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How about a hat-tip to Darwin Barney for breaking Ryne Sandberg’s NL record 123-consecutive games errorless streak Saturday night at Pittsburgh.
The new record came and went without much fanfare, but there’s nothing cheap about Barney’s streak. He’s been the best fielding second baseman in the NL this season while showing he’s not just Gold Glove worthy, but the clear-cut winner.
The streak is but one example of how far Barney has come as a defender since arriving with the Cubs in 2010. Having already matched his games played at second base from a season ago (135), Barney has 11 fewer errors, turned 17 more double plays and improved his Range Factor from 4.92 to 5.15.
He played another clean game on Sunday continuing his streak to 125-consecutive games without an error–a run which began in mid-April and has spanned more than 1,000 innings. And with 22-games remaining this season, it’s still possible Barney could surpass Placido Polanco’s major league record of 141-straight games without an error at second base.
The bat, of course, hasn’t been as consistent for Barney. But given his encouraging work ethic to improve his fielding, there’s hope he’ll eventually come around at the plate, too.
Not everyone agrees Darwin will remain a staple of the Cubs’ rebuild, and that might remain true. Team Theo, after all, did explore dealing him at the July 31 trade deadline.
But even if Barney only improves marginally on offense, it’s still hard to depart from a solid Gold Glove defender up the middle, especially considering the Cubs’ thin pitching staff heading into 2013.
Additionally, Barney turns 27 in November beginning his prime years as a ballplayer. He’s shown not only the ability to improve his game at the highest level, but has done so while maintaining his high-character and winning attitude on a dreadful team, no less.
There’s simply a lot to like about this kid. And while he may not have been the answer Cubs fans were looking for at second base this spring, there’s really no reason to think he won’t be the answer moving forward.
Believe me when I say Alfonso Soriano should win a Gold Glove this season.
It’s hard to fathom considering Soriano’s reputation for poor defense, but statistically he’s well within the running, if not leading the way for the award.
Only three National League left fielders have started more games than Soriano (117) this season: Matt Holliday (128), Ryan Braun (123) & Carlos Gonzalez (119).
Braun, however, is the only player to have more Total Chances (+33), Putouts (+30) and a higher Range Factor (1.97) than Soriano (1.82).
Arizona’s Jason Kubel does hold an edge in outfield Assists (11) to Soriano’s (9), but it’s Alfonso who has helped turn more Double Plays (4) than any of his competition.
Oh yeah, Soriano also remains the lone player yet to commit an error.
WILL VOTERS RECOGNIZE SORIANO?
Whereas I doubt the manager and coaches (who vote on the award) are willing to favor Braun since he sidestepped his steroids suspension, Kubel appears Soriano’s best competition.
Car-Go, meanwhile, has been splendid roaming one of the largest outfields in baseball at Coors Field, and Martin Prado remains a dark horse candidate in Atlanta. But neither has separated themselves ahead of Soriano.
Perhaps the best news for Soriano, knowing how much the managers and coaches enjoy sticking with past winners, is that reigning Gold Glover, Gerardo Parra, is all but eliminated since being demoted to a fourth outfield option (behind Kubel, nonetheless) for Kirk Gibson’s Diamondbacks.
WHY SORIANO’S MOST DESERVING
It can’t be ignored Soriano’s range is limited by his bum legs, even playing in Wrigley’s small outfield. But unlike years past, Soriano has shown a willingness to rub shoulders with the ivy covered brick wall and run hard to field balls hit into the corner–in addition to making all the routine plays.
There are, unquestionably, better athletes manning left field in the National League who field the position with more pizzazz and more style points than Soriano earns, but that doesn’t necessarily make them more worthy of the Gold Glove, either.
And if you’re someone who believes the bat plays just as an important factor as the fielding statistics in winning the Gold Glove, Soriano has that wrapped up, too.
That’s why I’m convinced it’s Soriano’s Gold Glove to lose over the final five weeks of the regular season. Just talking about it seems weird enough, but imagine if he wins…
That means it’s entirely possible the Cubs would field two Gold Glove Award winners (Soriano/Barney) on a team with, or near, 100-losses. I wonder if that’s ever happened before?
Minutia aside, don’t be caught by surprise if Soriano wins gold. He’s played his tail off this season while reaching a level defensively most of us thought he wasn’t capable of or willing to achieve.
It probably won’t be any easier to comprehend if a Gold Glove does come Soriano’s way, but there’s no denying he’s earned the honor–as head-shaking and unbelievable as it will be.
The hardest part of a player winning the Gold Glove Award seems to have less to do with his actual fielding statistics than it does convincing the voters he’s more deserving than the incumbent.
Historically, at least, that’s been the pattern of the voters, comprised of the league’s managers and coaches who, more often than not, are comfortable sticking with past award winners in favor of crowning a new one Gold Glove worthy.
That’s why Brandon Phillips, the 2011 NL Gold Glove Award winner at second base, is the only thing standing in the way of Darwin Barney winning his first, and much deserved, Rawlings Gold Glove Award this season (I’ll touch on the statistical comparison a bit later).
Now, that’s not to say Phillips or any Gold Glove winners of the past shouldn’t have won in consecutive seasons. But in researching the history of Gold Glove Award winners I confirmed it’s nearly a given that once a player wins gold, he’ll almost certainly win it again.
In Barney’s case, I researched the Gold Glove Award winners at second base dating back to 1973 when Joe Morgan won his first of five consecutive Gold Gloves.
Davey Lopes eventually snatched the award away from Morgan in 1978 only to be outdone by Manny Trillo the following season, who in turn won the award in three out of the next four seasons.
In 1983 it was Ryno’s turn. He won nine consecutive Gold Gloves before Jose Lind broke the streak in 1992.
Robby Thompson earned the honors in 1993, then Craig Biggio arrived to win four consecutive Gold Gloves.
Bret Boone stole the award away from Biggio in 1998, then relented to Pokey Reese in 1999, who won again in 2000.
In 2001 Fernando Vina won his first of two consecutive Gold Gloves. Louis Castillo followed by winning three straight.
Orlando Hudson earned the glove in 2006, and again in three out of the next four seasons. His run was interrupted by none other than, Brandon Phillips, who won in 2008.
Phillips has since won the Gold Glove in three out of the last four seasons, including the last two years. The only player to break his run? Not surprisingly, the O-Dog in 2009.
The repetitive pattern is obviously a concern in Barney’s case, even though statistically he’s outperformed all National League second baseman, and most notably, Brandon Phillips.
Darwin, when compared to Phillips, has played in five more games, has had 61 more total chances, made 51 more put-outs, has more assists and committed three fewer errors (1) than Phillips (4).
Barney’s .998 fielding percentage is also tops in the National League, as is his 4.67 Range Factor. Highlight-reel plays? He has those, too.
What more do the managers and coaches need to see? And what more could Barney possibly do statistically to win gold–other than having won the award last year?
It’s a crime if Barney doesn’t take home the award this season. He is, by all accounts, most deserving.
But, if he does win…well, chances are he’s likely on his way to winning the first of many more Gold Gloves to come.