Mar 22, 2012; Surprise, AZ, USA; Chicago Cubs third baseman Ian Stewart (2) charges in on a ground ball off the bat of Texas Rangers second baseman Ian Kinsler (not pictured) before throwing him out at first during the third inning at Surprise Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

Ian Stewart: A Steal at Third

So the Cubs recently have re-signed third baseman Ian Stewart. Big deal, right? I mean, just what is there to be excited for about a guy who did not hit his weight? For all we know the 55 game season Stewart displayed last season (combined with his poor health since 2011) will be exactly what the Cubs get out of the 2 million dollar investment for the 2013 season – and here’s why I’m telling you that we would all be wrong for assuming this.

The facts are that the Cubs have a huge hole at 3B, the highly regarded prospects that would most likely fill the position are still seasons away, and the fans want the team to win. Although his career statistics do not show it (.232/.319/.417), Ian Stewart is a good baseball player. However you have to use more visual, rather than statistical, evaluation to see it.

The first and most attractive part of the 27-year-old’s game that I want to stress is his defense. Stewart is by no means considered a liability at the Hot Corner. He has an arm strong enough to make almost any throw without difficulty and has shown that he has the instincts to stick at the position. Statistically, Stewart’s defense merited a 3.0 UZR in 2012, which, compared to other third basemen in the MLB, would rank just under the defense of respected players Brett Lawrie of the Toronto Blue Jays and Chase Headley of the San Diego Padres, the recipient of the 2012 Gold Glove in the National League, nonetheless.

The second feature I would like to point out is Stewart’s ability to work the count and see pitches at the plate. This is a characteristic among hitters that directly correlates to winners as it has multiple benefits, not only to the hitter, but also to the lineup around him. Theoretically, the more pitches a hitter is able to see, the greater the chance that he will get a pitch which he can drive. A hitter who can force a pitcher to throw five or six pitches in at bat has made that pitcher tire out just that much more. Throw in three more players who share this characteristic and you are forcing a pitcher to throw twenty extra pitches thus taking away an inning of work later in the game from the starter. In his career, Ian Stewart has averaged 4.12 pitches per at bat. Now a great deal of those long at bats have resulted in strikeouts, yes, but the objective of forcing the pitcher to get you out – rather than you swinging at a pitcher’s pitch early in the count – was accomplished.

The final piece of Stewart’s game that captures my attention is more a package of age, upside, and market efficiency. As previously stated, Ian is only 27 years old, 28 come April; He hasn’t reached his athletic peak ages of 28-32 and is now reportedly healthy from season ending wrist surgery; Stewart is also a former first round draft pick (tenth overall in 2003 by the Colorado Rockies. At 6’3” and 215 pounds, he has more than enough size to show power potential (and he has displayed it, 25 homeruns in 2009). Now take all the positives that I have listed about the third baseman and combine it. What would you say he is worth? Compare his 2 million dollar salary to following players, 2013 salaries, ages, and teams posted, and tell me your thoughts:

Placido Polanco, 37: Miami Marlins for one year, 2.75 MM
Mark Reynolds, 29: Cleveland Indians for one year, 6 MM
Jack Hannahan, 32: Cincinnati Reds for one year, 4 MM

Stewart at 1 year, 2 MM starting to look like a steal, huh? Be Happy, Cubs fans; Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer have played the third base market without having to neither break the bank nor overpay. I would take that kind of efficiency any day!

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