Can Darwin Barney get better?

Can Darwin Barney get better?
Photo by Kyle Terada/US Presswire photo

When Cubs fans talk about Darwin Barney, it's usually with the thought that he's just a place holder. We're always looking for someone better. When the Cubs picked up Adrian Cardenas on waivers from Oakland, a team that really doesn't have a good 2B option, some wondered if he would be the guy who would displace Barney. That doesn't show a whole lot of faith in their starting second baseman.

At first glance, Barney did very well. He hit a respectable .276 and played above average defense at 2B. His WAR even came out to 2.2, which is about the level of a solid regular.

Deeper inspection of his offensive performance tells a different story. Barney needs to get better at the plate. After a good start, the wheels came off for Barney in June when he hit .246 with no extra base hits and just 1 walk. It didn't get a whole lot better as the season went on. By the end of the year, Barney's OBP was just .313, but it's his lack of power that was the bigger problem. His ISO was just .078. Two stats that measure his overall offensive worth didn't make him look much better. His wOBA was a well-below average .296, as was his RC+ of 79.

As I've talked about in the past, the lack of power hurts Barney's ability to grind out ABs because pitchers aren't afraid to throw him strikes. Often, the worst can happen in the pitcher's mind is that he'll hit a single, so why bother walking him? Barney doesn't exactly have the patience of Job at the plate, but his low walk rate is somewhat deceiving. He swung at 29% of pitches outside the strike zone, which was best on the Cubs after Geovany Soto and Carlos Pena, the two guys noted for having the most patience on the 2011 team. The swing area on pitches he offered at was also 3rd behind those two players. In other words, he's not swinging at a lot of bad pitches and he's not venturing too far outside the strike zone.

So why the measly 3.7% walk rate? Because pitchers simply threw him a ton of strikes. In fact, they threw him a strike 56% of the time, which was easily among the highest rates in baseball.

This pretty much sums up the three things people liked least about Barney: 1) he wore down late in the season. In fact, he lost 15 lbs. and 2) He's a notorious singles hitter and 3) he doesn't draw enough walks.

3 problems but it's possible they could all be solved with the same solution.

Get stronger.

That's exactly what Barney did this offseason. He went through the same regimen Tyler Colvin went through when he added all that power just before his rookie season. The result is that Barney has gained 15-20 lbs. of muscle. He looks noticeably bigger. In fact, he's up to a career high 190 lbs. going into this season.

What this means is that he should hold up better throughout the course of the season. The hope too is that he adds extra base power to his good contact skills. And if pitchers begin to think he'll take them in the gap if they lay one across the middle, they may be inclined to be less aggressive when he's at the plate, which could lead to more walks.

Could 15-20 lbs of muscle really set off that chain of events? Maybe, maybe not. But it certainly seems worth a shot. Even if he improves a little on offense, he could be a decent 2B when you factor in his defense.

Manager Dale Sveum is optimistic.

“I’m a little bit overwhelmed after having watched him [from] the other side. He’s a lot stronger and a lot quicker than I thought....His first step’s really good. He’s still learning second base. There’s some things I’ve talked to him about that I think will help him out around the bag and free him up. The ball’s coming off his bat really well. I’ve been really impressed’’

Whether Barney can actually improve remains to be seen, but for right now you can bet on him being the opening day 2B. The Cubs simply don't have an upgrade in their camp, so until then the upgrade is going to have to come from within Barney himself.

Filed under: Spring Training

Tags: Darwin Barney

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  • I hope Barney's defense is enough to hold down the position until the Cubs have a real alternative. I really hope he ends up hitting eighth.

  • In reply to Tom Loxas:

    I don't know why, but I have this nagging feeling that Sveum is going to bat him 2B if he goes with Castro 3rd as planned. Seems a little old-schoolish with the lineups.

  • As a guy who is not a fan of Darwin Barney circa 2011, I'd be more than happy to see him step up this year. Even with a league average bat, he will be a very valuable middle infielder because he has a great glove. But the BB% and ISOP have to improve.

  • In reply to JasonB:

    A league average bat with his solid defense would be very acceptable to me. It's going to take a big jump for him because he wasn't really close to average on offense last year but even if he gets close to average, I'll be happy as long as he continues to play well in the field.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Agreed - the insight into the pitch data was a great touch. I never realized that he actually does have a good eye despite the low walk rate. Says something when pitchers aren't afraid to throw you melons though.

  • In reply to JasonB:

    Thanks, I have to give credit on that to Pitch F/X and Josh Weinstock of Fangraphs/Hardball Times. He was nice enough to send me the data on all the Cubs (in fact, on all the players in baseball with at least 300 PAs).

  • Still lobbying for that FO position that you discussed in the Bloomberg article, huh? :)

    If you gleen any more insights about any of the players after looking through the data, I'd love to hear it!

  • In reply to JasonB:

    LOL...I'll take a scouting job. I'll even work cheap!

    I'll see if I can dig that spreadsheet up. Here's the original article by Josh Weinstock that led me to ask him for more data.

    http://www.hardballtimes.com/main/article/a-different-take-on-plate-discipline/

  • Who in the minors is the best prospect to replace him by 2013
    or 2014?

