Starlin Castro Is Good at Baseball

During his chat last Wednesday, Dave Cameron ranked the top MLB shortstops as Troy Tulowitzki, Jose Reyes, and then a huge chasm before the next best guy. As we are no longer in the era of offensive shortstops, the guys who can swing a big stick like Tulo really stand out from the crowd. I agree with Dave for the most part, but there is one guy I would add to that list who is quickly closing the gap on Reyes: Starlin Castro.

Castro doesn’t seem to get a lot of attention other than when he is screwing up, but he is one of the best young pure hitters in the game. There have been a lot of knocks on Castro thus far in his young career which has led to the lack of respect. His defense is suspect at best, he doesn’t walk much and there have been some attitude/effort problems. These are legitimate concerns. Talented players can wash out if they don’t have their head screwed on straight, and he loses some serious value if he has to move off shortstop.

My counter-argument to these points: Through his age 21 season he posted a 103 wRC+ across 1221 PA. Troy Tulowitzki was still wearing a Long Beach State Dirtbags uniform at the same age.  To put that in perspective, only 47 players since the deadball era have even accumulated 1000 PA before their age 22 season, let alone post above league average offensive numbers. Among these 47 players, Castro’s 103 wRC+ mark comes in at #29. I’ll let you take a guess at how many of the guys above him did it at shortstop.

Two. Alex Rodriguez (144) and Arky Vaughan (131). Now, shortstop isn’t the only premium defensive position, but if we include center fielders and catchers, the list still only goes up to 10 names.

Player wRC+
Mickey Mantle 154
Alex Rodriguez 144
Ken Griffey 140
Cesar Cedeno 131
Arky Vaughan 131
Vada Pinson 127
Johnny Bench 119
Rick Manning 109
Andruw Jones 108
Butch Wynegar 104

Obviously all of these players were better hitters than Castro at the same age, but that list includes five Hall of Famers (assuming induction for Rodriguez and Griffey), which is impressive considering center fielders are notoriously underrepresented in Cooperstown.

If we go below Castro’s level of production we find other very good shortstops like Travis Jackson (95), Edgar Renteria (92), Robin Yount (83) and Elvis Andrus (81).

I’m not trying to predict future greatness for Castro here. There are a lot of variables at play. If he can’t stick at shortstop much longer, as many scouts suspect, he isn’t quite as special. However, that doesn’t mean we can’t appreciate what he is doing right now. Sure, his play on defense is at times laughable, but since he stepped foot on at MLB diamond at age 20 in 2010, only five shortstops have posted a higher wRC+ than him. He also does it in an exciting way. I appreciate the value of a walk as much as the next fan, but there is something to be said for a guy who puts the ball in play 80% of the time, with 20.3% of those being line drives and only 6.2% as infield flies. Add 16 triples, 64 stolen base attempts and .308 average into the mix, and he is a fun guy to watch at the ballpark. If I’m a GM trying to win a World Series, I probably want Andrus due to his stellar fielding and plate discipline, but if I’m Joe Sixpack heading out to the park, an afternoon in the bleachers at Wrigley watching Castro hone his craft sounds like a pretty good time.

So far in this young season, Castro has posted a .359 wOBA on the strength of a .392 BABIP. While this is high for a guy even with Castro’s swing and speed, he has shown that he can operate comfortably in the .340-.350 range. ZiPS projects a rest of season wOBA of .338, which would put him right around last season’s production. Given his age and the fact that his plate discipline numbers can’t get any worse, it wouldn’t be surprising to see him best that projected mark.

As a guy who relies on his batting average to maintain most of his value, Castro isn’t exactly a SABR darling, but value comes in many packages, and Castro is an example of how a high-contact/low-walk approach at the plate can still produce a valuable player.



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Pg
Guest
Pg
4 years 3 months ago

This isn’t an attack as much as it is a rant, so forgive me if it comes across as harsh or rude…

But the whole Player A is good at baseball, or Player B isn’t good at baseball hyperbole annoys the hell out of me. It’s not clever sounding. It’s stupid sounding. Any player that’s touched Major League Baseball is absurdly good at it.

Kirkwood
Member
Kirkwood
4 years 3 months ago

Is this a serious complaint?

Monterobang
Guest
Monterobang
4 years 3 months ago

Pg sounds like a real lighthearted, enjoyable guy to joke around with

James
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James
4 years 3 months ago

Some things are best left unsaid… fewer nitpicking/editorial comments please.

WY
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WY
4 years 3 months ago

I agree with Pg. You see this template used on a near-daily basis if you read, say, even just a handful of different blogs. It’s old, tiresome, and not clever.

Sleight of Hand Pro
Guest
Sleight of Hand Pro
4 years 3 months ago

agreed. also when something parenthetically notes “see: last name, first name” …. nobody ever writes anyone’s last name first except in this style. ive always found it weird.

its a nitpick sure, but i dont see why we should jump down someones throat about it. we all have diff things that annoy us.

