2012 Player Profile: Darwin Barney

2012 Positions Played: 2B (99%), SS (1%)
2012 Batting (AVG/OBP/SLG): .263/.310/.369 in 528 PA
2012 Wins Above Replacement (Fangraphs): 2.7
2013 Contract Status: Signed (Pre-Arbitration)
Recent Time to First: 4.2s on Aug. 30 (~50, or “average,” on 20-80 scale)

Can we measure defensive value? In the case of Darwin Barney, it may be worth a try. The second baseman has been rock-solid for the Cubs and carries an NL single-season record 131-game errorless streak into tonight’s matchup versus the Pirates. Let’s survey the numbers.

Mitchel Lichtman’s Ultimate Zone Rating—which uses detailed batted-ball data to estimate how many runs a player has “saved” versus an average player at his position—ranks Barney as MLB’s clear best at 11.8 runs. John Dewan’s Defensive Runs Saved has him at 27 with a few weeks to go. At the usual exchange rate of 10 runs to a win, these metrics suggest Barney has contributed between one and three wins above a “replacement player” with his glove this season. That’s outstanding.

We have to take those numbers with a grain of salt: Defensive metrics don’t really stabilize without larger sample sizes, and they make assumptions about positioning. Cubs fans who have been following the team know Manager Dale Sveum’s staff has revamped the team’s defensive alignments to maximize infield coverage, and Barney has been a big beneficiary.

Still, Barney passes the sight test—just this weekend, the Pirates watched him dive, slide and make a stunning over-the-shoulder catch (video below) to save hit after hit. Whatever Barney lacks in outright tools, he makes up for with intelligent positioning, solid range, good hands and a plus arm on the right side of the infield.

Barney’s weak point is offense, where he has been below average overall and at his position in each of his two full seasons. The gains in power this year have been offset by a lower batting average such that any difference in value has been a wash. He puts the ball in play frequently—he has low strikeout and high walk rates—and performs roughly the same versus right- and left-handed pitchers. His best numbers have come at the bottom of the lineup this year, with Sveum now deploying him mostly in the seventh and eighth slots.

He’s under team control through the 2016 season and is not arbitration eligible until 2014. In the meantime, Barney’s glove should continue to contribute to an increasingly excellent right side of the Cubs infield.

—Sean Ahmed

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