Results tagged ‘ Darwin Barney ’
NASHVILLE, Tenn.—Cubs manager Dale Sveum met with the media today at the Gaylord Opryland Resort and shared a number of interesting tidbits in his first full availability in several months. No topic—from starting pitching, to the back end of the bullpen, to offseason work, to offensive needs—was off limits. We’ll cover them all in a few posts this week.
• While Sveum said he appreciated the front office’s praise of the job he did this season, he also said his staff holds the entire clubhouse, including themselves, accountable. He echoed recent comments by Theo Epstein that clubhouse character and reputation matters around the league.
“We have to be better and do a better job. We knew going in we were changing the culture of an organization, changing the culture of the 25 guys on the baseball field every day. I think we accomplished a lot of things like that. To get the people that come to this organization, the kids that come up, very comfortable knowing that myself and my staff are guys that are going to hold guys accountable—and to get character-type, good players in the organization—it makes a big difference when free agents can find out that a manager and staff are doing the right things.”
• Brett Jackson and Darwin Barney were among the Cubs players who recently got targeted work with the coaching staff in Arizona.
“It’s obviously not a major league pitcher out there, but [Jackson] made huge strides in his batting practice. [He] completely overhauled his swing, changed a lot of things. It was a completely different swing. Using his hands much, much more, staying behind the ball—a lot of things that are definitely going to help going into the season. I think he has a good base to work with going the rest of winter into Spring Training to understand the art of hitting, so to speak, that sometimes gets lost or taught the wrong way.”
Sveum offered praise for Barney’s glove work and said the second baseman didn’t need to make any major swing changes.
“He didn’t have to make huge, drastic swing changes or anything like that. A few things we brought up—with him, it’s more about driving the ball. I think his on-base percentage is going to gradually get better just with experience. We all know the glove he has, the Gold Glove, but we have to get that OPS up, and he realizes that. He’s capable of both.”
Rawlings has officially confirmed what Cubs fans have known all year: Darwin Barney’s glove is golden.
On Tuesday, Barney was named the NL’s best second baseman, earning his first Gold Glove Award in just his second season at the position. He beat out fellow finalists Brandon Phillips of the Reds and Aaron Hill of the Diamondbacks. Barney had the top fielding percentage in the league, at .997, while both Phillips and Hill had a .992 mark.
So how did Barney manage to unseat three-time winner Phillips and tie the major league single-season record for errorless games at 141? Hard work—and penty of it.
“[His work ethic] is as good as it gets,” said Dave McKay, the Cubs’ first base and outfield coach. “He’s out there every day. He’s out there right now working on it. He wants to be good. He wants to win a Gold Glove, and he wants it bad. He doesn’t take a day off.”
In the final days of the 2012 season, Vine Line sat down with Barney to talk about his defensive prowess, his relationship with mentor and former coach Ryne Sandberg, and his consuming drive to get better.
The following is an excerpt from the November issue of Vine Line, on sale now at Chicago-area retailers.
Good as Gold
When Darwin Barney came to Spring Training in 2011, he was expected to be a utility player. By the end of 2012, he was a Gold Glove-winning second baseman and a cornerstone of the Cubs’ future.
April 18, 2012, was a rough day for the Cubs.
It was the second game of a three-game road trip to the Marlins’ ultra-modern, “only-in-Miami” new ballpark. Starter Matt Garza struggled through five innings, while his mound opponent and former Chicago compatriot Mark Buehrle cruised through eight, surrendering one run. The Cubs managed just six hits in a 9-1 loss … and starting second baseman Darwin Barney didn’t make an error.
It was an altogether forgettable evening of baseball, except for one thing. This game touched off one of the best defensive runs in baseball history.
It would be more than five months—141 games—before Barney made another miscue in the field. During that nearly season-long stretch, the diminutive second baseman made all the plays (including a surprising number of spectacular ones), piled up records, and bypassed former coach and Cubs legend—and perhaps the best second baseman of all time—Ryne Sandberg.
“I’ve been around a long time, and he’s been as good as I’ve ever seen,” said manager Dale Sveum. “[Barney] has put together arguably one of the best defensive second base years in the history of the game. I mean, he’s passed a lot of people. And when you’re basically passing one of the best—if not the best (Ryne Sandberg)—it’s one heck of an accomplishment you can hang your hat on for the rest of your life.”
