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Cubs’ Darwin Barney deserves an A for his defense

The Cubs’ DarwBarney leads major-league second basemen runs saved. | Norm Hall~Getty Images

The Cubs’ Darwin Barney leads major-league second basemen in runs saved. | Norm Hall~Getty Images

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Updated: August 4, 2012 6:24AM

When John Dewan scans the defensive numbers for Cubs second baseman Darwin Barney, even he’s amazed.

‘‘Darwin Barney, 20 runs? Wow,’’ Dewan said when the number of runs Barney has saved this season was pointed out.

Barney, who since has dropped to 19 but still leads major-league second basemen, and teammate Starlin Castro, who ranks fourth among major-league shortstops with 11 runs saved, have put the Cubs among the up-the-middle defensive elite in 2012.

Runs saved was created by Dewan, the owner of the analytics specialists Baseball Info Solutions and the co-author (with Ben Jedlovic) of the third volume of The Fielding Bible. That book breaks down the defensive performance of every player in the majors in 2011. (An average defender has zero runs saved, and there’s nothing wrong with a solid zero from a good offensive player.)

How good is good?

‘‘A really good defender can get you 20, 25 runs, and that’s a big deal,’’ Dewan said, pointing out that Tigers center fielder Austin Jackson saved 29 runs last season.

At Barney’s level, that means he has been giving the Cubs an All-Star-caliber performance, even if his lack of offensive numbers means he never was in the All-Star Game roster discussion.

Wins Above Replacement, as listed on, bases its defensive component on runs saved. Barney ranks first among National League second baseman and is tied for sixth among all NL players with 3.4 WAR, a calculation that includes both offense and defense and indicates how much more valuable a player is than the type who usually is easily available as a replacement.

Baseball Info Solutions tracks exactly where and how hard every ball is hit.

‘‘We have a way to measure range that’s called our plus-minus system,’’ Dewan said. ‘‘We can tell you how often your fielder gets to a ball compared with how often other fielders get to a ball in that exact same place. It’s based on exact hit location and the velocity of a batted ball — or the hang time, if it’s a fly ball — and it determines how difficult the play is.’’

To translate runs saved to victories attributable to defense, just divide by 10.

‘‘The Tampa Bay Rays last year saved 85 runs as a team,’’ Dewan said. ‘‘That’s eight or nine wins. And how many wins did they win the wild card by? It was on the last day of the season by one win.’’

Castro has made a big step up from 2011.

‘‘The last couple of years, his number of misplays was off the charts,’’ Dewan said. ‘‘You knew he had all the tools. It was just a matter of how erratic he was, and he’s done a great job.’’

And, Dewan suggested, the Cubs have improved their positioning, helping their fielders succeed.

‘‘He’s improved, and I’m sure they’re playing better defensive positioning,’’ he said. ‘‘The Cubs are into analytics at this point, and I’m sure they’re looking at their positioning.’’

GLOSSARY: Runs saved is a measure of how many runs a good defender saves his team or how many a bad defender costs his team. Information tracked includes a plus-minus system that indicates range for all non-catchers; good plays and misplays; bunt defense; double-play ability; outfielders’ arms; how well pitchers and catchers control the running game; and an earned-run adjustment for catchers.

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