Blue Jays' Darwin Barney proving he belongs
Has hit .444 since Troy Tulowitzki was placed on DL
Most people thought the Toronto Blue Jays' potent offence would eventually wake up.
What wasn't expected was that Darwin Barney would be one of the main catalysts.
The Jays infielder has been a revelation, slashing .337/.385/.475 (batting average/on-base percentage/slugging percentage) through 37 games this season, to become a key contributor in an offence that has propelled the Jays from a sub-.500 team to one within striking distance of the AL East lead.
The late evolution of Jays players is nothing new. Both Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion went from afterthoughts to superstars at the age of 29. Marco Estrada toiled in Milwaukee for five uninspiring seasons before being traded to Blue Jays and turning himself into their ace this season. He's 32.
Barney isn't at that level, but he's evolved to the point of becoming more than just an average player.
Barney, 31, spent parts of five seasons in Chicago, batting .244 with an on-base percentage of .290 for the Cubs. However, Barney was more valuable for his glove, winning a Gold Glove at second base in 2012.
He struggled in 2014, and was designated for assignment after hitting just .230 through 72 games. He was traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers, but played only 24 games with the club before being traded last September to Toronto for a player to be named later the day after Troy Tulowitzki went down with a cracked shoulder blade.
This season, though, his offensive numbers have skyrocketed.
On a tear
On May 28, Barney took over at shortstop for Tulowitzki, who was placed on the disabled list with a quadriceps injury. Since then, Barney has hit .444 with four multi-hit games. It's only nine games, but he was hitting .301 before Tulowitzki went down.
His OPS (on-base plus slugging) is .861, nearly 200 points higher than it was in his rookie season in 2011. That year, he finished with an OPS of .666, his highest over a full season (excluding 2015 when he played in just 17 games).
For comparison, his OPS this season is higher than All-Star teammates Josh Donaldson (.851), Bautista (.831) and Encarnacion (.780).
Barney's offensive wins-above-replacement (WAR) number this year of 0.99 ranks 85th in the majors, in the neighbourhood of stars Bryce Harper and Buster Posey. When you add his defensive play, Barney's total WAR is 1.54, which ranks 84th in the majors.
The season is still young and Barney needs to prove he can be consistent with the bat to solidify a role on the team, but he's off to a scorching start. If the Jays find themselves in another playoff run come September, don't be surprised if Barney is a major reason why.