Blue Jays Hidden Assets #2: Darwin Barney


As I noted in the first article of this series, the Blue Jays have many decisions to make this upcoming offseason.  Some are easy (Bautista, Encarnacion), some a bit tougher (Dickey, Buehrle).  But there are also some smaller decisions that have the potential to add significant value.

Which brings us to today’s hidden asset:  Darwin Barney.

Barney (think baseball, not dinosaur!) was drafted by the Cubs in the 4th round of the 2007 amateur draft.  He made it to the bigs in 2010, and spent the next five years impressing with his glove (an UZR/150 of 13.1 in 4000+ innings, and a gold glove at 2B in 2012) but not with the bat (a 68 wRC+ over those 5 years).  He was traded to the Dodgers in 2014, and then to the Blue Jays in August 2015 as infield depth after the injury to Troy Tulowitzki.

Barney is making $2.5 million in 2015, and is arb-eligible in 2016 before becoming a free agent in 2017.  Many writers assume that the Jays only added him as a stopgap, and that he would not be offered arbitration in 2016.  That is certainly possible, but is it the only outcome?

Good field, no hit

The major criticism of Barney is that he is all glove, no bat.  On the face of it, a career .245/.293/.335 line with a 70 wRC+ would seem to support that.  But let’s dig a bit deeper.

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First of all, “good field” does not do Barney justice.  Since 2012, Barney has a UZR/150 of 16.4.  That is the

fourth best in baseball

over that period (minimum 3,000 ABs).  And Barney can also play at SS (where he has a UZR/150 of +40 in an admittedly ridiculously small sample size [RSSS]) and 3B (UZR/150 of 145 [!] in RSSS).  By comparison,

Ryan Goins

(no slouch himself!) has a 2015 UZR/150 of +8.5.   So you could make a case that if you were looking for the best defender in all of baseball who could play all three of 2B, SS and 3B, Barney would

at or near the top of the list

.  He is that good.

Second, the “no hit” label is potentially misleading.  Barney’s career wRC+ of 70 breaks down to an 89 against LHP and a 64 against RHP.  If you look only at the last two years, it becomes even more extreme – his overall wRC+ of 62 is based on a 99 against LHP and a 48 against RHP.

And finally, Barney is also a well-above-average baserunner.  In roughly 3.5 mlb seasons, he has generated baserunning value (per fangraphs) of 10.1, or roughly +3 per season.  This is good – not Kevin Pillar / Dalton Pompey good, but certainly late-game pinch runner good.

So instead of “good field, no hit” it might be more accurate to say “elite fielder at three infield positions, league average batter against LHP, struggles against RHP.  Legitimate late-inning pinch hitter (against LHP) or pinch runner.”

Nowhere to play him

The Jays have Troy Tulowitzki at SS, Devon Travis at 2B and Josh Donaldson at 3B.  The primary bench backup is Ryan Goins.  So (the argument goes) there is no room for Barney.

As 2015 demonstrates, it only takes one injury to “stir the pot”.  If Travis or Tulo were to go down (both entirely possible) and Goins had to step in, who would step into Goins’ bench role?  Cliff Pennington will likely have left as a free agent, Maicer Izturis may have seen his last days as a Jay, and Munenori Kawasaki is not really a major-league option.  And it is by no means certain that all three of Tulo, Travis and Goins will start the 2016 season as Blue Jays.

The Jacoby factor

Lost in the number of Blue Jays having excellent years is the Jays’ hitting coach, Brook Jacoby.  Jacoby has been given at least some of the credit for the emergence of Ryan Goins and the epiphany of Danny Valencia against RHP, while the explosion of Chris Colabello and extraordinary start of Devon Travis both occurred on his watch.  It is (very) possible that Brook is better than he is given credit for.  If Jacoby could help Barney to return to the 79 wRC+ Darwin put up in 2011, Barney’s defense could make him close to a 3 fWAR player.

The bottom line?  Elite infield D + a PH-calibre bat against LHP + above-average baserunning skills at an arbitration-salary price of (likely) ~$3 million on a one-year deal.  There is a lot there to like.  And the Jays have the further advantage of waiting until mid-January to make their arb decision, so they can wait and see how the off-season trade market shakes out before committing.

Next: Blue Jays Hidden Assets: Have You Forgotten Maicer Izturis?