Results tagged ‘ Dave McKay ’
Reading a pitcher’s move is an essential part of facilitating the running game and jump-starting the offense. According to Cubs first base coach Dave McKay, proper execution of the skill comes down to three key elements: establishing a fixed spot to observe the pitcher, knowing the pitcher’s habits and extending the coach’s box.
“I heard it said one time, ‘This guy’s as boring as a first base coach,’ but not anymore,” McKay said. “First base coaches, they have a job to do over here.”
For the May issue of Vine Line, McKay showed us what he watches for from a pitcher and how he helps Cubs base runners. For more insider access to the team, subscribe to Vine Line. And read the complete story in the May issue, which also features articles on the Cubs core, Carlos Villanueva and the Committed campaign.
On Monday morning, Vine Line was on hand for the Cubs annual photo day in Mesa, Ariz., where we got a chance to talk to Cubs manager Dale Sveum, pitching coach Chris Bosio, hitting coach James Rowson and first-base coach Dave McKay about their expectations for the 2013 season.
Vine Line will be posting videos and content from Fitch Park and HoHoKam Stadium all week long, so keep an eye on the blog and our Twitter account, @cubsvineline.
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.
2012 Positions Played: LF (96%), DH (4%)
2012 Batting (AVG/OBP/SLG): .263/.317/.504 in 583 PA
2012 Wins Above Replacement (Fangraphs): 3.8
2013 Contract Status: Signed (through 2014)
Last summer, Vine Line ran a cover story about Alfonso Soriano titled “Play It Forward,” which talked about the mentorship the veteran outfielder was providing young teammates like Starlin Castro. An underlying premise was that as Soriano’s numbers decline—as is generally expected with athletes in their 30s—an increasing portion of his value would be derived from his leadership. And there were very specific ways Soriano demonstrated that in the Cubs clubhouse, where he’s revered as one of the team’s hardest workers.
It turns out a different premise may better apply to Soriano this season. With the right instruction, there’s a lot he still can do on and off the field.
Soriano’s biggest improvement in 2012 has undoubtedly been on the defensive side, where he’s simply made a number of catches he either wouldn’t have attempted or wouldn’t have successfully corralled before. He singles out First Base Coach Dave McKay, who put him through a season-long defensive boot camp that Soriano had never before received—not even when he was first moved to left field by the Nationals in 2006. McKay buzzes around batting practice every day to work with the outfielders on their catching and throwing fundamentals, and Soriano has been as much a beneficiary as many rookies. Whether you use advanced metrics, standard putouts or your eyes, Soriano’s making more outs in the field than he has since his first year with the Cubs. His arm seems improved across all three evaluation methods, as well.
At the plate, Soriano has recovered from a poor 2011. His 31 home runs rank fifth in the National League, and he’s the team’s leader in on-base plus slugging percentage (although Anthony Rizzo has a similarly valuable half-season when adjusted for the relative importance of on-base percentage). Soriano has struck out more frequently this season (25.4 percent of PAs) than in any other year of his career, but he has traded that for more power and a slightly higher batting average. PITCHf/x data shows Soriano continues to feast on low pitches, including those slightly out of the zone.
But perhaps as crucial as anything else has been Soriano’s ability to stay healthy. The graph to the right shows a potential relationship between his offensive performance and his games missed due to injury (according to Baseball Prospectus’ excellent database). In an up-and-down past four years, Soriano has hit his best in seasons in which he has avoided the disabled list entirely, including 2010 and 2012. Last year, he was hobbled by a quadriceps strain, and his knee required surgery in 2009.* Both seasons were by far his worst at the plate in a Cubs uniform. Those ailments continue to bother him to some extent, but he has once again been a dependable part of the daily lineup.
The Cubs have Soriano under contract for two more seasons, and whether it be through his leadership, his offense or his defense, the 36-year-old outfielder will be an important bridge to any future stars the organization successfully develops.
*Soriano’s injuries in 2007 and 2008 also involved various leg muscles, though he missed 34 games in ’08 due to a hit by pitch that broke a bone in his left hand.