Can The Cubs Afford To Keep Darwin Barney's Offense?

Harry How

The Cubs second baseman is having an historically bad offensive season. How long can the team afford to keep him in the lineup full-time?

Darwin Barney won a Gold Glove in 2012 and tied a major-league record for consecutive errorless games by a second baseman. He hasn't had quite as good a defensive season in 2013 but based on the new criteria for the award, which include advanced metrics, he's got a pretty good chance to win another one.

His offense, though, is another story. Take a look at how bad it is; by quite a number of measures, Barney is having one of the worst -- if not the worst -- offensive seasons in Cubs history.

First measure: batting average. Barney is hitting .208; he's already got enough plate appearances (529) to qualify for the batting title. In all of Cubs history, only three other hitters have qualified for the batting title and had a lower BA: Ivan De Jesus in 1981, .194 (a strike season, though De Jesus had almost enough PA, 460, to qualify in a normal year); Bobby Morgan in 1957, .207 in 485 PA (enough to qualify in the 154-game season) and Dode Paskert, .196 in 1919 (he had just 309 PA and I'm not 100 percent sure what the qualifying rules were then, so perhaps you could discount this one).

Next: SLG. Barney is slugging .307. There are 40 seasons in Cubs history worse than that, though all but 13 of them are from the deadball era and there are several more from Don Kessinger and Glenn Beckert in the low-offense 1960s. The last such season was from Larry Bowa, .305 in 1982 when he was 36.

Third measure: OPS. Barney's OPS is .574. De Jesus' was lower, .509; beyond that you find a couple of seasons' worth of Kessinger (.570 in 1968, .548 in 1967), one of Beckert (.573 in 1965, and Barney's about to go below that) -- from a low-offense era when middle infielders weren't expected to hit; a couple guys from the 1940s, and 10 seasons from the deadball era.

How about OPS+? That would normalize the era differences. Barney's OPS+ is 57. Again, De Jesus shows up (44 in 1981); Kessinger's 1967 season (55), Bobby Mattick in 1940 (40), one guy from the deadball era, and Ronny Cedeno's 2006 season (54).

Enough? I thought so. Barney's offense has entered a black hole, and the Cubs need hitting. His defense is good enough to be a fine utility player, even on a contending team. Perhaps the Cubs could keep him around for that.

What I'd suggest is to try out Javier Baez at second base. It's already been stated that Baez will play more positions than just shortstop in the Arizona Fall League; I assume this means second base as well as third, though the Cubs have plenty of other options in the system at third base (Mike Olt, Christian Villanueva, Kris Bryant).

Baez at second base and Starlin Castro at shortstop might not be as good defensively as Castro and Barney (though Baez could certainly improve), but it would provide a huge bump in offense. So my answer to the question posed in the headline is, "Yes, but not as a starter."

Your thoughts, please, in the comments.

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