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What Can The Cubs Expect From Ian Stewart?

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Ian Stewart of the Colorado Rockies looks on from the dugout during a game against the New York Mets at Citi Field in the Flushing neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York City. (Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images)
Ian Stewart of the Colorado Rockies looks on from the dugout during a game against the New York Mets at Citi Field in the Flushing neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York City. (Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images)
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The Cubs sent Tyler Colvin to the Rockies over the winter in exchange for Ian Stewart in what can be termed a low-level "challenge trade" -- two players who seriously underachieved in their previous locations, hoping for improvement and a fresh start with new teams.

Stewart was particularly bad for the Rockies last season, hitting zero home runs in 136 plate appearances while batting just .156/.243/.221 (those numbers even make Adam Dunn look good). Part of that, Stewart attributes to a wrist injury he suffered in spring training last year which now is fully healed. When sent to Triple-A Colorado Springs, Stewart hit .275/.359/.591 with 14 HR in 45 games, a similar pace to his previous Triple-A season in 2008, before he became a Rockies regular the following season.

Stewart hit 25 HR and drove in 70 runs as the more-or-less regular 3B for the 2009 Rockies. But his other numbers weren't outstanding; his triple-slash line of .228/.322/.464 produced an OPS+ of just 95, below average.

Stewart, though, was Top 100 Prospect in Baseball America five years in a row (2004-2008). He will turn 27 on Opening Day; maybe the change of scenery can help him fulfill that promise.

What might we expect? I put the following info into baseball-reference's Play Index: find a 3B who, at age 24 (the age Stewart was in the 2009 season), hit at least 25 HR, drove in at least 70 runs, had an OPS of at least .785, and -- just to balance that -- struck out at least 138 times. Results after the jump.

Here are the third basemen who fit the criteria I mentioned above.

Rk Player Year HR RBI OPS SO G Age Tm Lg PA AB R H 2B 3B BB IBB HBP SH SF GDP SB CS BA OBP SLG Pos
1 Ian Stewart 2009 25 70 .785 138 147 24 COL NL 491 425 74 97 19 3 56 3 5 0 5 7 7 4 .228 .322 .464 *54/79
2 Evan Longoria 2009 33 113 .889 140 157 23 TBR AL 671 584 100 164 44 0 72 11 8 0 7 27 9 0 .281 .364 .526 *5/D
3 Hank Blalock 2004 32 110 .855 149 159 23 TEX AL 713 624 107 172 38 3 75 7 6 0 8 13 2 2 .276 .355 .500 *5
4 Troy Glaus 2001 41 108 .898 158 161 24 ANA AL 708 588 100 147 38 2 107 7 6 0 7 16 10 3 .250 .367 .531 *5/6D
5 Troy Glaus 2000 47 102 1.008 163 159 23 ANA AL 678 563 120 160 37 1 112 6 2 0 1 14 14 11 .284 .404 .604 *5/6D
6 Scott Rolen 1998 31 110 .923 141 160 23 PHI NL 711 601 120 174 45 4 93 6 11 0 6 10 14 7 .290 .391 .532 *5
7 Dean Palmer 1993 33 96 .824 154 148 24 TEX AL 585 519 88 127 31 2 53 4 8 0 5 5 11 10 .245 .321 .503 *5/6
8 Matt Williams 1990 33 122 .807 138 159 24 SFG NL 664 617 87 171 27 2 33 9 7 2 5 13 7 4 .277 .319 .488 *5
9 Mike Schmidt 1974 36 116 .941 138 162 24 PHI NL 686 568 108 160 28 7 106 14 4 3 5 4 23 12 .282 .395 .546 *5
10 Dick Allen 1964 29 91 .939 138 162 22 PHI NL 708 632 125 201 38 13 67 13 0 6 3 8 3 4 .318 .382 .557 *5
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 2/24/2012.

Well.

That is quite a list of players, anywhere from "solid regular" to "Hall of Fame caliber". Note that I am not in any way suggesting that Stewart could be as good as Mike Schmidt, or even Matt Williams, who had a 17-year career in which he hit 378 home runs.

The best comp on that list is probably Dean Palmer, who had a season much like Stewart's age 24 season when Palmer was 23 (.229/.311/.420, 26 HR, 72 RBI, 154 strikeouts). That age-23 season didn't make the table above because his OPS that year was .731, below the .785 mininum I specified.

Palmer had four 100-RBI seasons, four 30+ HR seasons and had a career triple-slash of .251/.324/.472 with 275 home runs. Palmer, too, had a season ruined by injury when he was about the age Stewart was a year ago, and then came back and had five straight really good years, though oddly, he made the AL All-Star team just once in that span (I confess, I haven't looked to see who the other good 3B in the American League were at the time).

Stewart is apparently going to get the bulk of playing time, including against LHP; he has a .759 career OPS vs. RHP, .726 vs. LHP, so there's not a huge platoon differential. Still, since the Cubs have a backup who rakes vs. LHP (Jeff Baker), it would be useful to rest Stewart from time to time.

I was skeptical of this deal at the time it was made, though it was clear the Cubs' new bosses had little use for Tyler Colvin. Palmer was a righthanded hitter and Stewart hits lefty, but If Stewart becomes anything close to what Dean Palmer was, the Cubs will have solved their third-base problem for the next few seasons.