Better Know a Cub: Darwin Barney

Darwin Barney is an odd duck. He doesn’t get on base all that often (.299 OBP last year, .305 career). He has no power (7 HR last year is more than double the amount he has hit in any other year of his professional career).  He doesn’t walk (5.6% last year, 2.4% less than the league average). He doesn’t steal bases (6 last year). Offensively, he was pitiful by any standard by any position (7th lowest wOBA in baseball last year, and the 6 players above him are a veritable who’s who of awful players).

And yet, Darwin Barney was slightly better than a league-average 2B last year. How on earth can that be?

Barney had one of the best defensive seasons of all time, a legendary season that saw him break the alltime errorless streak and win the Gold Glove while not hitting a lick. He actually tied Danny Espinosa for the highest total Fld (a FanGraphs Stat) in 2012. He blew the field away in UZR and ErrR.

The big problem with all of this is that I just am not certain that Darwin Barney is the Brooks Robinson of second basemen. Last year, Barney didn’t just provide most of his value with his glove, he provided all of it. What happens next year if he hits .268/.311/.357, as Bill James projects, but only provides a win or two with his glove? Barney quickly becomes a utility infielder, albeit a great defensive one. 

There’s no real strength to Barney’s offensive game, and the only thing you can look to for him to improve is him getting hit-lucky (BABIP of .273 last year). His career average is .291, which suggests that he’s just a poor hitter.

However impossible it may be, I’d love to trade Darwin Barney to a team that really appreciates his defensive value (and there is some value to be had there). Barney is rosterable if he can get a wOBA around .300, but only as a utility infielder. If he takes a leap forward (I honestly think he’s overmatched at the MLB level, though; nothing in his minor or major league history points to him being much better than he is right now), he could be a good option at 2nd for some teams that are defense-oriented (the Mariners are a great fit if they are giving on Ackley, one of the 6 players that incredibly had a lower wOBA than Barney last year). In the interim, he’s a fine stopgap until Watkins is ready (late 2013/early 2014 if it all goes well). For what it’s worth, I project that Barney could net a prospect in a team’s 15-20 level- he’s more of a throw-in.

It took a historic, unrepeatable defensive season for Barney to be worth 2.5 wins. Unless he can take a step forward towards mediocrity with the bat, I don’t see that happening again.

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