Our very own Alex Hall just two days ago wrote his own snarktastic piece about Barton, but there's nothing that the AN community loves more than their lightning rods. It feels like every A's team has got that guy that everybody loves to fight about. It might be hard to remember, but there were once very heated debates, sometimes bordering on nasty, about Trevor Cahill's worth as a pitcher. I know, right? Before him it was Jack Cust, Eric Byrnes, and to an extent,Travis Buck. We've got a long history of polarizing players.
But the 2013 season seemed bleak. Sure, at the beginning of the season Jesse Chavez was our whipping boy, but then he became our long relief ace and all of a sudden the negativity was gone. Josh Reddick prompted some debate as he weathered a season-long slump, but that quickly went away as he had a hot August before getting injured. But when Reddick got injured, it was Daric Barton to the rescue!
There is perhaps no player in recent A's history (Jack Cust being the other contender) as completely polarizing and infuriating as Daric Barton. He came to the A's in the Mark Mulder trade (along with Dan Haren and Kiko Calero, so the trade turned out OK regardless of what you think of Barton) with sky-high expectations. He was ranked the #32 overall prospect in baseball by Baseball America in 2005. And A's fans had all the reasons to be excited: Barton, if you remember, was a September call up in 2007 and he absolutely raked, to the tune of a .327/.429/.627 line, putting up an awesome 1.1 WAR in only 18 games. There was no reason to suspect that he wasn't going to be that hyped first baseman of the future.
Barton, of course hasn't panned out the way we all thought he would, but the extent to which he's a failure depends entirely on your point of view. There are essentially two extremes with regards to Daric Barton:
The "ZOMG Daric Barton SUCKs!!1!" Camp
* "First basemen have to hit for power! Barton couldn't hit a duck out of a bathtub!"
* "He takes too many pitches!"
* "He sucks at diving into pools!"
* "He looks like a ballerina when he does the splits!"
*"He's got a lame beard!"
* "I'd rather have moar doubles than more walks!"
The "We Eschew Traditional Roles Because They're Part of the Establishment" Camp
*"First basemen don't need to do anything THE MAN tells them!"
* "He can take however many pitches he wants because it'll get him on base!"
*"He does suck at diving into pools, no arguments here"
*"He looks exceedingly attractive when he does the splits"
*"Beards are anti-establishment"
*"I've been into walks since before they got all mainstream"
I'm not sure I fit into either camp. There's no question that Daric Barton hasn't lived up to expectations. However, it's easy to forget that Barton had 4.8 WAR in 2010. That's no joke- that's a valuable player. However, he's come nowhere close to matching that production in any other season. So what do we do with him?
Barton has one skill that everybody knows about: he gets on base like a fiend. But he's also got a few other very tangible talents that actually might help the team a lot down the stretch.
Barton Has An Insane Reverse Platoon Split (No pun intended)
Most hitters do poorly against same-handed pitchers. A lefty facing a lefty, or vice versa, has a harder time seeing the ball come out of the pitcher's hand. Often, hitters perform a good degree worse against the same hand than they do against the opposite hand, with some players being more extreme than others. Some players do about the same, and in relatively rare instances, usually do to small sample size, a player will actually do better against same-handed pitchers.
Barton falls into the latter category, and his reverse-splits are actually pretty strong. Here are Daric Barton's career numbers against lefties and righties.
As you can see, Barton absolutely mashes lefties. This isn't a small sample fluke, either- we're talking over 1500 at-bats here. Against lefties, Barton has a career wRC+ of 131, which is pretty darn good. His OBP is higher, and his power numbers are significantly higher. I'd love to see Melvin using Barton as part of the platoon against lefties.
There's only one problem: the A's already have a pretty good first baseman against lefties, and he's not going anywhere: Nate Freiman. Luckily for us, we're in the American League, and we've got a nifty little tool called the DH. Playing Barton over Freiman in the field would be very helpful for the A's, because...
Daric Barton is a Freaking Defensive Wizard
As noted above, people both adore and loathe Daric Barton's defense. His most famous move is the splits, and while it looks extremely painful from here, he's got it down to a science. But defense isn't all about looking snazzy- just ask Derek Jeter. So just how good or bad is Barton defensively?
The answer is: really freaking good. As in, perhaps the top defensive first baseman in the game good. I know, I know... but let's take a look at some of the numbers. Defensive statistics are, of course, the subject of much debate (I want to take an in-depth look at the different defensive statistics in a future article), but they still make for a good rough look at a player's defensive abilities.
One of these statistics is called Total Zone Runs, and it attempts to calculate how many runs a player saved for his team by his defense. It does this by dividing the field into zones, and calculating the difficulty of plays made in the different zones, and which players made those plays.
In 20 games so far in 2013, Daric Barton has saved the team 2 runs from his defense at 1B according to Total Zone Rating. That might not sound like much- but here are American League leaderboards in 1B Total Zone Rating for 2013.
Yep. In 20 games, Barton has already made a top 5 defensive contribution at 1B according to TZR. If you extrapolate what he's done in these 20 games to a whole season, which is an option available on Baseball-Reference, you get 19 runs, which would be by far and away the best mark in the AL. Of course, extrapolating tiny sample sizes is a horrible idea from a statistical standpoint, but it's still fun! In 2010, he did save 11 runs defensively for the season, which is a more sensible number, and would still be good enough to be amongst the league leaders.
Ok, so you don't trust Total Zone Rating. What about DRS, the defensive rating system provided by BIS? According to this system, Barton was even more incredible in 2010, saving 18 runs. It also, in our small sample size window, has him on pace for 19 runs saved over the course of the season.
Nate Freiman, on the other hand, has been worth -4 runs so far defensively and -13 runs extrapolated to a whole season in both systems.
In other words, I'd love to see Nate Freiman at DH and Daric Barton at 1B against lefties. This would give the A's a potent platoon split and plus defender at a very important spot- especially considering the kinds of throws we're seeing from Lowrie lately. I'm not saying Barton is a star, but he's definitely got some solid major-league utility.