  • In reply to emartinezjr:

    Ronald Torreyes or Zeke DeVoss, by 2014...maybe. Otherwise it's Logan Watkins who may not be a whole lot different, better speed and natural strength, maybe but he also lacks power. Has a good eye, but like Barney, they'll throw him strikes until he proves he can make them pay for it.

  • Even though I kind of like Barney, he's more a stop gap if you ask me. He's the kind of guy that's okay to have around but also the kind of guy you will replace the second someone with more upside comes along.

  • In reply to Steve Flores:

    Probably, but he's a good defender and that makes him our guy for the near future. You just hope he gets a bit better on offense.

  • Do you think he'll be able to keep up his current playing weight through 162 games, or even add some strength? I do think that some added power would cure all 3 of those problems you list. He won't ever turn that weakness into a strength, but it would be nice to see him punishing those strikes for deep drives to the gaps.

  • In reply to ChiRy:

    That's a good question. We won't know until later in the year. If Cardenas shows he can play at least a little D, he could sub for him and keep him fresh.

  • This tweet from a Cleveland Indians blogger indicates the Tribe could have interest in a trade for Marlon Byrd. Thoughts? Opens up Cf for Brett Jackson if Cubs are so inclined.

    QT @didtribewin: @HDAClvlnd Carlos Lee and Marlon Byrd seem to be potential options. Probably different price tags.

  • In reply to Cliffy46405:

    Hmmm. With Sizemore out, it becomes a possibility. I don't know if the Cubs are sure that BJax is ready, but if they get an offer for Byrd that makes sense and makes them better in the future, I think they'd do it. They won't give him away though, he still has some value to them.

  • Some would argue that the 2012 Cubs are kind of a stop gap.

    i really like Darwin Barney. he EARNED his playing time. He started the year ticketed for Iowa but he hit. And he made the team. When Blake DeWitt spit it, Barney hit his way into a platoon with Jeff baker. Then he hit some more, and the job became his. yes he wore down, most rookies do. But the "Let's start tearing him down for what he DOESN'T do" bandwagon really jumped the gun on him as far as I'm concerned. Especially when you consider there isn't a player pushing him as a replacement. maybe that 110 lb minor leaguer they got from the Reds, Torreyes?, maybe after a year he starts to push.

    Until then I'm more than happy to hope and root for his improvement. But also be content for what he does bring to 2b.

    I hope he bats 8th too. But if he does wind up batting 2nd, it's because Svuem likes to hit and run, and Barney just kept hitting to the opposite field and Svuem trusts him. In other words, if Barney does hit 2nd, it's because he'll have earned it. Like he's always done as a Cub.

  • In reply to felzz:

    I'm rooting for him to get better. If nothing else to shoot a few more balls in the gap or down the line. His ceiling isn't ever going to be all that high, but if he can play good defense and provide just a bit more punch and OBP, then he's serviceable.

    And no doubt that Barney has earned his keep every step of the way. He's had to prove himself since the day he was drafted. It's no different now.

  • Interesting and informative article, John.

    I'm also firmly in the Darwin Barney camp. I recall reading stories last year that Darwin has been a winner everywhere he has been, including College World Series titles. I have 2 observations from last year:
    1) Barney was brought back way too early from his early season injury
    2) Former Cubs manager did not give Barney sufficient rest. Even after several 0-fer days in a row, he was still running Barney out there EVERY day in August and September. Hopefully, Dale rotates his players a little better this year.

    Outside of his time on the disabled list, do you have any stats on how many days off Barney actually got last year? Or how many days in a row he played in August and September?

    Thanks, John.

  • In reply to DropThePuck:

    Thanks DTP!

    He is one of those guys that winning seems to follow -- except last year, of course.

    The Cubs may have a better backup now in Cardenas and maybe Barney will get a lot more rest. We also have to consider he's the main backup to Castro at SS too, so it won't be easy.

    August was his heaviest month and he played a lot from about July 14th on. He played in every game from then until Sept. 6th (about 50 games). Had a couple of games off and then pretty much played ever day from Sept. 11th on.

  • I am a fan of Barney because he seems to prove people wrong. John is right. His ceiling isn't all that high. My hope is that this newfound strength cures a lot of his weaknesses and he is able to be a fixture in the 8th spot moving forward. With Castro's throwing errors, it is a good thing to have him and Barney grow together and get used to each other.

    What worries me is the Ryan Theriot syndrome where he bulked up and his bat slowed down.

  • In reply to Break The Curse:

    He's a likeable guy. I'm still not sure he's a starter, but I think he deserves that chance. His defense will fit right in with the team's direction. He's their best option right now and you hope that he gets a little bit better.

  • I root for him just because his first name is Darwin. I'm a cheap date.

    Great breakdown of the numbers. Really brought home what you were saying earlier about needing a little bit of pop and not being just a singles hitter. I didn't agree then, but you've convinced me.

  • In reply to Carne Harris:

    Thanks. Just a little pop from Barney is all I ask, enough to get the pitcher's respect.

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