and his UZR was 11th. Again, he wasn't as incredible as he was with the glove in 2012, but he was still very, very good. Where the questions come in with Darwin Barney aren't with what he can do with the glove. It's how valuable that glove is and whether or not it should continue to cement him as the starter in Chicago, despite some pretty horrific offensive figures.
Each of the last three years have represented a significant decline in Barney's offensive production. In 2013, he slashed just .208/.266/.303/.569. It's not like he was setting the world on fire before that, but from 2011 to 2012, his batting average also dipped about 20 points and his on-base percentage fell off a bit as well. He doesn't strike out a lot, but he doesn't walk either. His offensive rating, courtesy of Fangraphs, in 2013 was -27.8. He's been a negative in each of the three years he's been Chicago's starting second baseman.
What this has translated to for Barney is a WAR of 1.9, 2.3, and 0.4, respectively, across those three years. Those low value totals come despite a high defensive rating in all three. Defense is obviously important and a tremendous factor in becoming successful, especially for a Cubs team that hasn't been so steady with the leather in the last few years. At the same time, though, it doesn't completely outweigh offense by a longshot, meaning there has to be some kind of production there.
Does that mean that the Cubs should go with a guy like Emilio Bonifacio or Luis Valbuena as their starting second baseman? With each, you're going to get much more average defense (0.9 UZR per 150 innings for Bonifacio in 2013, 5.2 UZR/150 for Valbuena), but you're going to get a guy who gets on base at a much better clip and who can bring a little more pop to the equation as well. Not to mention, Barney hit just .204 with runners on and only .183 with runners in scoring position, while Bonifacio went for .247 with runners on and .220 with RISP and Valbuena hit .233 with men in scoring position. None of those numbers are spectacular, but each of Bonifacio or Valbuena represents significant improvement in that regard.
All in all, Darwin Barney is a beauty to watch in the field. But the 10 or 11 runs he's going to save in a year may not be worth the ones he's going to cost at the plate. This will be an interesting development to watch as the Cubs' spring camp rolls on.
All statistics courtesy of FanGraphs.