Late in the Cardinals 12-run seventh inning last Saturday night (or inning from hell if you prefer), Dale Sveum took out Darwin Barney and moved Luis Valbuena over to second base. The conspiracy theorist in me (already active due to the Matt Garza injury-or-trade situation that evening) thought perhaps this was an audition should Barney be traded.
The Detroit Tigers were the only team I’d seen reported as being interested in Barney and have since dealt for Omar Infante. So at this point it looks like Barney will be the Cubs second baseman for the foreseeable future. But has Valbuena played well enough to be in the Cubs’ plans past this season?
On a recent WGN pregame show (I can’t remember what day it was) Keith Moreland and Judd Sirott mentioned that Valbuena’s poor numbers (.204/.248/.354) are deceiving.
The crux of the conversation was that he hasn’t seen much to hit because he’s primarily hit eighth, and that when given a chance with men on base he has excelled.
To their credit, the stats back up (in part) what they said:
- Bases empty (70 plate appearances): .171/.205/.271, 1 HR, 4 2B
- Men on (48 plate appearances): .256/.313/.488, 2 HR, 4 2B
- RISP (31 plate appearances): .346/.419/.692, 2 HR, 3 2B
Is Valbuena a sleeping giant buried at the bottom of the Cub lineup? His OPS is ridiculously higher with RISP (1.112) and men on (.801) than it is with the bases empty (.477). However, it’s probably safe to put talk of displacing Anthony Rizzo from the 3-spot on hold. That would be the sane thing to do considering his OPS over his career with both men on and RISP is under .680.
But these numbers, at least this season, suggest that Valbuena might be better than his numbers suggest. At 26 he is the same age as Barney, and has thus far looked good defensively at third. He’s spent the majority of his short career at second (173 games) and has some experience at short as well (32 games). So he has versatility to go along with that solid glove.
Valbuena is likely not long for third after this year because you want more power there. But I wouldn’t mind seeing him brought back to possibly compete with Barney for the second base job next Spring. Certainly he should be brought back to be a utility player off the bench. Third base will likely still be unsettled and it’d that much more valuable to have a guy who can play there as well as the middle infield positions effectively.
Should the Cubs find a decent bench player for the future out of Ian Stewart‘s wrist injury then that would be one of the few things Stewart contributed this season.