Results tagged ‘ Pat Listach ’

Barney’s defense is golden

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.”

Work Ethic

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.”

The Move

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.”

Chasing Greatness

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.”

Constant Improvement

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.”

—Gary Cohen

To read the entire article, pick up the November issue of Vine Line or subscribe to Vine Line today.

Hot Off the Presses: November Vine Line featuring Darwin Barney

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.

Down on the Farm: Pat Listach on Micah Hoffpauir

Throughout the season, Vine Line Online will speak with players, managers and front-office personnel in the minor-league system. Today, “Down on the Farm” checks in with Pat Listach, manager of the Iowa Cubs, about what he expects to see from Micah Hoffpauir in Chicago. Keep coming to the blog for reports, player profiles, interviews and stories during the week.

What to expect when expecting Hoffpauir

Chicagoans have been expecting Hoffpauir to join the Cubs for some time now, and after a herniated disc sidelined Daryle Ward, Hoffpauir finally got his shot. The 28-year-old had a monstrous 2007 Triple-A campaign, hitting .319 with 16 home runs and 73 RBIs, but a knee injury cut his season short, limiting him to only 82 games. Unfazed, the lefty followed that up by posting even better numbers in spring training. After a stint on the DL early this season, he continued to hit: In nine games for Iowa this year, Hoffpauir hit .324 with 3 home runs and 12 RBIs.

Count Pat Listach, the manager of the Iowa Cubs, as a believer that Hoffpauir will continue to mash in Chicago.

Hoffpauir.jpg“He’s going to hit.” Listach said. “He’s been a really good hitter the last few years, and I think he’s going to hit up there as well. He is going to provide some power from the left side of the plate.”

Hoffpauir’s hitting skills are proven, but some still question whether he is ready to play a major-league outfield after taking up the position this year. However, Hoffpauir has shown his Triple-A manager that he is more than ready for the challenge.

“You know what, he’s a good athlete,” Listach said. “He gets good jumps on the ball, he’s not a blazer, and he doesn’t have great speed. But he gets good jumps, and he makes the plays. If he gets to the ball, he catches it. He has no problem with that. He looks like a natural out there to be honest.”

Spending six years in the minors has been tough on Hoffpauir, and he is ready to make a name for himself at the major-league level. Listach and his staff have worked hard with Hoffpauir to make this next step and are glad the 2002 13th-round pick is finally getting a chance.

“He’s a great kid,” Listach said. “I couldn’t be happier for him. He’s really earned it, and he’s worked hard and has battled through some injuries. He’s finally there, and he’s playing good. He got a couple hits [the other day]. So we are really happy for him.”

Hoffpauir recorded his first major-league start (in leftfield) and base hit on May 21 in Houston. The hit, a double down the leftfield line was the first of two for the game. Since being called up on May 18, the Texas native has gone 5-for-11, and he recorded his first RBI last night, pinch-hitting in the eighth inning. Hoffpauir looks to be comfortable with his new surroundings and seems to be catching the eyes of everyone he plays around.

– Zach Martin

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Down on the Farm: Pat Listach, Manager of the Iowa Cubs

Throughout the season, Vine Line Online will speak with players, managers and front-office personnel in the minor-league system. Today, “Down on the Farm” checks in with Pat Listach, manager of the Iowa Cubs, about the challenges of managing a Triple-A team. Keep coming to the blog for reports, player profiles, interviews and stories during the week.

Listach_Pat.jpgSince Opening Day, Chicago has made 11 transactions with its Triple-A affiliate, the Iowa Cubs. That is the equivalent of roughly one transaction every four games. The Cubs have had to deal with inconsistent play and injuries, and they have used the I-Cubs as their very own Hans Brinker, the legend who plugged leaks with his thumbs as they appeared. For Iowa manager Pat Listach, the amount of moves can be daunting, but he does everything he can to get his players ready for their chances at the big leagues.

“We have a lot of player movement already, and I think for the most part [our] players are major-league ready. It’s our job as a staff down here to make sure they are ready when they go to Chicago,” Listach said. “We are not too concerned about winning in Iowa but making sure they get their repetitions in and get their work in so that they are ready when Lou Piniella and his staff up there call for them.”

Listach managed at Double-A Tennessee last year and has changed his philosophy a little to better coincide with more experienced players, but he maintains the basics are the same.

“We are still teaching fundamentals and teaching them how to play the game and how to prepare for the game.” Listach said. “[But] when you look around and you have a team with Sean Marshall, Rich Hill, Sean Gallagher and Kevin Hart, you approach things a little differently because they’ve been in the major leagues and they know what they need to do to get back there. [My role is] just being available for them to get their work in.”

Even so, long bus rides and years of minor-league play can wear down any seasoned ballplayer, especially at the Triple-A level, where most of the players are in their fourth or fifth seasons. But Listach sees the ivy, red brick and green scoreboard as enough incentive for his players to continue to work hard.

“We’ve got some three and four o’clock in the morning wakeup calls, and we have to do some things different as far as getting work done on those travel days because everybody’s exhausted.” Listach said. “[But] at one point we counted that 17 players out of the 24 had been in the major leagues. … It’s pretty easy to motivate when they can see the light at the end of the tunnel.”

Zach Martin

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