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« White Sox Begin Spring Training After Quiet Offseason The Race For Second Place Begins For The Bulls »

Cubs Wed Feb 20 2013

Attention Cubs Fans: Don't Fall In Love With Bad Players

Cubs_200.pngThe trading of Tony Campana marks the end of the latest iteration of a Cubs player that some fans develop a foolish love for. Don't believe me? Check the comments about the trade on the Bleacher Nation Facebook page (BN is a site that every Cubs fan should be aware of and visit frequently if you want to get a pulse of the fanbase).

Mixed into the chatter about the great haul the Cubs received (two 17-year-old Venezuelan pitchers -- which is great return for a bench guy) along with the mocking of the people I'm talking about, you see the opinions that are infuriating. "SMH," mumbled one fan. "Worst trade of the year," complained another. It may take years, but a quest to rid these people of their shortsightedness is basically the job of the Cubs PR department (re: Theo Epstein).

Campana belongs in the big leagues, there's no question about it. He's quite possibly the best base stealer currently in the majors (Billy Hamilton is the best on the planet), and that skill has immense value in certain situations. But the teams that can maximize his unique abilities, while also dealing with his massive deficiencies, aren't the ones praying for 65 wins like the Cubs.

Campana would have been perfect for an American League team that is loaded with hitting (hiding his horrible bat), but is light in speed (think Detroit). He could be deployed late in games to steal a couple of bases, and can track down enough balls in minimal innings defensively to not kill you. Does that job sound familiar? It should, because it's exactly what he did for the Cubs last year. They just can't afford to expend a roster spot and playing time to someone whose skills are so one-dimensional. You can't steal first base.

He follows in the footsteps of former Cubs (not) greats Ryan Theriot and Sam Fuld, who were lauded for their immense hustle, but haven't been good enough to find every day jobs elsewhere. The funny thing is that baseball is a game that you can't outwork your opponent, so the word hustle and the term grinder are complete misnomers. These guys aren't great players, so there's no reason to get worked up when they get dealt or released. Especially when a team is foolish enough to give you lottery tickets in return.

Campana isn't the last of his kind on the Cubs roster either. Darwin Barney fits into that group as another guy who excels primarily in one aspect of the game: defense. He won a Gold Glove last year by setting a record for consecutive errorless games by a second basemen, but he was far below replacement level as a hitter. Again, you can afford that if the rest of the lineup can rake, but not so if you're struggling to "hit 'em where they ain't."

If you want to go head over heels for a player, repeat after me: Starlin Castro, Anthony Rizzo, Matt Garza, Jeff Samardzija. Don't waste your time being upset about the loss of anyone else.

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CJLane / February 20, 2013 10:01 AM

" but he was far below replacement level as a hitter"

Sez who? Baseball Reference has him at 1.3 wins above replacement *on batting alone* in 2012. He was a better overall hitter last year than Gordon Beckham, and only slightly behind Dan Uggla, but will play this year for about $2.5m less than Beckham, and over $10m less than Uggla.

Below *average* sure; below *replacement* and, especially, "far below", no way in hell. You're exagerrating in a way that you don't need to to make your point. Barney is *fine* until someone better comes along, but there is NO reason to sign him longterm unless he suddenly starts (and maintains) hitting with more power.

Ernie / February 20, 2013 10:47 AM

Fans love underdogs & players who go hard all the time, and so they love Campana. I attended a Cubs games vs. the Reds in 2011, and saw Campana beat out a grounder to 1st that Votto took 2 steps to his right to field... Amazing! Good luck to him in Arizona. If only Castro would put forth more effort.

Tanner Ater / February 20, 2013 11:41 AM

I think you also need to take into consideration the potential of his offensive stats had he been given more plate appearances. If he had as many plate appearances as say, Alfonso Soriano, we would have had considerably less HRs and RBIs, but we would have had (all things being equal) 83 runs instead of 26 and 96 stolen bases instead of 30. There also would have been 25 less strike outs compared to his left field teammate and a greater defensive threat, if not in arm, definitely in area covered. For a club looking for young players with great potential, they're dumping a 26 year old with minimum 3 years of speed and offensive potential if given more ABs and remain unable to get rid of the one guy they need to.

Chad / February 21, 2013 9:31 AM

CJ Lane: Maybe 'far below replacement level' is a touch harsh, but I don't think it's totally out of the realm. Out of the 22 qualifying 2B last year, he finished second to last in Runs Created +. The year before, he was fourth from the bottom. A career .305 on base percentage is really bad, especially when there is little power to go with it.

WAR also takes into account positional adjustments, and the offensive quality of middle infielders in the majors today is incredibly low. So the bar is quite low to start out with.

Tanner: Home runs are FAR more valuable than stolen bases are, and runs are a horrible way to assess a player's talent because it's situation-based. You can't just take stats and translate them out to 162 games. Quite a few of his stolen bases came as a pinch runner. If he's the one batting, who's to say he even gets on base?

Defensively, Soriano actually had a pretty fantastic season - by accounts the accounts of scouts, coaches, and the front office after work with Dave McKay for months. He finished with the fourth highest UZR/150 of all qualified left fielders.

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