There are more obvious kinds of excellence. Miguel Cabrera’s Triple Crown practically begs for plaudits and superlatives—it necessitates hits, home runs, fireworks and its own SportsCenter playlist. Barney’s is a low-key, under-the-radar, grind-it-out kind of excellence.
An errorless game is nothing to get excited about. Major league ballplayers aren’t supposed to make errors. But given the physical and mental grind of 162 games, they all know how difficult it is to put together an extended errorless streak.
“If I had a 20-game streak, I was pleased with myself,” said former Cubs third base and infield coach Pat Listach, who played six seasons in the majors and was integral to Barney’s defensive improvement over the last two years. “This guy has got over 100. Just knowing how hard it is to do every day, day in and day out, made it more impressive every day.”
To a man, every player and coach immediately mentions Barney’s tireless work ethic and consuming drive to get better. He consistently receives the highest compliment a player can give to any other major leaguer: “He’s a baseball player.” And over the course of the 2012 season, Barney fashioned himself into perhaps the preeminent defensive second sacker in the game.
“His work ethic is off the charts,” Listach said. “He knows this is a game you can only play for a certain number of years, and he wants to be the best at it while he’s got that window open. He’s like the old-school baseball players. When us coaches leave after we’re done dissecting the game, he’s still there. He’s in the weight room, or he’s in the video room. He’s trying to make himself better every day.”
Given the way Barney handles the keystone, it would be easy to believe he’s spent his entire life mastering the position. But in reality, 2012 was only Barney’s second year at second base. He’d grown up and played his entire career as a shortstop, including at Oregon State University, where he said he really started to focus on his defensive play.
“We had a coach, Marty Lees, who’s now at Oklahoma State,” Barney said. “Every ground ball I took my freshman year, I felt like he had something to say. And I was so frustrated because [it was] every single ground ball. And we took a lot of ground balls.”
When Barney made his debut as the Cubs’ starting second baseman on Opening Day 2011, it was just the 24th game he had played the position as a professional. Although he thought the transition would be easy, he said he was often uncomfortable in the field, especially turning the double play. He ultimately finished the 2011 season with 12 errors and a .981 fielding percentage—a decent defensive season for a guy adjusting to a new position—but Barney was far from satisfied.
“I just took a lot of pride in the work that I did,” Barney said. “I was always conscious about my habits and my practice efforts and getting to work every single day. A lot of times when you’re tired, you take your defense off and take less ground balls. For me, I take less swings. I make sure I get my work in on defense and stay solid out there.”
By almost any measure—advanced metrics, errors, fielding percentage or just the eye test—Barney’s 2012 was one of the best defensive seasons for a second baseman in the history of the game. In 156 games, Barney made only three errors—one of which came at shortstop—and amassed a .997 fielding percentage at second base. Baseball-Reference had Barney tied with Brendan Ryan of the Mariners for the best defensive wins above replacement (3.6) mark in the major leagues in 2012.
“This is my 11th full year doing big league games, and this is the best defensive year by an individual player I’ve witnessed,” said Cubs television broadcaster Len Kasper. “I think we’ve come a long way with defensive statistics and how to look at defense. The bottom line is: Forget about the errors and fielding percentage. It’s about balls hit in your area and turning them into outs. It’s been borne out in the statistics that every ball hit in his area turns into an out.”
But Barney is not spending the offseason resting on his defensive laurels. Despite his superlative campaign, he still wants to get better around the bag turning double plays. He plans to work on his speed and flexibility to improve his range. And he wants to continue to refine his routine so he’s ready to play every day. And for people who know Barney, none of this comes as a surprise.
“A lot of times, players have a tendency to work on the things they do well,” said Dave McKay, the Cubs’ first base and outfield coach. “Darwin works on everything. He works on his backhand, he works on his feeds, ground balls hit up the middle, ground balls hit to his left. He works on them all because he wants to be that guy—he wants to be the Gold Glove second baseman. I think once he gets it, he’s going to get it forever.”
In November, Vine Line pays tribute to the power of hard work.
It wasn’t like Cubs second baseman and November cover boy Darwin Barney was an unheralded player. The 2007 fourth-round draft pick won everywhere he ever played, and the Cubs always loved his intelligent approach to the game. But that wasn’t enough to guarantee the 5-foot-10, 185-pound minor league shortstop a roster spot. After Starlin Castro made it clear he was the team’s shortstop of the future, Barney had to find another route to The Show.
