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updated: 2/21/2013 7:37 PM

Barney solid choice at second for Cubs

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  • Chicago Cubs infielder Darwin Barney makes a catch during spring training baseball Friday, Feb. 18, 2011 in Mesa, Ariz. (AP Photo/Matt York)

      Chicago Cubs infielder Darwin Barney makes a catch during spring training baseball Friday, Feb. 18, 2011 in Mesa, Ariz. (AP Photo/Matt York)

 
 

Cubs president Theo Epstein likes to talk about players "checking boxes" to determine how complete a game they have.

Let's take a look at second baseman Darwin Barney.

As far as defense goes, he gets a check and double-check.

The 27-year-old Barney unseated incumbent Brandon Phillips of the Reds last year to win his first Gold Glove for fielding excellence.

Barney's defensive numbers were more than impressive. He tied the single-season major-league record for consecutive errorless games at second base, going 141 straight, from April 18-Sept. 27.

He led major-league second basemen with a .997 fielding percentage. His 5.18 total chances and 2.2 putouts per 9 innings both led major-league second basemen, and his 731 total chances at second base ranked third in the National League.

Even though advanced defensive metrics are hotly debated and still in their infancy, Barney checks out high in stats such as ultimate zone rating (UZR) and defensive wins against replacement player (dWAR).

However you analyze it, Barney is a darn good defensive player.

Where Barney's critics sound off is about his offense. Last season, he had a line of .254/.299/.354 for an OPS (on-base plus slugging) of .653 and an OPS-plus of 79, with 100 being about league average. He hit a career-best 7 homers and drove in 44.

Needless to say, the Cubs would like to see Barney become more productive at the plate.

"It's not about hitting .300," manager Dale Sveum told reporters at spring training, repeating a theme he sounded often last season. "It's more about the OPS for him. He has slugging percentage on his pull (right) side that he never really took advantage of last year, trying to hit the ball away on every pitch."

Sveum often says hitters need about 2,000 major-league at-bats and 4,000 professional at-bats before numbers such as OPS take off. Barney enters this season with 1,156 major-league at-bats and 2,716 professional at-bats since his minor-league debut in 2007.

Stats guru Bill James projects a line of .268/.311/.357 for Barney this year while Baseball Prospectus' PECOTA system weighs in at .259/.298/.354.

All of this makes Barney an interesting and difficult player to put a value on. I must have spent an hour Thursday morning looking at various sites to get a handle on Barney's value.

Baseball Reference gives Barney a WAR (wins above replacement) of 4.6 for 2012, which is pretty solid. FanGraphs isn't so kind, calculating Barney's WAR at 2.5. Looking for another site? ESPN.com had him at 4.7.

One observer noted that Barney has "broken" WAR because of his high value. Another simply noted that because Barney's offense is below average, he provides "wins" by saving the Cubs runs on defense. And I believe it was Benjamin Franklin who said "a run saved is a run earned."

In our WAR rankings of National League second basemen, we'll use the "rWAR" from Baseball Reference as opposed to the "fWAR" of FanGraphs.

Given the total package, I'd say Barney is a solid positive in the Cubs' column.

Who's coming:

Over the winter, the Cubs added Logan Watkins to their 40-man roster. A 21st-round draft pick in 2008, 23-year-old Watkins was the Cubs' minor-league position player of the year for 2012.

At Class AA Tennessee, he had a hitting line of .281/.422/.383 with 9 home runs and 52 RBI. He had 488 at-bats, striking out 97 times and walking 76 to lead Tennessee and place second in the Southern League. If he can keep the on-base percentage high as he ascends in to Triple-A, he'll be an intriguing player to watch.

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