Glove work by Darwin Barney, Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro has been a positive for Cubs
BY GORDON WITTENMYER Staff Reporter September 14, 2013 11:24PM
THE ‘D’ IN REBUILDING
Led by infielders Starlin Castro, Darwin Barney and Anthony Rizzo, the Cubs have the fifth-best team fielding percentage since the All-Star break — No. 2 in the National League. The rest on the list all are winning teams within 31⁄2 games of a playoff spot (through Friday):
Baltimore Orioles .993
Atlanta Braves .990
Tampa Bay Rays .990
Kansas City Royals .989
Updated: October 16, 2013 7:01AM
PITTSBURGH — They have made no progress offensively at the big-league level. And it’s hard to be sure what progress has been made with the pitching.
But as the second year of their rebuilding plan comes to a close, the Cubs quietly have made noticeable progress in one key area through some of their potential building-block players.
Despite struggling at the plate throughout the season, young infielders Anthony Rizzo, Darwin Barney and Starlin Castro all have put together impressive seasons in the field — particularly in the second half.
And with Gold Glove ballots being mailed out to managers and coaches this week, Rizzo and Barney have put themselves into legitimate contention for the award (for the second time in Barney’s case).
“It’s a good sign,” said third base coach David Bell, who works with the infielders. “Defense is something that really shows a desire to win, because it’s something you can control a little bit more than offense at times.
“A lot of times you can turn yourself into a good defensive player. So that we’ve gotten better over the course of the year, moving forward that’s going to be big. And they all play hard, too, so it doesn’t surprise me. But it’s a good sign.”
How good? Even if you don’t trust what you’ve seen from the three infielders’ range, consistency and trend toward reducing mistakes, the numbers — from traditional to trendy new metrics — back it up.
Barney leads the majors for the second consecutive season in defensive wins above replacement for his position as well as in fielding percentage. Rizzo leads National League first basemen in defensive WAR and zone rating, and he is second in fielding percentage.
Even the oft-maligned Castro has made just four errors since his first day off in late June and is second since then among NL shortstops in range and third in fielding percentage.
“I concentrate a little more on my defense,” said Castro, who adds that some of the extra effort is a result of finding a way to help the team while his hitting has slumped. “It’s really important for me.
“When I [look back] at this year, I can put in my mind that I had a bad year, but I had a good year on defense,” he said. “And when I come back next year I want to put everything together, good defense and good hitting.”
That’s part of what has impressed Bell the most in his first year continuing the progress former Cubs infield coach Pat Listach made last season.
“To their credit each and every one of them really work at it and care about it, and I know first hand they want to be the best,” Bell said. “They don’t want to just be good, they want to be the best in the game at their position. That’s genuinely important to them. That’s pretty impressive, because we all know that’s a big part of the game, and at times it can get a little lost.”
For players struggling at the plate to put so much into their work in the field is also a positive sign, Bell said.
“Rizzo works as hard as anyone I’ve ever seen. And Barney, as hard as he’s worked, I feel like he’s worked smarter as the season’s gone on,” Bell said, “just really doing what he needs to get better but also to get prepared for the game.
“And Castro — look at the season these guys have had and how valuable, when they look back, a year like this is going to be in the big picture and how they’ve handled it.
“[Castro’s] just stayed with it and kept working at it and showed a lot of toughness. And I know that’s going to pay off.”