As the Cubs long, lumbering, two step progression towards 81 wins (four more than I expected, and just enough to make MLB Betting interesting) continues lots of things are surprising about this team. The starting pitching was supposed to be a strength, but other than Carlos Zambrano it’s been pretty bad. The bullpen, as long as you can get to the Marshall-Wood-Marmol end is pretty stout. The expensive guys are actually hitting (E-ramis for average and Alfonso Soriano for power), except for Carlos Pena…he just sucks.
But even a bigger surprise than how awesome Starlin Castro already is, is that Darwin Barney might actually be good.
First off, let’s address the inevitable comparisons to Ryan Theriot.
Both played shortstop on College World Series winning teams. Theriot at LSU (did you know he played there with Mike Fontenot? Crazy!), Barney at Oregon State.
They’re basically the same size. Theriot’s listed at 5’11, 180 (he’s 5’2, 110) and Barney at 5’10, 180.
But that’s where the comparison should end. Barney made it to the big leagues faster (he was 24 when he played last year…Theriot was 26 when he got his first real run) and is playing a position he can handle (second base as opposed to shortstop).
Barney’s got a far better arm than Theriot. He has shown situational awareness that Theriot never has. He dekes runners on the bases, he takes aggressive, but not reckless turns on the bases, he doesn’t blindly throw towards first when the runner has already easily beaten the play. He doesn’t get picked off repeatedly on the rare occasions he’s on first base. And…he has yet to be out by 15 feet blindly running from second to third on a routine grounder to the shortstop.
Granted, in Theriot’s first extended playing time as a Cub, he was a pretty good player.
In 2006 he hit .326 with a .934 OPS (135 OPS+). He went 13-15 in stolen bases.
So we’ve fallen for this before. The longer we saw Theriot, the more we saw things we at first tried to ignore. He was overmatched defensively at short. He doesn’t have the arm to play it so he cheats into areas on defense where his arm will “play” which cuts down on his already suspect range.
Barney gets to let Starlin Castro worry about that. He just plays second.
But the more we watched Theriot, the more we saw how clueless he was on the bases. Still it’s amazing that a guy who is supposed to be valuable because of how scrappy he is, has such a terrible feel for the game.
Barney appears to understand the game better than Theriot ever did.
And, it doesn’t hurt that he’s off to a productive start this year. With two hits in the second game of tonight’s doubleheader split (what else for the 9-9 Cubs?) Barney had two hits (though he struck out looking to end the game in a one run loss) and his average is up to .314. He has more walks (four) than strikeouts (three). In his first 13 starts this season he as seven multi-hit games.
So what if he’s actually good? What if this isn’t just the productive start that you can get off to before the league figures out that you are getting by on hustle and not on talent?
What if the Cubs haven’t just found their starting shortstop, but his running mate? What if they have one less position to worry about (just 23 instead of 25) on the roster?
A wise man tweeted this week that “Darwin Barney is Ryan Theriot without his head up his ass.”
Fine, I’m not all that wise, but what if that were true? Isn’t the biggest disappointment about Theriot that he just never “got it?” That he didn’t have excess talent, but he had just enough, but had no idea what to do with it?
Maybe Darwin’s actually good. What if he understands the game enough to just do what he can, and not screw things up? What if he’s just good enough to be useful?
Nah you’re right, he’s probably shitty, too.
Hey, it won’t be long before we get to bitch that DJ LaMahieu is the only 6’4 judy hitter in baseball.