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The Daniel Descalso signing by the numbers

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The Cubs added a utility man. How do his numbers stack up?

Daniel Descalso hits a single against the Padres
Photo by Denis Poroy/Getty Images

The Cubs finally filled their middle infield vacancy with veteran utility infielder Daniel Descalso. I always like to take a look at new Cubs stat lines to see if there is something that stands out about a new Cub. In Descalso’s case I was underwhelmed at first, but eventually found some reasons for optimism. Let’s start with a look at some key stats from his last five seasons:

Daniel Descalso 2014-18

Year Team PA Avg OBP SLG BABIP wRC+ WAR
Year Team PA Avg OBP SLG BABIP wRC+ WAR
2014 Cardinals 184 .242 .333 .311 .305 88 -0.1
2015 Rockies 209 .205 .283 .324 .244 44 -0.9
2016 Rockies 289 .264 .349 .424 .305 90 0.6
2017 Diamondbacks 398 .233 .332 .395 .283 88 0.2
2018 Diamondbacks 423 .238 .353 .436 .300 111 1.6
Career STL/COL/ARI 2699 .240 .324 .370 .291 85 2.2
Select stats for Daniel Descalso Fangraphs

A few things stand out about Descalso to me, the first is that 2018 was the best year of his career and it really wasn’t close. Prior to 2018 he’d accumulated 0.6 fWAR over eight years in the league. He’s basically a replacement level player. Sometimes slightly above replacement level, sometimes very much below replacement level. His 2015 campaign in particular was lackluster. While there could be any number of explanations for Descalso’s slump in 2015, it is notable that he didn’t spend any time on the disabled list that year. It looks like he was just the victim of terrible BABIP luck. He signed a new deal with the Rockies, moved to Coors field, and...started slugging .324. Yikes.

In fact the more I read about Descalso the more I wondered why the Cubs didn’t just hold onto Tommy La Stella or Ronald Torreyes. I updated my chart comparing those players and Addison Russell with Descalso. You can see it below:

2019 Cubs middle infield options

Player Age (in 2019) Team Control Through PA Avg OBP SLG wRC+ WAR 2019 Salary (Est)
Player Age (in 2019) Team Control Through PA Avg OBP SLG wRC+ WAR 2019 Salary (Est)
Addison Russell 25 2022 465 .250 .317 .340 80 1.4 ~$4,000,000
Tommy LaStella 30 2021 192 .266 .340 .331 86 0.2 $950,000
Ronald Torreyes 26 2022 102 .280 .294 .370 78 0.4 $800,000
Daniel Descalso 32 2021 423 .238 .353 .436 111 1.6 $1,500,000
Select stats and salaries for possible Cubs middle infielders Fangraphs and Spotrac, compiled by Sara Sanchez

I’m estimating Addison Russell’s possible salary, but it really looks like the Cubs signed an older version of Tommy LaStella with a slightly better glove. He hasn’t played short stop since 2016, so while I’m sure he could backup Javier Baez and Russell there in a pinch, it seems just as likely that David Bote could fill that role. For a team that’s been pinching pennies all year I found it a bit mystifying that they invested more money in an older version of Torreyes.

As I dug into some of the metrics, however, Descalso’s improvements with the Diamondbacks look more sustainable. This piece from Beyond the Box Score does a great job highlighting how a change in launch angle really altered his approach at the plate and made him one of baseball’s most improved hitters. I’m including a couple of charts from that piece, but really encourage you to read the whole thing:

Descalso launch angle by season
Beyond the Box Score & Baseball Savant
Descalso ISO and GB%
Beyond the Box Score & Fangraphs

Additionally, Descalso does have some intangibles that the younger players do not, and the Cubs front office has made it known they were looking for more veteran players in the clubhouse. Descalso has been around the league for eight seasons, including playoff runs with the Cardinals and the Diamondbacks. That extensive experience in the postseason combined with what looks like a sustainable improvement in hitting makes Descalso a pretty savvy signing by the front office.