If you have been a fan of World Series Dreaming, you should know that we have fun here. When the Chicago Cubs are bad, we tend to poke fun at them, and call out various players who have not played up to par, and there have been a long list of them the past few seasons. Sometimes we picked on Koyie Hill, who despite being on of the worst hitters on the team when he played on the Northside was a massive fan favorite.
Another one of the team’s worst hitters over the past two years, unlike Hill, is an everyday player. Despite being a fantastic defensive player at second base, Darwin Barney has pretty much been an automatic out every time he stepped into the batters box. We often had to wonder if his defensive mastery was enough to overcome his lack luster offensive performance. More often than not, we had to figure that with the team’s already lackluster offense, they could not really afford to have a weak bat in the lineup, even if they were batting eighth.
The reason we are taking a look at Barney, and what he means to the team is because he and the Cubs recently reached an agreement on a one year contract to avoid salary arbitration. This likely means that Barney will spend at least one more season with the Cubs, unless he is traded before the July 31 trade deadline.
Looking at Barney’s major league career you will notice a few interesting trends that might change your mind about him and just how valuable he is, or could be going forward.
In 2010, in very, very limited time in his first season with the Cubs, Barney hit a putrid .241 with an on base percentage of .294. His slugging percentage was less than his OBP at .291, not too impressive even though he only appeared in 30 games. His BABIP (batting average of balls in play) was .284, which shows when he was putting balls in play he was not able to get his balls to drop in for hits that often. What is interesting to note is his fielding percentage at second base was a less than dazzling .938. I know that fielding percentage is not the best way to look at how good of a defensive player someone is, but for the purpose of this article, that is what I will be using.
The following year, he was finally a full time player, and his offensive numbers improved immensely. In 143 games, Barney was able to hit .276, getting on base at a .313 clip and his slugging was .353. Still not great in the OBP or slugging category, but his batting average was very serviceable. What helped his batting average improve, was his luck with his BABIP which was .310. When he was able to put the ball in play, a lot of his balls actually fell in for hits. With his improvement with the bat, also came improvements with his defense ability. He vastly improved his fielding which allowed him to put up an impressive fielding percentage at second base of .981.
In 2012 his batting average took a massive backslide. He hit a mediocre .254 and his on base percentage dipped to .299, though his slugging percentage actually increased to .354. While those numbers are not overly impressive, as an eight hole sitter you take that and live with what he gave you. When he was able to put the ball into play though, nothing was working for him as his BABIP fell to a depressing .273. He just could not find a hit to save his life. While his offense struggled, there may not have been a better defender anywhere in baseball than Barney. He won the gold glove this year and put up a very impressive .997 defensive percentage.
Last season though, his statistics went to hell. Barney’s average plummeted to .208, barely keeping his head above the Mendoza line. His On base percentage slipped to a pathetic .266 and his slugging percentage was an ugly .303. What is worse, his BABIP fell to an all time low and was a measly .222. If there was no such thing as bad luck, I am not so sure that Barney would have had any luck at all in 2013. While still putting up impressive defensive numbers, he took a small step back only having a .993 fielding percentage. He was the runner up to the gold glove, even though he was likely last in the silver slugger competition.
You can see why he was the butt of a lot of jokes. His offense was nothing to be desired, and you just knew any rally the Cubs were starting would be ended when you saw him in the on deck circle. What is interesting to note, is while he was getting better at defense, his offense became an after thought for him. However, you cannot argue that he has been hitting into a lot of bad luck the past two seasons and that has gone into a lot of his poor offensive statistics.
Looking at his statistics, you have to wonder what his offensive potential is. He has shown the ability to put the ball in play, despite the ball never landing in for a hit. Most of the time, he cannot seem to miss the defenders, as he is hitting them directly at them. Luck can change, and usually does which allows people to get to their career norms. With Barney though, I am not sure we know what the norm is for him. He has shown flashes of being able to hit for a high average, just as he has shown that there are times he cannot hit water if he fell out of a boat. I honestly believe that he is better than a .low .200 hitter, and he should show that this coming season. Just do not get your hopes up, he also likely will never be the type of player who hits .300. He will likely have to depend a lot of the luck of his hits falling in, and not going right at someone.
One thing that might help Barney this coming season though, he is spending time this off season working on his hitting. If he can even get back to hitting the way he did in 2012, that of the meh average in the .250s, he will become very serviceable; especially when you add in his stellar defense. Out of the eight hole, even though .250s is not real impressive, that might be good enough to not be seen as an automatic out and a rally killer very time out of the box.
You have to believe that there is no way Barney will be nearly as bad as he was last year. In 2013, everything that could have gone wrong for him offensively did go wrong for him. Barney might actually be one of the stars this year, if he can just get a little luckier with his balls in play.