Beyer, David
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Beyer, David
4 years 3 months ago

Not true.

cable fixer
Guest
cable fixer
4 years 3 months ago

i actually agree with Pg’s point when it comes to this meme that won’t die. to me, it’s kind of sad that it’s become commonplace to paint players–figuratively better than 100% of the people who’ve attempted the activity of baseball and maybe 95%ish who receive renumeration for the activity–with that language.

idk

jim
Guest
jim
4 years 3 months ago

if only there was some sort of button to click to remove things you didn’t like from right in front of you

Jon L.
Guest
Jon L.
4 years 3 months ago

Starlin Castro *is* good at baseball.

sjellic2
Member
sjellic2
4 years 3 months ago

I think the inevitability of Castro moving away from SS is overhyped. He has the raw tools to succeed there, and while he’s demonstrated a kind of sloppiness that you don’t often see in a major league player, he is, slowly but surely, getting better. I don’t know if he can develop a gold glover’s feel for the position, you either have that or you don’t, but I with time his range and his arm will make him into a player than can stay at short.

arescan
Guest
arescan
4 years 3 months ago

He’s definitely got elite range at the position, as well as the arm, glove, etc… It all comes down to his decision making and composure at the position, which are seemingly the two spots where his mistakes come from.

He kind of reminds me of Jeter at the position in a lot of ways.

Matt Zakrowski
Member
4 years 3 months ago

So he’s bad at it? Sounds right.

Sleight of Hand Pro
Guest
Sleight of Hand Pro
4 years 3 months ago

how does castro remind you of jeter? hes got great range but is error prone. its the anti jeter if anything.

matt – arescan’s stance “sounds about right”? how?

bpdelia
Guest
bpdelia
4 years 3 months ago

At first i was thinking “?whaaaaaa?” But actually it makes sense. Jeter really never had the tools but stuck because of his composure and decision making plus his steadiness.

He really is the anti castro and so in the same way anti matter and matter are extremely alike yet totally opposite……yeah i like that. Interesting.

Bht as a yankee fan i will say its alot easier to learn composure and stesdiness. Jeter could only do so much with the tools.

Then again casgro will NEVER be even close to the offensive force jeted has been.

jayT
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jayT
4 years 3 months ago

I don’t understand why you would say that Castro will never even be close to Jeter’s offense when through their first two full years they are pretty comparable, Jeter’s wRC+ 106 and 110, Castro’s 95 and 109. The bigger difference is that Jeter was two years older.

Now, I’m not predicting Castro for the Hall of Fame or anything, and I’m not saying he’ll hit as well as Jeter, but I think it will be fairly close. Though they will get there in different ways. I don’t see Castro ever walking like Jeter does.

drew
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drew
4 years 3 months ago

Except Jeter’s range has never been as good as Castro’s.

Most SS his age are busy committing 30+ errors in AA or AAA, so lets give the kid a little time to mature before we decide he needs to move positions.

Preston
Guest
Preston
4 years 3 months ago

That would make him the anti-Jeter who who has great composure and decision making and terrible range and only an adequate arm.

AC
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AC
4 years 3 months ago

Probably more referring to early 20’s Jeter. It should be fair to assume that his instincts were worse at that age and his range were better. But he definitely had a cannon.

bpdelia
Guest
bpdelia
4 years 3 months ago

Not really ac. His instincts were extraordinary from the start and his range pretty much always sucked. He had and still has a pretty good arm yhough. But not some dunstonesque cannon or anything.

Jarrett
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Jarrett
4 years 3 months ago

As a Cubs fan, one thing I really like about Castro is his game-mentality. You can tell he loves the game and is very much into it (most of the time). He’s a little young, but as he matures his focus will come around. If he keeps the flame of competitiveness buring, Castro could stay and thrive at Shortstop.

JimNYC
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JimNYC
4 years 3 months ago

Obviously going forward is an entirely different question, but… if you’re talking about the best shortstops RIGHT NOW, doesn’t Derek Jeter have to be in the conversation? If he regresses completely — for the rest of the season hits .290 with a .390 SLG, and keeps the same poor walk rate he has now — if he gets 550 more PA’s, he’ll finish the season at .304/.378/.419.

TKDC
Member
Member
TKDC
4 years 3 months ago

If you’re talking about shortstops with a chance to finish in the top 10 (or even top 5) in WAR, then yes, Jeter belongs in the conversation. However, I don’t understand why you’d only use 2012 to judge the best shortstops right now (other than to squeeze Captain Teammate into the conversation).

If you look at Zips(U), Jeter is outside of the top-5 (even removing Hanley, which I think is fair). Jeter isn’t the only old shortstop having a great first 33 days of the season. Rafael Furcal is also ahead of Jeter in Zips(U) on the back of the 1.9 WAR he’s already accumulated.

