Miles Mastrobuoni‘s Cubs career got off to what can politely be called a sluggish start, leading to any number of pejorative reconfigurations of his nickname. To be fair, the intentional mispronunciations had been there all along but were just tinged with a lot more venom.
Though he only played sporadically, his .169 average and 40 wRC+ had many fans asking why he was even still in the organization and taking up a roster spot when several prospects were pushing for big-league playing time. But lost in all the talk about the team’s performance and David Ross‘s decision-making is the fact that Mastrobuoni has been really freaking good for a while now.
While the sample is limited to just 58 plate appearances in 24 second-half games, including 10 games in which he got one or zero PAs, the infielder’s .340 batting average and 127 wRC+ are very impressive. They’re even more so when you realize he started that stretch 0-for-8 with three strikeouts and that he spent most of August in Triple-A Iowa. Prior to a recent string of four straight starts during which he collected eight hits and scored five runs, Mastrobuoni had been to the plate just four times in 30 team games.
At one point in there, he didn’t appear at all in 11 straight contests and it seemed as though Ross had just flat forgotten about him. But with both Nick Madrigal and Jeimer Candelario on the IL and several right-handed pitchers facing the Cubs, Ross had to do something different. Even if his glove has left a bit to be desired, which has been the case over on the left side of the infield of late for some reason, Mastrobuoni has stepped up in a big way.
His .340 average ranks first on the team in the second half (min. 50 PAs) and his 127 wRC+ ranks fourth, making him one of the most valuable players on the roster. If we break down fWAR per plate appearance, Mastrobuoni (.0083) is just behind Nico Hoerner (.009), Seiya Suzuki (.0087), Patrick Wisdom (.0086), and Cody Bellinger (.0085). The oft-dismissed utiltyman is also seventh on the team with a 0.38 win probability added score despite being 13th in PAs since the break.
It’s probably too late to clarify at this point, but none of this is meant as an argument for Mastrobuoni to get everyday playing time or anything like that. Rather, it’s just an appreciation of the fact that he’s done a damn good job of staying ready despite inconsistent usage due to his nebulous role. And when you consider how poorly both Madrigal and Candelario had been hitting over their last 50ish PAs, Mastrobuoni has actually given the Cubs a big step up in production.
The manager may continue to prioritize the guys that got them here, but it sure is nice when someone who was along for the ride can take the wheel for a bit.
Ed. note: The original version of this article had Mastrobuoni listed third in fWAR/PA, but that was based on rounded calculations on FanGraphs. When exporting the more precise calculations, numbers shifted slightly.