Cubs fans love their grinders. From Ryan Theriot to Mike Fontenot to Juan Pierre, if you’re small and have no power, Cubs fans will probably love you. I, as a Brewer fan, also love that the Cubs faithful love these players as it increases the odds of having them stick around. I’ve always secretly hoped that the Cubs would sign David Eckstein, the grindiest grinder who’s ever grindeded, and while Eck has yet to show up in blue pinstripes, we may have the next best thing on our hands in Darwin Barney, who was signed in the offseason when the Ricketts found him guarding a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow. Most people would have just taken the gold or made a wish, but the Ricketts signed the plucky gent to man the keystone. The Chicago Sun-Times Gordon Wittenmyer thinks this has paid off in spades:
The Cubs’ best player so far this year is also what the rest of the season figures to be all about.
Oh, the surprising OBP machine (and likely trade bait) that is Kosuke? Carlos Zambrano who has been steady on the mound and deadly with the bat? The up-and-coming star at SS, Starlin Castro? Carlos Marmol before the last week or so? Matt Garza, maybe? You can make a case for any of these guys…
He’s one of the best reasons to keep paying attention, the leading example of why there might be hope for this rebuild/patchwork process by next year. And two months into a season already circling the National League drain, he’s the Cubs’ best early bet for any kind of postseason recognition.
He must be talking about Castro, right? The 21-year-old phenom whose slick fielding complements his better than average hitting, and who should only get better. He should be a fixture on the north side for years, and the cornerstone of any future post-season campaigns…
And Darwin Barney’s not even on the All-Star ballot.
What the hell does Darwin Barney have to do with Starlin Castro?
That’s how far the shortstop-turned-second baseman — the utility prospect-turned-key starter — has come in the last three months, not to mention how far this season has veered from modest expectations.
Wait, what? Let me check my pre-season list of expectations for Darwin Barney:
1. Who is Darwin Barney?
2. I’ve never heard of him. I expect him to hit for almost no power and barely ever get on base.
3. He may also be bad at fielding.
4. My word, he’s short. Cubs fans will love this guy.
So far he has in fact lived up to all of my expectations. Nice work Darwin!
But as the Cubs open their toughest stretch of the season tonight in St. Louis, with temptation growing daily to wrap Albert Pujols in a $300 million bear hug, save the hugs for guys such as the rookie Barney.
Just so we’re clear,
1. St. Louis is tempted to “wrap Albert Pujols in a $300 million bear hug”, which sounds like some type of Saw-esque death trap, and
2. Wittenmyer is suggesting that we “save the hugs for Barney.”
“Bear hugs” are wrestling moves. They’re aggressive. He’s suggesting that the Cardinals want to lock Albert down. I think I’ll just assume he’s trying to pull off some awkward parallelism with the Barney hug and not assume he wants to give Barney $300 million salary bump to stick around, but with all the fawning praise I’m only like 90% sure.
He’s this team’s future, with the Cubs expected to keep building from within even as tens of millions of dollars fall off the payroll books each of the next two years.
That could be a good thing if Barney keeps developing at this pace. He’s already showing leadership skills and is a stabilizing influence in the middle of the Cubs’ diamond, paired with sophomore hitting star Starlin Castro.
And here we go with the leadership nonsense. So Barney is a leader. What, would Carlos Pena only have 5 HRs without Barney’s leadership? Would Tyler Colvin have been cut outright instead of merely being sent down to the minors?
This is the kind of garbage people write when someone is terrible at baseball, but also cute and likeable. We haven’t looked into Barney’s numbers at all yet, so let’s do that now. Here are the Cubs’ normal starters by OBP:
1. Kosuke - .428
2. Carlos Pena - .359
3. Aramis Ramirez - .346
4. Marlon Byrd - .346
5. Starlin Castro - .338
6. Geo Soto - .326
7. Darwin Barney - .325
8. Alfonso Soriano - .297.
Of course, Fonzi is slugging .525, whereas Darwin Barney is slugging .383. Note also that as bad as the Cubs have been, it can always get worse. Their top four players in terms of not making outs were all born in 1978 or earlier.
Anyway, the point is that Barney is pretty bad on offense, and there’s not a lot to suggest that the empty batting average will fill up with time.
‘‘The so-called youth moment, we don’t look at it like, ‘Let’s get experience for these guys for next year,’ ’’ Barney said as the Cubs prepared for a three-city trip with veterans filling the disabled list and minor-league callups such as Tony Campana, Brad Snyder, DJ LeMahieu and Scott Maine dotting the active roster.
‘‘They’re here to contribute. That’s the way we look at it.’’
Even if they might start feeling more like Mitt Romney’s dog on a road trip by the time this one ends.
Google says that Mitt Romney once drove to Canada with the family dog strapped to the roof of his car. Ha! Animal abuse! Witty! Trying to capture the Michael Vick fans no doubt.
‘‘The kids that have showed up will be baptized into the National League Central, if nothing else — let alone Philadelphia,’’ Cubs manager Mike Quade said. ‘‘They’re getting a taste, and they’re finding out the rigors here.”
Might as well start force-feeding a bigger taste now — a process that could accelerate over the next six to eight weeks as the Cubs face options for shedding chunks of veteran salary before the trading deadline.
