The struggles of Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo during the 2013 season were well documented. Chicago Cubs fans’ hopes and dreams rested on these two young players to be the cornerstones of the long and painful “rebuild” on the North Side and it appeared that maybe they were not cut out for such lofty expectations. The lineup around them offered little in the way of quality. Pitchers shifted most of their focus on these two and they struggled terribly. Starlin Castro owned a triple slash of .245/.284./.347. which led to the questioning of his focus and ability. Anthony Rizzo did not exactly turn any heads either, batting .233/.323/.419. At least Rizzo’s peripherals offered some hope that some positive regression was in store for the 2014 season. To say the least, 2013 was a down year for both young players.
When the 2014 season arrived, the script was quite different. Castro and Rizzo set out to silence the critics. With the disappointing 2013 season in the rearview mirror, both are producing at all-star levels so far this season. Castro’s mainstream statistics look spectacular, with a triple slash of .287/.331/.484 including 11 home runs and 43 RBIs (already matching his 2012 counting stats). That production at the premium position of shortstop makes it all the better. Here’s a look at Castro’s underlying statistics from 2013 and 2014:
Castro has improved greatly across the board. He is swinging at less pitches out of the zone which is paying dividends towards his BB% and K%. He ranks 3rd in both wOBA and wRC+ among all shortstops, behind Troy Tulowitzki and Hanley Ramirez. It is amazing to think that he is still pre-peak in the power category since he has been in the MLB for almost five full seasons. He is on pace for a career high in home runs this year collecting 11 so far. I think that it is safe to say that last year’s Castro was an illusion. He appears to be on his way to stardom just as the Cubs rebuild comes to a close.
Over at first base, Anthony Rizzo looks like the player Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer thought he was going to be when they traded for him. This year, his production is nothing short of spectacular with a .278/.400/.506 triple slash including 15 home runs and 48 RBIs. That production is drawing comparisons to Joey Votto. The growth in his game can also be seen in his sabermetric stat line from 2013 and so far in 2014:
Just like Castro, Anthony Rizzo drastically improved across the board (minus K%). Rizzo ranks 4th in wOBA and 5th in wRC+ among all first basemen. He has improved his defense and looks very comfortable at the plate. He too is on pace for a career high in home runs, racking up 15 already. Rizzo is showing that he can be a huge threat at the plate for years to come.
This was a crucial season for both Castro and Rizzo. The Cubs organization, having given out long term contracts to both, depended on them becoming mainstays in the lineup when they finally become threats in the NL Central. With Rizzo on pace for 4+ WAR this season and Starlin on pace for 3+ WAR, it looks like they really are the budding stars that Epstein and Hoyer believed they would be. With these two all-stars, Javier Baez, Kris Bryant, and the other top prospect talent the Cubs possess, the future looks very bright on the North Side of Chicago.