Are the Chicago Cubs Overvaluing Positional Versatility from Bench Players?

By Joshua Huffman
Steven Bisig-USA TODAY Sports

One of the first things that any Chicago Cubs enthusiast should learn: “super-utility guys” aren’t necessarily “super utility-guys.”

I’ve seen fans cringe whenever this term has been used to describe players who can play multiple positions. They misinterpret it as a way of saying that—for example—Chone Figgins is a super player. Figgins is a super-utility guy because he can play almost any position in the infield or outfield. In no way does it mean that he’s a superstar.

Speaking of Figgins, According to ESPN Chicago, Cubs manager Dale Sveum was asked about his feelings on adding Figgins to the 25-man roster before Opening Day. Sveum had the following comment:

“Figgins would be interesting just because he switch-hits, he can play the outfield, he can run, he can play the infield. He’s like a super-utility guy.”

Another super-utility guy. Just like Joe Mather. Just like Brent Lillibridge. Just like what the Cubs want Steve Clevenger to become.

It’s nice to have super-utility players who can play multiple positions. It gives a manager more options when they’re making moves toward the latter stages of each game. Super-utility players give a manager the chance to use his best pinch-hitters in critical situations. The manager wouldn’t have to worry about possibly having someone play out of position during the bottom-half of the inning.

Super-utility players have a purpose. With that said, how useful are they when they’re hitting near the Mendoza Line?

Here were the 2012 stats of the aforementioned super-utility players: Mather (.209 batting average and .256 on-base percentage), Lillibridge (.195 batting average with a .250 on-base percentage) and Figgins (.181 batting average with a .262 on-base percentage).

These aren’t MLB-caliber super-utility players; they’re emergency options who belong in Triple-A or even Double-A. When a rash of injuries torment a 25-man roster, they’d get promoted for however long they were needed. If they played well, they’d stay until their hot hands had cooled off.

Are the Cubs overvaluing positional versatility, sacrificing potential offensive production from players who play just one or two positions? Positional versatility isn’t enough of a reason to keep a player on a 25-man roster. They must have another niche, whether it’s with their bat or legs.

This is something that management must address in future offseasons.

Joshua Huffman is a contributor for Follow him on Twitter, “Like” him on Facebook, or add him to your LinkedIn and Google networks.

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