Take Darwin Barney. Please. A player with the first name of an evolutionary theorist and the last name of a purple dinosaur does not belong in baseball. Just look to the theory of his first name namesake. Barney defies Darwin’s theory of evolution. He is living proof that the weakest do survive.
In the name of scientific methodology, Darwin has compiled a convincing body of statistical evidence to prove that he is unfit to wear a big league uniform. In 2011, his first full season, he posted a respectable .276 batting average (“BA”) and .313 on-base percentage (“OBP”). With a solid comparison point from which to ground his namesake’s thesis, Barney has spent the last two years giving the Cubs all the statistical nails they needed to seal his coffin. In 2012, his BA and OBP dropped to .254 and .299, respectively. Then in 2013, he gave the Cubs the statistical hammer, putting up a .208 BA and .266 OBP. Out of 17 second baseman with a minimum of 500 plate appearances, he ranked 16th in BA. Only the Braves’ Dan Uggla put up an uglier BA of .179.
As a Wrigleyville Nation analysis calculated, Barney’s 2013 on base plus slugging percentage (“OPS”) of .569 ties him for the twelfth worst OPS by second baseman in modern history (defined as 1945 to now) and the worse OPS of any Cubs second baseman in team history.
That kind of hard statistical evidence can’t be ignored. Barney is as weak as they come at his position, the weakest of all positions. And yet he survives. The Cubs have shown no signs that anyone other than Barney will be starting at second base on Opening Day of the 2014 season. So does that mean that Darwin’s evolutionary theory is wrong? Or have we left out a critical variable in assessing Barney’s strength?
One can argue that we haven’t considered Barney’s defensive value, an area where he is undoubtedly strong compared to others of his species. Indeed, Major League Baseball awarded him the Gold Glove, the highest defensive honor for one of his kind, for his performance in 2012. He has consistently posted sterling fielding percentages: .981 in 2011, .997 in 2012, .993 in 2013.
In assessing his overall fitness then, are Barney’s defensive strengths enough to overcome his offensive weaknesses? According to Bleacher Report (“BR”), the answer is definitively no. Taking into account hitting, power, base running, defense, and health, BR ranked Barney 29th out of 35 second baseman. DJ LeMahieu, whom the Cubs traded away along with Tyler Colvin to the Colorado Rockies in 2011 for Ian Stewart and Casey Weathers, ranked No. 24. Cubs prospect Arismendy Alcantara (who has not played a single game at the major league level) fell only three behind Barney in the rankings. While giving Barney perfect scores for defense and health, BR still found that Barney’s anemic offensive numbers were simply too dreadful to ignore. Indeed, in describing Barney’s hitting, BR wrote that “his at-bats make for good restroom breaks.”
So that brings us back to the question: Is Darwin’s evolutionary theory wrong? Can the weakest survive? Thousands of years of evolution tell us the answer is no. But what if the lab where the testing is being conducted does not play by the usual rules. What if the playing field of that lab is not level, but is rather tipped to favor losing over winning. In such a place, and only in such a place, an island unto itself, not only do the weakest survive but actually thrive and prosper. There, and only there, can you hear on Opening Day of the 2014 baseball season these words out of loudspeaker: “Playing second base for the Chicago Cubs…Darwin Barney.” As Cubs fans, we can only hope – and maybe pray – that this course of evolution reverses itself, and that a player with the last name of a purple dinosaur won’t be foraging on our field for long.