Clint Barmes Signs with the Pirates


Clint Barmes has now been re-united with manager Clint Hurdle in Pittsburgh, and this was actually one of the reasons why Barmes took a flier with the Pirates. Many teams were interested in acquiring the slick-fielding middle infielder, and his two-year deal worth $10.5 million has sparked some heated debate as to whether or not he is worth this much money. Barmes is going to be the team’s everyday shortstop, and his great glove will be much-appreciated, although Chase d’Arnaud probably doesn’t like this move.

It’s no secret that Barmes is a poor offensive player.  His .244/.312/.386 triple slash is quite poor to put it nicely. However, there really aren’t many shortstops who can hit, and his 94 wRC+ is proof of this. While a 94 wRC+ isn’t anything to be proud of, it’s “only” subpar and isn’t quite as bad as that .244 batting average. When looking at the free agent landscape, there are really only three shortstops who provide legit offensive value; Jose Reyes, Jimmy Rollins, and Rafael Furcal. The Pirates were probably not going to sign any of those guys, definitely not Reyes, so Barmes was a cheaper alternative.

Shortstop is the most important position on the diamond defensively, and the Pirates aren’t squandering their money on poor defense up the middle with this signing. Say what you want about Barmes’s offense, except that it’s good, but you’d be crazy to disagree with the notion that Barmes plays very good D at short.

Both UZR (+7.9) and DRS (+12) rate him as a well above-average defensive shortstop during the 2011 season, and he had a +13 DRS in 2010. Every advanced statistic gives him high marks, and Clint Barmes passes the eye test with flying colors. Almost every scouts agrees with the statistics, and that verifies the oft-criticized fielding metrics. It is important to note that it takes multiple advanced defensive statistics to gauge a player’s true value, and it usually takes three seasons to get a correct picture of a player’s defensive abilities; the more samples, the better the experiment.

I’m not going to pretend like defense is more important than offense in baseball, because baseball is all about a player’s ability to actually produce at the plate. Barmes is a guy who doesn’t get on base enough, and he strikes out more than your average shortstop. However, there is one bright spot in Clint Barmes’s offensive production; his power. Barmes’s .141 ISO seems pedestrian at first glance, but it was actually the seventh highest among all shortstops in 2011.

Barmes’s batted-ball statistics are quite interesting, and he also had the seventh highest line drive rate last season (21.6%). The interesting part is that he easily has the highest FB% at 47.3% with 16% of those being infield flies (3rd in the MLB in 2011). Fly balls hurt a hitter’s BABIP, and infield flies kill a player’s BABIP. Barmes isn’t exactly driving the fly balls he hits, and a lot of Barmes’s poor offensive production- maybe even all of it- has to do with all those hits in the air.

If he could trade those FBs for grounders, his .244 batting average would definitely go up. And hey, he might even turn into an above-average hitter. I doubt that this is all likely to happen, but players do improve offensively by changing up their approach at the plate. A more small-ball type of approach would do Barmes some good, and he should think about trading punchless fly outs for grounders that have a chance of shooting through the gap.

Barmes chases too many pitches, and his 36.4 O-Swing% was fifth among shortstops. That doesn’t exactly help you out as a hitter, and his 81.3 Contact% was actually the fifth lowest total last season among players at his position. I doubt his contact changes, and I don’t think he’s going to suddenly become more patient at the plate. There are some key reasons as to why Barmes struggles as a hitter, and they are very obvious to point out. Everything is easier said than done, but the little things- such as improving on grounders- could have a significant impact on a hitter’s batting average. His BABIP for grounders is .228, and his BABIP for fly balls is .173.

When it’s all said and done, Barmes was worth 3.1 WAR last season with his great defense, solid base-running, and only below-average offense. It’s really tough to find an average offensive shortstop, and there aren’t many better players available to acquire. Do you really want to trade for Jason Bartlett? By using the Marcel system, I project Barmes’s WAR to be exactly 2 in 2012. That’s worth about eight million, and he’s set to make 10.5 million dollars over two years. This was a cost-effective, solid deal for the Pirates when  you look past the offense that isn’t quite as bad when things are put into perspective. The Pirates have themselves a solid shortstop, and it didn’t cost them much to get him on board. The Pirates will sit content and watch as other teams- such as the two teams in their division that made the playoffs- scramble to get themselves a serviceable player to man the shortstop position.