Daniel Descalso is now a member of the Chicago Cubs. The utility player signed a two-year contract with them today, which guarantees him $5.1 million. He will earn $1.5 million next year, then $2.5 million in 2020, with a team option following at $3.5 million for 2021, and a $1.1 million buyout if not exercised. It’s a nice little bump for the 32-year-old - basically half as much again, over and above the $3.35 million Descalso earned during the last two seasons in the desert.
When the history of the Diamondbacks is written, it will be easy to forget about Descalso. Over his two seasons with the club, he batted .235, with an OPS+ of 95 and was worth only 0.8 bWAR in games Descalso played for Arizona. That’s below Jeremy Hazelbaker, and less than half the production of Chris Iannetta by the same metric over 2017-18 - neither of whom appeared for us this year. Fangraphs views him more kindly, but even their 1.8 fWAR for two seasons is not going to overheat the cockles of your local sabermetrician’s heart. Though they would admit, give his total cost of approximately 0.15 Tomases, Daniel was decent enough value, in a low-key, utility infielder kind of way.
However, during that time, he was remarkably omnipresent: only David Peralta and Paul Goldschmidt were seen in a higher number of games for the Diamondbacks. He started at three infield positions, left-field and as designated hitter, played shortstop and even took the mound for Arizona on four separate occasions. Yes, folks: Descalso pitched more innings for the Diamondbacks than Mike Hampton, Tom Gordon or Kris Medlen, who have five All-Star appearances and a World Series ring between them. And he leaves Arizona with a lower ERA here (5.06) than Edwin Jackson (5.16), Shelby Miller (6.35) or Trevor Bauer (6.06) - as well as exactly a hundred other pitchers.
But it is for his remarkable clutchiness that Daniel will be best remembered. By Fangraphs’ Clutch metric, Descalso scored a 3.22 in 2017-18. No other Arizona batter is better than 1.14. Only two - Jake Lamb (1.14) and Chris Owings (1.10) - score above 0.40. Indeed, Descalso was the clutchiest hitter in the major leagues over the last two seasons. He was worth more Win Probability at the plate in that time than anyone for Arizona bar Goldschmidt. And also more than the likes of Andrew McCutchen, Robinson Cano or Justin Upton gave their teams in Win Probability - those three men earned $28.75 million, $48 million and $38.1 million in 2017-18 respectively. Rather more than Daniel, to put it mildly.
This talent began in his debut, scoring the winning walk-off run against the Giants on Opening Day 2017. And of his 163 hits, a remarkable 29 either tied the game or gave Arizona the lead. He had two walk-off hits for Arizona in the regular season - that’s more than Craig Counsell, Tony Clark, Steve Finley or Jay Bell in their careers here - both of them coming in extra innings during the 2017 campaign. On June 25, 2017, he singled home Goldy in the 11th inning against the Phillies. But the big blow came on April 30, in the 13th inning at Chase Field versus the Rockies. His two-run shot into the pool (below) ended a game which had been scoreless to that point, and was the longest shutout in Chase Field history.
That was perhaps the purest and most distilled version of the Descalso way: getting the hits when we needed them most. In 2017, his OPS in high-leverage situations was .936, two hundred and nine points higher than his regular OPS. This season, the same figure was .969, a hundred and eighty points of OPS better. Put another way, over the past two seasons, in high-leverage situations, Daniel basically turned into a strong-style version of Paul Goldschmidt (overall OPS = .944). Whether the Cubs will get the same thing remains to be seen, but Descalso’s signing in Chicago definitely leaves a clutch hole on the Diamondbacks which is not going to be easily filled.