View From The Bleachers

March 14, 2012

Player Preview – Ian Stewart

Filed under: Featured,General — Norm @ 5:00 am

Polarizing figure Aramis Ramirez played his final season with the Cubs in 2011. To fill the void, the Cubs decided to trade the disappointing Tyler Colvin and slap-hitting DJ Lemahieu to the Rockies for the disappointing Ian Stewart and the disappointing Casey Weathers.

Stewart is expected to be the everyday third baseman for the Cubs in 2012 in the hopes that he can fulfill some of the potential that made him Baseball America’s #4 overall prospect back in 2005. Unfortunately, 2005 was the peak of Stewart’s value, and here we are seven years later, still waiting for production.

His career line is 236/323/428. That line isn’t very good and it’s even worse if you choose to focus on batting average instead of the more important on-base percentage. He has contact issues, which leads to high strikeout numbers, but he also throws in a few walks and has a season high of 25 homers….so there is a non-zero chance he puts up an average offensive season.

One thing we’re bound to hear is that if Stewart couldn’t hit in Colorado, he’s not going to hit anywhere else. Maybe that’s true. But his home/road splits aren’t all that different and he’s actually hit for more power (more doubles and more homers leading to a higher ISO) on the road than he did in the friendly thin air of Coors Field. And one surprising bit of information I ran into over at StatCorner was that Wrigley Field was actually a bit more friendly to left handed hitters in the home run department than Coors Field was.

The projections listed at Fangraphs have him hitting about that same 236/323/428 line for 2012. Rudy Jaramillo was supposed to be the best hitting coach in baseball when he was signed a few seasons ago, so maybe he helps Stewart click and hit the over on those. I’m not expecting much and I don’t think the Cubs front office is either. He’s a lottery ticket. Not even a Powerball ticket, but a $2 scratch off that may pay $5 or $10 if you’re lucky. If not, no big deal, you lost $2.

So while we won’t see the same offense that the disliked Aramis Ramirez put up over the last eight seasons, one thing we should see that won’t show up in the projections is improved defense. By all reports I’ve read, Stewart is an above average third baseman, and one report I came across even said he could play “Gold Glove” defense. With the infusion of ground ball pitchers Chris Volstad and Paul Maholm, this may be an overlooked benefit Stewart provides.

He’s arbitration eligible until 2014 so he may be here a few years. I’m hoping for good defense, an average OBP (ML average was .320 in 2011), and good power in 2012 with the Cubs finding a new third baseman by the time they are ready to compete again.

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  • Buddy

    Nice work Norm. I think your hopes for Stewart are realistic.

  • Mark P.

     If memory serves me, Stewart was jerked around a lot in Colorado–and often was on a short leash–in fact 2009 was his only “full season” and he posted .228/.322/.464 with 25 dingers.  Maybe with a longer leash he can bring up the average and obp by 20 points or so–I would take that.

  • BLPCB

    I hope Vitters can be the long-term solution still.

  • Doc Raker

    Ian Stewart is a stop gap measure as this team rebuilds, he is one of the reasons the Cubs can’t win this year. A third baseman with numbers that would embarrass a second baseman is not a long term option. Might as well see what Steve Ontiveros is up to.

  • cap’n obvious

    Very solid assessment of Stewart.  He could actually be decent, knowing he’s the guy.  Low risk, decent reward potential.  He’s no Kevin Orie, but to be fair, I’m pretty sure Kevin Orie didn’t want to be Kevin Orie after about 10 games.

  • Jedi

    If Ian Stewart has a year like Kevin Orie’s only full season with the Cubs, there will be a horde of people here thinking he’s the long-term solution.  To date, only during a small portion of 2008 has Stewart ever looked that “good” – so he’s not Kevin Orie, unfortunately for the Cubs he’s been worse so far.

