Jun. 2, 2016
Canadian Baseball Network
Let’s just get this out of the way:
It doesn’t matter what Troy Tulowitzki is batting, the instant he’s healthy he will resume his role as the Toronto Blue Jays’ shortstop.
Now I imagine this angers the one or two (insane) fans who think that giving the job back to Tulo is an insult to the meritocratic values of sport, considering his .204 average.
But I’m going to go ahead and assume that such thinking is rare. Very rare, thank God.
Tulo will and should be in the lineup anytime he’s healthy. He’s been too consistent throughout his career not to be (since 2007 he has never batted below .280), even if he has been completely inconsistent through his first 46 games this season.
Admittedly, he has also committed seven errors already in 2016 - one less than he had all of last year - yet he still boasts the highest fielding percentage of any shortstop in the history of baseball’s modern era - although fun fact, he now leads Omar Vizquel by just .0001 percent.
Most importantly, however, he’s freakin’ Troy Tulowitzki. And when you’ve played in six all-star games, won two gold gloves, and had six 20+ home run seasons - as Tulo has- you’re going to be granted certain courtesies.
On the other hand, Darwin Barney, Ryan Goins, and Devon Travis do not have the kind of pedigree that would grant them the same sort of leeway, which is why it’s worth pondering who is actually going to get the majority of the reps at second base when Tulo returns.
On the surface, you’d be forgiven for thinking that those three guys feel somewhat interchangeable. By that I mean none of them really stands out as the favourite, obvious, or necessary choice.
With nothing really owed to any of them (relax, I still remember how important Goins’ defence was last season), the person who gets the job will likely be the one who wins the “what have you done for me lately” category.
And if that’s even remotely the case, it’s hard to see any reason why Barney shouldn’t be given the first shot at running with it.
In his 95 plate appearances this season, Barney has gone .344/.379/.467 with an .846 OPS. He has 31 hits in just 33 games, and six of those hits have gone for extra bases. He actually has 11 more hits than Goins despite having 34 less PAs.
Although it’s a small sample, I don’t consider those “stay in the lineup” numbers ... those are more like “put this guy at leadoff.”
Yet, despite his great success early-on it still doesn’t seem that Barney has earned the trust of manager John Gibbons, as was evident when he was pinch hit for in Saturday’s game against the Boston Red Sox.
After going 2-for-3 in the game, Gibbons elected to replace Barney with Jimmy Paredes in the eighth-inning, at which time Paredes promptly struck out.
If I had $5,000 to blow I swear I would have rushed the field, if for no other reason than to personally ask Gibby “what gives, man?”
There’s no doubt that this type of offensive success is uncharacteristic of Barney - who, like Goins, has always been known for his defence. However it’s not absolutely unprecedented either. While with the Chicago Cubs in 2011, he hit a very respectable .276/.313/.353.
But the fact remains, Barney is defying expectations in all the right ways ... while at the same time Goins is defying them in all the wrong ones.
Offense has always been Goins ticket back to AAA Buffalo. And so far this season he has hit just .165/.211/.289 in 44 games (129 PAs). And with the long-awaited return of Travis from injury, dare I say it - the beloved Goins could be in some serious danger.
In his first seven games of the season, Travis is hitting .259/.310/.296 (although I’m hard pressed to remember one of his hits that made it convincingly out of the the infield). Those numbers are not exactly great, but if they were attached to Ryan Goins I think everyone would actually be quite ecstatic.
It seems like ever since Goins was called up to the Blue Jays in 2013, people have been saying “if only he could hit .250, he’d be a great everyday player” - which, to his credit, he did and subsequently was in 2015.
But if that’s going to be the Jays’ benchmark for their second basemen, then I ask, why is there such a reluctance (real or perceived) to give the job to Barney?
Barney’s career average is exactly .250, which includes more than 2,000 at-bats over six-plus seasons, whereas Goins has hit just .223 for his career, with only one full season and less than 800 at-bats to his name.
And Travis - who the team has clearly invested in as the future of the infield - has also already shown he has the potential to be not only a good offensive player, but a genuine threat. He was batting .304/.361/.498 with eight home runs in 62 games last season before his shoulder gave out.
In this admittedly over-simplified way, it seems like Goins could be the odd man out, offensively speaking of course.
(Oh if only it were that simple ...)
Goins did hit his “magic number” of .250 last season, going .250/.318/.354 with five home runs in 128 games.
But even with his improved offence the real reason he emerged as something of a fan favourite was surely thanks to his constant displays of defensive sorcery, as he kept making impossible play after impossible play.
If you want to know just how valuable Gibbons viewed Goins’ defensive abilities last year, consider that he didn’t have a single hit in the first round of the postseason yet he still played in all five games.
(That being said, the Jays didn’t have much to fall back on. I mean, Cliff Pennington? No, thank you, but I’ll pass.)
Goins made just three errors in 537 innings at second base last season. But as good as Goins is in the field, Barney is no slouch either. After all, he’s the only one of those three infielders who has a gold glove, which I feel has to count for something, right?
For his career at second base - spanning 1,470.1 innings - Goins has a .990 fielding percentage, which is six points better than the league average over that timeframe. Barney’s career percentage is only marginally lower at .988 (over 4448 career innings), which is four points greater than the league average.
And although Goins does have a slightly better fielding percentage, I don’t think it’s fair to measure the full extent of Goins’ defensive upside with such a rudimentary statistic. Measures like fielding percentage do not give him the extra credit he deserves for the innumerable base hits that he took away through all those plays that almost nobody else could likely make.
Unfortunately, the only stat I know of that would do Goins’ defence justice is Buck Martinez’ and Pat Tabler’s now famous “red star”. But I do not have access to such highly coveted information.
Travis’ defensive abilities are much trickier to dissect because of his tiny sample of big league work (seeing as he’s appeared in just 69 games). But, at least at this point in his career, it’s safe to say his .981 fielding percentage is not even close to the level of those two other defensive wizards.
So really it boils down to this on defence: Goins is incredible. Barney is very good. Travis is ... who really knows yet.
You’ll see that this analysis holds true even when looking at the more advanced statistics, such a defensive runs save.
When averaged out over 1,200 innings at second base (which equates to about 135 games), it is predicted that Goins would save an average of 17 runs, whereas Barney would save an average of 13 runs.
Travis, based on very limited numbers, should save about two.
Clearly all three guys are capable of doing the job. But it’s hard to imagine a scenario where all three guys stay up here when Tulo comes off the disabled list.
Remember Chris Colabello? Well he only has 25 more games on his suspension. What happens when he comes back?
As complicated as this situation is, there are worse problems for a team to have. And the beauty of the “what have you done for me lately” mindset is, it can always change.
If I were Barney, Travis, or Goins, I wouldn’t get too comfortable.