DD
Guest
DD
4 years 3 months ago

I hate the comparison of Tulo being in college and Castro being a pro at the same age. If Tulo was born in a place where his best option for success in life was signing a contract at 16 years old he would have been a pro by 20 also.

chuckb
Guest
chuckb
4 years 3 months ago

That wasn’t at all the point. The point the author was trying to make was that, if you think Tulowitzki is really good, and you should, here are some reasons to think Castro is good. He wasn’t making the point that Castro is better than Tulowitzki or that Tulo’s accomplishments are somehow sullied by the fact that he played college baseball. He was simply saying that Castro is young to be doing all these things well in the major leagues and, in fact, when Tulo was his age, he was still in college.

DD
Guest
DD
4 years 3 months ago

I think we’re explaining things differently, but agreeing. My thought is that many Latin players are “fast tracked” to the majors by being taught major league-level skills as young teens, and sent to the professional minor leagues by 16-17. Meanwhile most American players can’t get instruction past a “top high school” level until they are at least 18 (Bryce Harper is an exception to this, but he was fast tracked with a baseball-only regimen, so it’s not totally shocking he’s in the majors already). What I’m saying is that Castro should be compared to others that were given the same “advantages” as he was, while Harper and A-Rod and Trout can be compared to each other.

TheUncool
Guest
TheUncool
4 years 3 months ago

Agreed, except only problem w/ this is that you may run out of enough good options for a reasonably thorough, meaningful comparison.

I think you probably want to just qualify certain parts of the comparison to account for those kinds of issues, but not necessarily exclude those players like Tulo.

Norm
Member
4 years 3 months ago

Lots of whiny bitches complain about all this free content.

Valid Complaint
Guest
Valid Complaint
4 years 3 months ago

The paragraph that begins “I’m not trying to predict…” is WAAAAY to long and offends my sensibilities. F&%* this, I’m out of here!

Jeff Mathis Does Steroids
Guest
Jeff Mathis Does Steroids
4 years 3 months ago

“I’m not trying to predict future greatness for Castro here.”

Well then what is the arguement? Because up to that point it seemed like the typical “yeah he may suck, but he is still a top player at his position by default because he is young” arguement. If you have to qualify everything with age in order to compare him to the best players at SS, then he is not one of the top players at SS.

Also I like how you say that Castro is quickley closing the gap on Reyes. Then, later in the article you say that Elvis Andrus is better than Castro, but not as fun to watch. Lesson to learn: Being fun to watch goes further to being elite than being good at baseball.

Daniel
Member
Daniel
4 years 3 months ago

When it comes to hitters, you really do need to take account of age. Castro’s ability to do what he’s doing at this age has to be major factor in our evaluation of him.

If he was a pitcher, not so much. At least that’s how I understand it.

Look at Jeter and Reyes at this age, for instance. I’m not saying he’ll be as good as either, I’m just saying it’s worthwhile to compare him to (at least somewhat) similar players at a similar development stage.

TheUncool
Guest
TheUncool
4 years 3 months ago

RE: Castro closing the gap (vs Andrus), he could probably clarify that a tad some more, but the thrust of the article points to Castro being on the right path to “quickly closing the gap” because he has the tools on top of the track record so far to do that although his current biggest weakness (ie. defense) probably puts him at a disadvantage compared to Andrus at this point.

Meanwhile, it doesn’t look (anymore) like Andrus has the tools/potential to grow a whole lot more like Castro seems to still have. So although Andrus may be the better overall SS right now, which is what you’d want to win *now*, Castro seems to have the higher upside and seems to be on the right track to surpass Andrus as he closes the gap on Tulo and Reyes.

At least that’s how I’m reading this piece (and I agree accordingly) anyway…

Of course, all this will be contingent on how well Castro actually continues to develop overall as SS… He is “closing the gap”, but he’s not there yet.

Andy_B
Guest
Andy_B
4 years 3 months ago

Using a very simple sortable leader board, looking at WAR of 1+ for SS from 1980-2011 seasons, at age 20-22, there is a very interesting list that pops up.

Alex Rodriguez- 22.8
Cal Ripken- 13.5
Elvis Andrus- 10.1
Edgar Renteria- 6.1
Starlin Castro- 5.6
Jose Reyes- 5.2
Ozzie Guillen- 3.7
Wil Cordero- 3.1
Gary Sheffield- 1.9

not a bad group to be named in. And yes age does play a factor in determining the top players at a position. If a player at age 22 can do what a player at age 27 is doing thats a huge advantage to the pre “prime” player.

adohaj
Guest
adohaj
4 years 3 months ago

I feel that a lot baseball fans don’t realize how young Castro really is.

Jon L.
Guest
Jon L.
4 years 3 months ago

I totally agree. He hit .300 as a 20-year-old shortstop, repeated with more extra-base hits at 21, and shows every sign of improving again this year. If he was 27, you’d say he’s a good line-drive hitter; at 22, he projects as a potential HOF’er.

Ronny Cedeno
Guest
Ronny Cedeno
4 years 3 months ago

Starlin Castro, my twin!

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