When the Cubs traded for Ian Stewart in early December, it was seen as a low-risk, high-reward move for Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer.
After all, Stewart was a former first-round pick that hit 53 homers for the Rockies from 2008-10. The Cubs needed a third baseman and Stewart could be had for cheap after struggling badly in 2011, hitting just .156 in 136 at-bats with zero home runs.
But somehow, Stewart's numbers are just as bad to start 2012.
After hitting a three-run homer in St. Louis April 13, the 27-year-old third baseman is just 4-for-49 (.082 AVG) with only one extra-base hit and three walks. That equates to a sickening .237 OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage) in 13 games.
To be fair, Stewart has been incredibly unlucky this year. Against the Phillies on Sunday, he hit a couple balls really hard, just right at guys. The same thing happened April 20 against the Reds. Stewart was 0-for-4, but had four hard-hit balls and nothing to show for it.
His BABIP (batting average on balls in play) is just .196 this season, almost 100 points lower than his career average of .291. That is just beyond unlucky. Only seven major-league players boast a lower BABIP, including Marlon Byrd and sluggers Jose Bautista and Eric Hosmer.
Theo and Hoyer said prior to the season that Stewart was going to get every opportunity to turn things around. He was going to get 400-500 at-bats regardless. His defensive numbers at third leave a little bit to be desired, but he's still better than Aramis Ramirez has been the past few years.
Should the Cubs keep playing Stewart at third? Of course. They really don't have any other options. Top third base prospect Josh Vitters is far from ready, as he is struggling with a .618 OPS in his first season in Triple-A.
Beyond that, the Cubs have Blake DeWitt, Joe Mather and Jeff Baker in the majors. While all three of those guys are productive bench players, none of them has the upside Stewart has and none figures to be the answer at third.
Baseball is a game that evens out over time. If Stewart keeps hitting the ball hard, he will eventually find some holes. Even-tempered Dale Sveum is the perfect manager to make sure Stewart doesn't get too down.
Sveum and the Cubs figure to stick with Stewart at third base. One of these days, his luck will finally turn and he'll go 4-for-4.