In this case remarkable does not necessarily mean effective, but rather extraordinary. Daric Barton is more unusual than impactful and more of a peculiarity than an asset.
If he were a particularly useful Barton would not have signed a minor-league deal and would not be considered triple-A depth on a team that may pencil in Justin Smoak as its Opening Day first baseman. The 29-year-old only has one productive season to his name, and that was in 2010. Predicting a meaningful bounce-back would be overly optimistic.
Instead, today I mean to appreciate Barton for what makes him unique and the fact the Blue Jays have brought such a special snowflake of a player into the organization.
Barton is famous for one thing and one thing only: drawing walks, a skill the Jays seem to prize as of late. His 13.9% career walk rate is excellent, and in his breakout 2010 season he drew 110 walks, second in the majors. The veteran's disciplined approach at the plate has always been his calling card and he really doesn't pair it with any other significant skills.
In fact, Barton's 2010 was one of only seven seasons by first basemen since 1914 with 110 or more walks and 10 or fewer home runs. The second most recent of those seasons was by Ferris Fain in 1950 and Barton is the only one on the list with more than 60 strikeouts (he posted 102),setting him apart from the crowd.
The former Oakland Athletic has very limited power and contact skills that are not special, yet he's carved out a career for himself as a discipline-first first baseman, an almost impossible feat. It hasn't been the most glamorous or successful career, but a career nonetheless.
The question that presents itself is what about Barton's approach is so special that he's managed to make a living off his eye alone. The obvious answer is "not swinging at pitches outside the strike zone", and he has been special in that regard offering at only 16.5% of balls in his career.
However, a closer look shows that he has one of the most transparent plans at the plate observable since these things could be measured by PITCHf/x. The following zone profile shows his career swing% by pitch location.
Notice Barton's strong preference for pitches middle-in and middle-up. In chart form that preferences looks like this (for the purpose of the chart that middle-in middle-up zone will be referred to as "Barton's Hot Zone").
Swing% "Barton's Hot Zone"
Swing% All other locations
Keep in mind that "All other locations" includes 55.5% of the strike zone. Barton has found one location where he feel like he can drive the ball and he's pretty much swore off pitches everywhere else. Unsurprisingly, his choice shows a pretty strong sense of self awareness.
The zone profile below shows Barton's career isolated power by pitch location:
Aside from a couple of blips once again the same hot zone dominates this picture. For those more chart-inclined the numbers look like this:
ISO "Barton's Hot Zone"
ISO All other locations
In his wheelhouse Barton is a slugger, everywhere else he's as punchless as Josh Thole.
It is not unusual to see a hitter have a particular hot zone and for them swing at pitches there more often, but Barton's discipline in waiting for pitches where he can hit them is absolutely exceptional.
Theoretically every hitter should have an approach like this, maximizing their potential by focusing on their hot zones. However, as the simplistic logic goes "if it were easy everyone would be doing it".
Perhaps the biggest issue is that the vast majority of pitchers stubbornly refuse to cooperate with the best laid plans. Instead, they belligerently insist on attacking hitters with maniacal repertoires that include all manner of sadistic offspeed pitches and breaking balls.
It is incredibly difficult to stand in a batters box against major league pitching and execute a precise plan. With his otherworldly batting eye Daric Barton has managed to do so with some regularity.
That makes him a very impressive hitter, in a way. Unfortunately, in just about every other way he's just not up to snuff.
He may have the mind of a hitting maestro, but tragically his tools will likely always leave him more compelling than competent.