If your season is over it’s not a bad idea to check out your young guys, just don’t have any delusions about the season being over. And also, one thing worth noting about the Cubs is that they gave a bunch of older guys big contracts with no-trade clauses, so “shedding chunks of veteran salary” isn’t really that simple for this team. Back to Barney.
Meanwhile, Barney has become — like Castro, Tyler Colvin and Andrew Cashner a year ago — the newest symbol for the Cubs’ future and hopes.
Tyler Colvin, just recalled from AAA after a miserable start to the season, is in fact a symbol for the Cubs’ future and hopes.
‘‘We’ll take 25 of him,’’ said bench coach Pat Listach, a former Rookie of the Year shortstop who works with Barney one-on-one daily and who agrees the Cubs’ best all-around player is the former fourth-round draft pick from back-to-back Oregon State championship teams.
The Baseball Musings lineup calculator thinks that a lineup composed entirely of Darwin Barneys would score 684 runs this year (4.22 runs per game). The Cubs scored 685 last year so they essentially did play all Darwin Barneys last year. And finished in 2nd last place in a pretty terrible division.
Since we’re talking about Darwin as an “All-Star," why don’t we also plug in one of his competitors, say, Rickie Weeks? A team of all Rickie Weeks would be expected to score 6.073 runs per game, or 983.8 runs per season. Basically, a lineup of Rickie Weeks is 300 runs per year better than a lineup of Darwin Barneys.
‘‘No doubt,’’ Listach says. ‘‘He does the little things right. He’s a winning baseball player.’’
Cubs current record – 23-31. Darwin’s current WAR - .6
Barney, who’s hitting .303 and is second on the team in RBI (25) and runs (28) from the No. 2 spot, is still learning, still new to second base and, consequently, still making mistakes of technique and positioning.
People really are suckers for a .300 BA. I mean, he’s not even very far above .300. One hitless night and all of a sudden we’re looking at an empty .298 instead of an empty .303 and we have no nonsense about All-Star games or franchise cornerstones. The fact is that Barney has walked 7 times this season, or one more time than Alfonso Soriano who basically never walks. Barney is a low-upside out-machine. Do you know why he is second on the team in RBI? Because Kosuke is basically always on base. He has a .428 OBP. Barney’s RBIs are completely a function of Kosuke and have nothing to do with Barney. Barney is proof that anyone hitting 2nd in the Cub lineup would rank highly on the team in RBI. Literally anyone. David Eckstein would have grinded out like 30 by now. By the way, Rickie Weeks has 23 RBI from the leadoff spot.
But he also soaks up coaching, even urging Listach and infield coach Ivan DeJesus to stay on him over the smallest mistakes.
Coaches! You’re not coaching me hard enough! Look, I didn’t even get completely in front of the ball that time! What the hell are you guys doing not yelling at me!?
By the way, we should note that the light-hitting, base-stealing grindy Pat Listach won an ill-gotten Rookie of the Year award in 1992 over Kenny Lofton, even though Lofton was worth 2.5 more wins than Listach and Lofton played what is basically a HOF-level career while Pat (due to an unfortunate catastrophic injury) was out of the league in just a few years. Just saying.
Along the way, he has earned Web Gem status on national highlight shows.
So has Yuniesky Betancourt and he is the worst regular player in baseball.
He has run the bases as well as anybody on the team.
According to Fangraphs, his base running has been worth .7 runs, which almost makes up for his -1 defensive contribution.
He has been a vocal and heads-up communicator in the field.
All yelling. No signing for Darwin.
He’s even been the best clutch hitter among the regulars, even if potential game-winners like his two-out double in the eighth inning Tuesday against the Houston Astros occasionally are lost in ugliness, such as the Astros’ six-run ninth inning that followed.
Barney has been about a quarter of a run better than normal in clutch situations per Fangraphs, and has a .24 WPA on the season. Carlos Pena has contributed .5 WPA and about half a run better in clutch situations.
‘‘I keep talking about him as an overachiever,’’ Quade said. ‘‘Maybe I just misevaluated him. Maybe he’s not an overachiever. Maybe he’s just damn good.’
I think we can all agree that Mike Quade has misevaluated Darwin Barney.
Maybe even an All-Star — though it’ll take a write-in campaign by the fans or the players since Blake DeWitt is on the ballot as the Cubs’ second baseman.
There are 14 regular second basemen (Minimum, 100 PAs) with higher OBPs than Barney. He’s not particularly good at defense. He has no power. All Star!
‘‘The odds of me making that team are slim to none, even if I was on the ballot,’’ said Barney, who has yet to be recognized by his own team with a concourse banner at Wrigley Field. ‘‘So that’s the last thing I worry about.’’
He insists he concentrates only on playing for the situation and for wins, but he admits an All-Star nod ‘‘would be cool.’’
It would be cool, if by cool you mean demented.
‘‘But I haven’t really thought about it, to be honest,’’ Barney said. ‘‘I’m thinking about the here and now.’’
But Darwin, your future is so bright! I fully advocate the Cubs giving Darwin Barney an 8-10 year extension. You’ve got to lock down talent like this early, and you’ll want to do it before he gets that first All-Star appearance under his belt and his price skyrockets. Act now before it’s too late! Light-hitting, poor defending second basemen only come around several thousand times in a generation.
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