Starlin Castro Turns it All Around

Chicago Cubs shortstop Starlin Castro entered 2014 with a lot at stake. After three straight above-average years to begin his career, Castro faltered badly in 2013. It wasn’t difficult to see why that happened. Castro’s peripherals moved in the wrong direction, and his BABIP dropped to a career-low .290. On top of that, he seemed out of sorts at the plate, posting negative pitch values against anything with decent velocity. Explaining why this happened, though, was difficult, and made Castro impossible to project going into 2014. Those questions were rendered moot after Castro posted his finest offensive season in 2014. As a reward, the Cubs might ship him to another club in 2015.

For most teams, dealing a 25-year-old shortstop with the potential to be one of the best hitters at his position would seen silly. For the Cubs, it might actually make sense. Javier Baez was expected to push Castro even before the 2014 rebound. The team’s acquisition of Addison Russell at the deadline only complicated things. The club already appears to have moved Arismendy Alcantara off second base in order to accommodate whoever loses the future battle at short. Third base is out of the question with Kris Bryant progressing at an insane rate in the minors. That leaves one man out of a spot.

It’s assumed that man will be Castro for a couple of reasons. First off, he’ll be more expensive sooner. Castro’s contract is actually pretty team friendly if he doesn’t falter again, but Russell and Baez will be dirt cheap for the next couple seasons. Based on how much buzz there is about the Cubs spending money during the offseason, maybe this isn’t as big an issue as initially anticipated. There seems to be a sense the team will spend once it believes it can compete, and that might be soon.

The bigger reason Castro may get the axe is that he’s old news. The great thing about prospects is that hope springs eternal. They are always perceived to be better than the guy at the majors because they’ve never failed in the majors. Cubs fans have already seen Castro go through some growing pains in the majors, making the prospect of Russell or Baez enticing. The truth is, while the Cubs have amassed a ridiculous collection of talent in the minors, not all of these guys are going to make it. Or, at least, there’s a very good chance one falls short of expectations. The real question the team needs to be asking is whether it believes Baez and Russell will be better than Castro going forward.

We have no way of knowing how Baez or Russell will perform in the majors, so evaluating them is out of the question. We can, however, look at what Castro has done thus far, and see which players he’s comparable to moving forward.

Name PA BB% K% AVG OBP SLG wOBA Def WAR
Tony Fernandez 1637 5.400% 6.700% 0.295 0.335 0.401 0.329 42.1 9.6
Asdrubal Cabrera 1610 8.200% 15.800% 0.284 0.347 0.394 0.329 -1 6
Jose Reyes 2722 6.400% 11.200% 0.284 0.330 0.426 0.327 47.3 15.4
Jeff Blauser 1197 7.800% 18.00% 0.264 0.327 0.400 0.327 -16 2.2
Alan Trammell 2695 9.600% 9.400% 0.273 0.344 0.367 0.325 59.9 14.6
Barry Larkin 1309 6.600% 7.400% 0.275 0.328 0.404 0.325 30.1 8.4
Rafael Furcal 1594 8.800% 15.700% 0.281 0.347 0.382 0.325 23.6 6.7
J.J. Hardy 1204 7.800% 12.00% 0.263 0.321 0.429 0.325 35.4 6.2
Aaron Hill 1013 7.500% 10.600% 0.284 0.346 0.386 0.322 9.9 3.9
Starlin Castro 3186 5.200% 15.600% 0.284 0.325 0.410 0.321 18.9 11.2
Robin Yount 3171 5.200% 9.800% 0.278 0.315 0.398 0.319 59.9 16.4
Chris Speier 2522 10.500% 12.500% 0.250 0.334 0.359 0.319 49.2 12.7
Matt Williams 1411 5.00% 22.600% 0.235 0.279 0.444 0.316 29.9 7.6
Edgar Renteria 3116 8.00% 13.400% 0.275 0.334 0.376 0.316 25.2 6.9
Jimmy Rollins 2169 7.300% 15.300% 0.262 0.317 0.395 0.311 13.4 5.8
Elvis Andrus 3289 8.200% 13.400% 0.274 0.339 0.348 0.31 65.2 16.1
Don Money 1492 7.800% 15.500% 0.249 0.312 0.382 0.31 12.5 4.3

