Darwin Barney had a good night last night.
How good? His 4-4 with a triple raised his batting average 31 points, from .192 to .223. His OPS climbed a full 70 points to .695, and his OPS+ went from 71 to 90. It’s amazing the difference one night can make, and it’s a reminder of the nature of sample sizes.
It’s also amazing how a single game can recontextualize how we view a player’s value. A 71 OPS+ Darwin Barney is really questionable as a starter, even considering the Gold Glove defense at second base. A 90 OPS+ Darwin Barney, on the other hand, is an above-average overall starter, and a guy whom you’d love to have starting for your team (especially considering his pre-arbitration status).
Best of all, there are reasons to suspect it’s only going to get better for Barney at the plate.
For all the early-season worries about his bat, the peripherals say Barney is developing nicely. His walk rate (10.2%) is excellent, and is the highest its ever been in his career by leaps and bounds (aided, yes, by four IBB). His strikeout rate (9.3%) is at a career low. His IsoP (.155) is at a career high. His BABIP is just .233, far below his career average, which is usually around .300. Take all of that together, and you’ve got a guy who might be on the verge of a (relative) offensive breakout.
Imagine the value that someone like Barney could offer the Cubs if he hit something in the range of .270/.350/.425. That’s an All-Star caliber player in this offensive environment, particularly when you consider that the player is among the best defenders at any position in the game. If that line seems like a stretch to you, it shouldn’t. That’s the line his peripherals say he should approximately have this year, if his BABIP were closer to his career average.
Barney is eligible for arbitration for the first time in 2014, and the Cubs have him under control through 2016. If the offense comes along, they’ve suddenly got an extremely valuable piece – whether he stays on as the starting second baseman, or is shopped in the near future. Of course, if the Cubs believe in this year’s peripherals, I’d hope they hang onto Barney as tightly as they can.
Who knows? Maybe last night is simply the beginning of an extended breakout. Maybe it’s already started: over his last ten games, Barney is hitting .371/.405/.629.
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