  • Jedi

    He had a pretty full season in 2010 (441 PAs) and wasn’t able to improve on much of anything.  He also got 304 PAs in 81 games of 2008.  Basically, after two and a half years the Rockies knew what they had, didn’t like it and sure, you could argue he got yanked around in 2011 – but that’s because he’d had 2.5 years to show he was more than a crappy hitter who could take a handful of walks and put a ball over the fence every 7-10 days or so.  He was never able to show that to the Rockies…I’m not sure why at 27 years old we’re expecting/hoping he’ll be able to do something that we never expect a Cubs’ prospect to do – suddenly get a lot better.

  • Joe Aiello

    I am torn on Stewart. There are cases for and against him, but I think you nailed it Norm. He’s a cheap lottery ticket with small amount of payout. He’s not going to be a guy that, even if he hits, is going to be an Allstar, but he can be worth more than he’s getting paid.

  • http://swantron.com/ jswanson

    Who cares if he swings a purse…dude can field ground balls!

  • Norm Bothwell

    I don’t think anyone *expects* him to get better.
    And why wouldn’t we hope he gets better? Don’t we all hope that EVERYONE gets better?

  • Dusty Baylor

    If Stewart puts up a .275/.350/.431….he’ll be Orie with more power.  I think Stewart will put up .240/.325/.465..with 120 K’s and 20 HR’s.. Better for $2 million more?

  • Jedi

    No, with some guys it’s an expectation that they get shuffled to a different position.

    My serious answer is this…when we have say, Tyler Colvin, the common thought is “he sucks, he’ll never be more than what he is, dump him.”  And yet with Stewart it’s, “if he can just be a little bit better, then we will have gotten a really solid player.”  They are the same player, they both suck, they have had quite a bit of opportunity to prove they are better then a fringe MLB player (in fact, Stewart has had far more chances than Colvin).  I realize there’s a positional aspect to the trade – so let’s not pretend as though I’m saying it was a bad trade; but the idea that the Cubs somehow got the player for whom the future is possible brightest is crazy talk.  Stewart’s about 18 months from being out of the majors for good if he can’t show himself to be of some worth – he might be the worst player in camp guaranteed to make the MLB roster, and on this team that’s saying something.

  • flyslinger2

    He’s a stopgap measure. I bet management is really looking beyond him to the next best young 3RD baseman that makes himself known and he will get a visit from the front office with promises of big money.

  • Lizzie

    Norm I think you’re spot on about Stewart. 

  • Buddy

    I don’t expect him to be a lot better, but he could certainly be serviceable. 

  • Buddy

    The difference for me is that Stewart showed knowledge of the strike zone in the minors. Colvin never did.  Plus, Stewart plays 3B (and has played a little 2B in his major league career), so in my world he gets a longer leash than a corner OF.

  • Norm Bothwell

    If we were doing previews of Tyler Colvin, I’d say he suffered from an unsustainable low BABIP, but his lack of walks and low contact rate make a repeat of 2010 unlikely. He can still contribute (or at least be given a chance to contribute) until a better player is found to replace him.
    As Buddy mentioned, and I agree, I’ll take the good defensive 3B as the tie breaker. Otherwise, they’re the same thing.

  • Gymjok

    Get me, I’m Henry Fonda.
    Looks like I’m the lone juror for Mr. Stewart.

  • SVAZCUB

    Stewart is a decent guy to take a shot on while we wait for Vitters, Lake and Baez to be ready for their shots.  I don’t like the fact we gave up LeMahieu to get him, because LeMahieu has more upside than anyone in our current mix of 2Bmen at the MLB level, but that’s water under the bridge. 

    The one frustration I have with the Stewart situation is the fact that the Cubs’ management have explicitly told him that he will not be platooned, but will play every day.  This makes no sense, since Stewart has a lot of trouble against lefties and Jeff Baker, whose natural position is 3B, kills lefties.  In fact, if you take Stewart’s OPS against RHP in his last two FULL seasons (i.e., ignoring last year), and marry it to Jeff Baker’s OPS against LHP over the last two seasons, what you essentially get is the offensive equivalent of a typical ARam season…but with better defense.

    Given the Cubs’ pathetic offensive situation, I don’t see the wisdom in throwing away this advantage.  And given Stewart’s recent struggles, I don’t see the wisdom in asking him to do things that he doesn’t do well (like hit LHP).

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