At some point yesterday afternoon, I decided that I wanted to look into Starlin Castro on a historical basis. I go to Baseball-Reference and enter the filters required to get the desired results from the Play Index tool — notably shortstops, age 20, who played in at least 50 games and played at least 50% of those games at short. Nothing too strict, really, and naturally that query only returned 22 seasons. That within itself should give the impression of how rare Castro’s situation is.
Actually, we’ve been spoiled with 20-year-old shortstops: Castro this year, Elvis Andrus last, Jose Lopez in 2004, and Jose Reyes in 2003. If you reach into the 1990s, you have Edgar Renteria and Alex Rodriguez, with Gary Sheffield missing by a year. Between 1930 and 1950, only one joined the ranks (Arky Vaughan) – presumably the whole World War thing played into it – and it wasn’t until the 1970s when this sort of thing became an every-few-years phenomenon.
The question of importance is how Castro is performing against his peers. The answer is quite well. Throw out Rodriguez’s ridiculous 36 home runs, 1.045 OPS season in ’96 and Castro stacks up well against everyone else. Obviously, OPS+ is not the best measure of hitting performance in the world, but it does a worthwhile job here:
Everyone else had OPS+ below 90, including Ed Brinkman in 1962: he played in 54 games and his OPS+ was a mere 25. Nonetheless, Castro is in good company. Rodriguez is bound to join Vaughan and Jackson in the Hall of Fame, and Fregosi as well as Templeton appeared in numerous All-Star games. Truthfully, there are worse careers to mimic than Witt’s too. Sure, he was out of the league shortly after turning 31, but he appeared in more than 1,130 games and had a career OPS+ of 97.
Moreover, he had a name to compete with Starlin DeJesus Castro, too, as he was born Ladislav Waldemar Wittkowski.