When he won the Cubs’ starting second base job out of Spring Training in 2011, the position was mostly new to him. So he spent countless hours working with former third base and infield coach Pat Listach and the other Cubs coaches to hone his technique.
“We have a routine we do every day, and he’s religious about it,” Listach said. “Even on days we don’t take batting practice, he’ll come to me and say, ‘Hey, can we get on the ﬁeld and get a few ground balls?’ He just doesn’t like to miss a day.”
What was most interesting about reporting this story was how willing people were to compliment the soon-to-be 27-year-old Gold Glove finalist (winners will be announced tonight at 8:30 p.m. Central on ESPN2). His work ethic is legendary among coaches and players. Castro even credits the former shortstop for helping improve his play at the position. Everyone we talked to was quick to sing his praises.
“Work ethic and the way he goes about it every day, Darwin Barney has been probably the most impressive guy I’ve come across,” said hitting coach James Rowson. “I’ve been around quite awhile now, and you will not ﬁnd a harder worker than him.”
Two years and a 141-game errorless streak later, it’s safe to say the second base job is Barney’s for the foreseeable future.
In the November issue of Vine Line, we also look at the hard work of some of the players’ better halves. For years, the Cubs wives have donated their time and resources to the team’s communities in Mesa, Ariz., and Chicago. We talk to many of them about why they feel the need to give back and what it’s like to be the spouse of a major leaguer.
Finally, we talk to veteran coach McKay about the work he’s been doing to bring a winning mentality to this young Cubs team. And if there’s anyone who knows winning, it’s McKay, who spent more than 25 years with Tony La Russa and has three World Series rings.
For these stories and more, subscribe to Vine Line or pick up an issue at select Chicago-area retailers. We’ve also launched a Vine Line Twitter account at @cubsvineline to keep you posted on Cubs happenings up to the minute.
Every month in Vine Line, Emerald Gao and Sean Ahmed take an analytical and visual look at the Chicago Cubs in Cubsgrafs. In this bonus online edition, we break down the 137 home runs hit by the 2012 squad.
The top graph looks at the five home runs that swung the game’s fate most toward the Cubs. It uses Win Probability Added (WPA), which gives the average probability that a team will win the game based on the inning, score and base/out situation. No surprise that Bryan LaHair and Alfonso Soriano hit some vital long balls—but it looks like Darwin Barney also made the most of his handful of homers this year.
(Photo by Stephen Green)
Darwin Barney’s defense has been the talk of the team this season for the Cubs. As his consecutive games without an error streak has continued to grow, defensive records at second base have fallen at an equally quick pace, all the hands—and glove—of the 26-year-old. Franchise records were topped first, followed shortly by National League marks. But on Friday, it will be Placido Polanco’s MLB single-season mark of 141 games without an error for a second baseman with the target on its back. Barney tied the total on Thursday and will likely be in the lineup to set the new milestone.
Vine Line took a look at some of the records at the other positions around the diamond. Below is a chart mapping both consecutive errorless games in a career and in a season, according to Baseball-Almanac.com.
(Photos by Stephen Green)
Spoiler alert: Trailing the rival Cardinals 4-2 in the bottom of the ninth inning, Darwin Barney’s clutch two-out, two-strike, two-run home run into the left-field bleachers tied the game 4-4. David DeJesus, who went 4-for-6 on the day, hit a single to drive in Brett Jackson in the 11th and propel the Cubs to a dramatic 5-4 victory.
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.
Santo’s induction? Rizzo’s walk-off? Kerry’s farewell? Even though this season has been a struggle in the standings, there’s been no shortage of memorable Cubs highlights. Which events from the 2012 season made you stand up and take notice? This month, Vine Line is letting you decide on the best of 2012. Cast your vote and see the results in the October issue.
Though the season hasn’t been as bright as many hoped, Cubs fans do have a few things to hang their hats on from the 2012 season. Jeff Samardzija and Travis Wood both look like reliable arms for the future, Anthony Rizzo is playing as well as anybody could have asked, and some young players are getting valuable experience at the big league level.
But one of the quieter stories from this season has been the exceptional defensive play of second baseman Darwin Barney. The infielder has committed just one error in 2012 and should get consideration for a Gold Glove. Below is how he stacks up with some of the other elite second basemen in the NL.