Some baseball sources have recently suggested that the Cubs may non-tender second baseman Darwin Barney rather than offer him arbitration. What circumstances would lead the Cubs to part ways with Barney?
A review of the 2013 season reveals that Barney again posted superior defensive metrics. According to Baseball-Reference.com, Barney saved eleven more runs than the average second baseman last season. In comparison, he saved 28 more runs than the average second baseman during his Gold-Glove-winning 2012 season. Despite these solid defensive numbers, supporters and critics alike would admit that Barney’s offensive production proved woeful in 2013. The question remains whether Barney’s offensive numbers were bad enough to justify releasing him?
In order to determine how badly Barney’s 2013 offensive campaign compared to other second basemen, I researched all major leaguers from the modern era (defined as 1945 to now) who achieved 525 or more plate appearances while playing at least half of their games at second base. Using these parameters, I sorted the qualifying players by on base plus slugging percentage (“OPS”). The results revealed that Barney’s 2013 OPS of .569 ties him for the twelfth worst OPS by a second baseman in modern history.
To put Barney’s OPS in perspective, consider that even the Cubs’ legendary Eddie Miksis managed to earn a .636 OPS in 1953. In other words, Barney posted the worst OPS of any Cubs second baseman in team history. Worse than that, only Don Kessinger’s 1967 .548 OPS ranks lower than Barney of any Cub regular offensive player (525 or more plate appearances) in modern team history. In fact, Barney had the worst season for a major league second baseman with at least 525 plate appearances since Jose Lind matched his woeful OPS with the 1989 Pittsburgh Pirates. In the last 35 years, only Billy Ripken managed to produce a lower OPS among second basemen than Barney’s 2013 effort.
Many Cubs fans grew frustrated as Cubs rookie Logan Watkins sat idly on the bench while Barney struggled so mightily at the plate. Why did Cubs manager Dale Sveum insist on playing Barney day in and day out even as the team flailed in September? Perhaps new Cubs manager Rich Renteria will modify Barney’s playing time (assuming Barney remains with the team) in 2014. Let us hope that if Barney continues to produce historically poor offensive results, Renteria will explore other options. If, on the other hand, the Cubs part ways with Barney during the offseason, it will show that there are limits to the extent that teams can tolerate poor offensive production, even for a player with tremendous defensive prowess.