Traditional baseball statistics like batting average don’t tell us the whole story. Baseball is trending towards a greater use of sabermetrics when evaluating a player’s value, as it rightfully should. One of the most popular of these statistics is WAR, or wins above replacement. This stat is genius in that it determines how many wins a certain player adds to a team’s record as opposed to a replacement at that position, for example, a minor leaguer or bench player. To calculate WAR, the brainiacs at Baseball Reference take six numbers into consideration: batting runs, baserunning runs, runs added or lost by grounding into double plays, fielding runs, positional adjustment runs and replacement-level runs.
In 2012, second baseman Darwin Barney led the Chicago Cubs with a WAR of 4.6. Shortstop Starlin Castro was second on the team at 3.5 and first baseman Anthony Rizzo was third at 2.2. Left fielder Alfonso Soriano, who produced 32 home runs and 108 RBIs, was fourth on the Cubs with a WAR of 1.8.
So how did Barney, who hit just .254 with seven home runs and 44 RBI, end up as the team’s most valuable position player in 2012? Obviously his defense played a vital role, as Barney committed just three errors in 744 chances on his way to earning the National League Gold Glove award at second base. His Rfield (runs from fielding) was tops on his team at 29, a whopping 25 more than the next highest (Rizzo and Luis Valbuena with four), but the superb glove work isn’t all he offers to the Cubs. Barney makes great contact at the plate with a strikeout ratio of just 9.9 percent and an 82.2 percent balls-in-play percentage, both best on the team, and after just two full seasons at the big-league level, improvement is probable.
The Cubs front office already considers Barney to be a key part of the future if he can make some minor adjustments at the plate. General Manager Jed Hoyer had this to say about the youngster on MLB Network Radio on Jan. 27:
“Darwin Barney still has some work to do with getting on base which he knows but he is such a good defender at second base, great makeup and he’s got great hand-eye coordination that is so good that once he, he is really one of those guys that puts the ball in play too much, once he lays off some more pitches he will be a really good player. “
Though Barney’s offensive numbers dropped in many categories last season, he established himself as one of the best defensive middle infielders in the game. With nowhere for his offensive production to go but up, look for Barney to make greater strides at the plate and really solidify his spot as the everyday second baseman for the Cubs’ future playoff run.