It may have not been the most popular opinion the past 2+ years, but I have gone to the mat for Luis Valbuena more than once on this blog.
I understand he's a fringe starter and probably belongs in a utility role, but apart from Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo, the whole team is made up of fringe starters/utility players. Yet it's been Valbuena who has symbolized Cubs fans frustrations. He's often thought of as the roadblock when it comes to getting young players in the lineup.
Maybe we should think of him as the bridge.
Valbuena embodies the Cubs grind it out philosophy. He makes pitchers work, seeing an outstanding 4.29 pitches per plate appearance. he takes walks at an amazing rate (15.9%), gets on base (.381 OBP), and he plays outstanding defense, ranking among the best 3Bs in baseball as measured by UZR/150. He has ranked 6th in all of baseball since 2012 for 3B with more than 1500 innings.
He does the grunt work, the stuff that people don't see. If he hit .300 or hit 30 HRs, fans would love him -- but every team needs these kinds of grinders who do the behind the scenes stuff that helps you win. He’s the equivalent of the basketball player who sets the picks, plays D, and gets that big rebound when you need it. In terms of WAR, Valbuena is the Cubs 3rd best position player behind Castro and Rizzo.
Valbuena held the fort at 3B until the Cubs were ready to commit to Mike Olt on a near everyday basis. He has now made the seamless transition to 2B where he is once again playing well above average defense 28.4 UZR/150), albeit in a very small sample size of 91 innings.
With Arismendy Alcantara and Javier Baez still adjusting to AAA and Stephen Bruno still down at AA, Valbuena is once again providing a bridge until those prospects are ready. But it won't be long until fans start clamoring for Baez, Alcantara, or even Bruno to take over 2B. Until then, he'll just continue to do the unsung work of a grinder and be the veteran glue that holds that infield together. On a young team, Valbuena provides leadership and the visual framework for the philosophy that this front office preaches.
I can assure you that the front office, his manager, and his teammates appreciate what Luis Valbuena brings to the table. It's time fans start to appreciate it as well.
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