The debate over who should win the Gold Glove at second base is a fun one, to be sure.
You can make the case for either Darwin Barney of the Cubs or three-time winner Brandon Phillips of the Reds.
But a more important question came up Tuesday during Cubs manager Dale Sveum’s media session before the evening’s game with the Reds. Is Barney part of the Cubs’ core along with Starlin Castro, Anthony Rizzo, Jeff Samardzija and others.
“There’s no question,” Sveum said. “When you put a guy that catches the ball like that and changes games with defense, there’s no difference in changing the game with your defense as it is with your offense. He’s definitely saved runs and changed baseball games with his defense.
“He’s a game changer defensively, the way he positions, the way he turns double plays. The offense, I think, is just going to get better and better.”
So figure Barney to be here for a while, with his .999 fielding percentage entering Tuesday and his hitting line of .266/.313/.371.
Now onto the fun stuff.
Phillips won the Gold Glove in 2008, 2010 and 2011. He told a colleague Tuesday that “everybody knows that I’m the best defensive second baseman,” but he was philosophical about the Gold Glove.
“To tell you the truth, it doesn’t bother me,” he said. “The only thing I can do is go out there and play the game the best way I know how. I can’t control how people vote and stuff like that.”
Managers and coaches vote for the Gold Glove. Sveum has been making the case for Barney, who entered the day with a National League-record 132 consecutive games without an error at second base. He had made 1 error at second all year. Phillips had 5 errors and a .991 fielding percentage.
Nowadays, there are a whole slew of defensive metrics out there. One is ultimate zone rating (UZR), and Barney has a better zone rating than Phillips by a wide margin.
“Now, how people vote is not the same,” Phillips said of the Gold Glove. “Everybody goes off of errors. Everybody goes off of zone things. But the thing is, it’s really hard to go off people’s zone when (managers) got the shift on, and that messes up your zone.
“Some people have more range than others. They get to more balls that some guys don’t get to.
“When they get to balls like that, they make an error and get penalized for that. That’s the thing about me, I have a lot of range at second base. The majority of my errors have been on plays normal guys don’t get to.
“When a guy doesn’t have that much range, they just catch the balls that are hit right at them.
“When you have a person who goes out there and tries to catch everything that’s hit to him and tries to make the beautiful play, the web-gem play and ends up messing up, they might make an error and get penalized for it. A lot people don’t really look at things like that.”
Although Sveum has been pushing his guy, and justifiably so, he didn’t want to get into direct comparisons.
“I think they’re very different, different second basemen,” Sveum said. “Obviously, we all know how flashy Phillips is, and what goes along with that flash is he backs it all up and he does a great job at second base.
“Barney’s more of a traditional, fundamental, not as flashy, but obviously he gets the job done, as well, as well as anybody has in a single season.
“But I think it’s competitiveness in everybody. Barney wants to show him, and (Phillips) wants to show him he’s still the reigning Gold Glove guy. That’s just part of competition and playing against the other guy at your position.”
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