Cubs fans have many interesting pastimes and amongst the ones that draw the most derision is the building up of players who really are not that good. A decade ago Augie Ojeda was the most likely Cub drawing undeserved praise. Today that might be best exemplified by the love of Tony Campana in some corners. I myself have been guilty of this with Mark Bellhorn remaining one of my personal favorite Cubs of all time. These players typically played the game the right way and despite being scrappy, hustle players that felt good to root for it was a bad habit. Equally perplexing is the tendency to scapegoat one or two particular players for the ills of a team.
Ian Stewart did not have a good season last year, but the amount of hate that was hurled in his direction seemed out of proportion for a player that has 55 games in a Cubs uniform. I will confess that I liked the trade for Stewart at the time it was made, and have defended Stewart many a times on internet message boards. But I am going to try to understand why many feel that Stewart kicks puppies in his spare time.
Perhaps it is because Ian Stewart cost the Cubs the legend of Tyler Colvin. Never mind the fact that Colvin was brutal in his sophomore season with the Cubs or that his strikeout to walk ratio was Corey Patterson-esque. Do not let it concern you Colvin’s Ruthian home slash line of .338/.380/.556 compared to .244/.274/.413 everywhere else. Ian Stewart cost us an OF that most were all too happy to give up in the first place that had a very solid ballpark and luck driven (.364 BABIP) season.
Ian Stewart was bad in 2012. That seems to be a major reason for all the hate. Forget that he was suffering from a wrist injury that he admitted in Spring Training was still bothering him. A wrist injury that two teams set of doctors could not properly diagnose and fix until after two years. Or that we as Cubs fan have watched firsthand how devastating a wrist injury is for a hitter with Derrek Lee. Ian Stewart was bad and a large reason why the Cubs offensive production at 3B was the lowest in the majors, but he was not alone in having a terrible season either.
His replacement was so much better than him. Luis Valbuena did have a better season, but compare the final slash lines of the two players. Valbuena produced a .219/.310/.340 slash line with a wOBA (.333 is league average by the way) of .290. Stewart managed, while still hurt, to produce .201/.292/.335 with a wOBA of .273. Valbuena was clearly better but the difference in opinion on the two players can best be described as backup quarterback syndrome. Valbuena is a nice player that has value, but the amount of love that was thrown his way was more like the first category of players described in this rant than his actual value.
Is it because Ian Stewart is a bad guy for some reason? Many have taken issue with Ian Stewart’s late night twitter fests which became a regular feature after he went on the DL. Paul Sullivan was noted for often taken swipes at Ian for it, and one fan in particular got into it with Ian Stewart’s use of homophobic language. While this Sappelt-like outburst is nothing I condone, Stewart, to his credit, apologized for his choice of words to the fan during the course of this exchange. And beyond that the hate for Ian Stewart was already there prior to the incident.
So I still do not get it. I get that Ian Stewart had a terrible start to 2012 and ended up hurt with bad numbers at the end of the year. I get that his backup played slightly better than him, but none of that explains to me why he was targeted as the worst of the bunch by many. And I will take it a step farther by doing something that I do not often do. I will step out onto that limb and state now that I have faith in Ian Stewart in 2013. He has described being pain free for the first time since 2010, and I would be more than happy with 2010 Ian Stewart playing 3B for the Chicago Cubs. There are plenty of statistical indicators pointing to some bad luck in play with Stewart with a low BABIP of .242 in 2012. He also did a good job of seeing the ball in 2012 with the lowest percentage of swinging strikes and first strikes then any point in his career. If the Cubs get 2010 Ian Stewart with his defense at the hot corner we can cross 3B off the list of problems for the 2013 Cubs.