The above list shows the most similar shortstop to Castro from age-20 through age-24 by wOBA. A few things stand out here. For one, Castro has the second-most plate appearances of any of the bunch. There are some great players on this list, and it says something that Castro has experienced this much success and experience at his age. The next thing that probably sticks out are the other names. This is some pretty good company. There are two Hall of Famers here, and a third, Alan Trammell, who has a pretty good case for enshrinement. After that, there are a number of near-elite/above-average players here, including Jose Reyes, Edgar Renteria and Jimmy Rollins.

The least successful players here as far as hitting is concerned are Chris Speier and Elvis Andrus. Jeff Blauser could be included too, but he was pretty good up until age-28, then he fell apart. The jury is still out on Andrus developing into a better hitter, but his defense makes him a good candidate to stick around for a long time. That seems to be what happened with Speier.

Castro doesn’t appear to have the same defensive chops, so his value will be more dependent on his ability to hit. That doesn’t appear to be a problem for him, which bodes well moving forward. We can’t really know for sure if Castro will go on to have a similar career as Renteria or Rollins, but he’s at least put himself in their company at this point in his career. Baez and Russell have seemingly unlimited potential, but is it reasonable to expect them to produce at this level? If the Cubs decide to give up on Castro, it will say a lot more about their faith in those two prospects than it will about Castro’s ability to produce going forward.

We hoped you liked reading Starlin Castro Turns it All Around by Chris Cwik!

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Chris is a blogger for CBSSports.com. He has also contributed to Sports on Earth, the 2013 Hard Ball Times Baseball Annual, ESPN, FanGraphs and RotoGraphs. He tries to be funny on twitter @Chris_Cwik.

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Ian
Guest
Ian

I wouldn’t assume that Kris Bryant is going to remain at third base. Theo has already said he’ll be getting reps in the OF, and that there’s room for all these guys in the lineup, and theoretically, there is. Of course this could very well be a tactic to show teams that he doesn’t NEED to trade any of them, but even assuming the unlikely scenario in which all of them work out, you could line them up like this:

3B: Baez/Castro
SS: Russell
2B: Baez/Castro
1B: Rizzo
LF: Bryant
CF: Alcantara
RF: Soler
C: Schwarber

And at the very least, I don’t see Castro being traded until Baez show some signs he’s not going to be a 40%+ K rate whiff machine, and Russell hits at AAA for a prolonged stretch.

Chuck
Guest
Chuck

What, no Almora? Do you think he’s gone gone gone? Like Schwarber will be once Russell Martin signs?

Ian
Guest
Ian

Almora making it to the bigs is very much in question. He has health and performance issues. I think the performance may improve, but he’s been Mr. Glass thus far in his pro career.

And a trade is also a possibility.

As for Schwarber, if the plan is to keep him at catcher, he’s probably a couple of years away at least. And if the Cubs do sign Martin, I doubt it will be for long, and they can always trade him.

Helios
Guest
Helios

And of course depth doesn’t hurt. Alcantara — slotted here at CF but with IF training — would make for a fine Zobrist-type player, allowing them to rest players more frequently and still fit all these guys in one lineup. (And of course making this conversation even easier: there’s about a 0% chance these guys all become everyday players.)

Spa City
Member
Member
Spa City

I know this is just my (untrained) “eye test” but Kris Bryant seems like he will be too big to handle 3B. He reminds me of Jim Thome (whom I remember as a 3B prospect who looked too big).

Bryant is listed as 6’5″ 215, but I would wager he is at least 240 already. He seems more likely to play 1B or corner OF. Of course, Mr. Rizzo might have something to say about Mr. Bryant fielding the intial sack.