The Case for Starlin Castro

Starlin DeJesus Castro is the best young shortstop in the game.

Sure, his defensive metrics leave a bit to be desired and he does commit inexplicable mental gaffes from time to time, but you take the good with the bad. Speaking of, I had a great conversation last night regarding fans’ treatment of Castro versus that of, say, Anthony Rizzo.

If Castro hits a ball that he thinks is leaving the yard and spends a moment to admire it, he’s called lazy and a detriment to the team. If Rizzo does the same thing? Crickets. One young man is a leader while the other is a fundamentally-flawed headcase who needs to be traded away for a “good” baseball player.

I understand that not everyone is willing to abide any player admiring a nice hit, though it doesn’t bother me a bit. Hell, if I had anything more than (20-feet-shy-of-the) warning-track power, I’d probably stand and admire it too.

This is not the time and place to delve into the roots of the different treatment of players in a situation such as this, but I suspect some latent bias is involved, particularly when it comes to Castro. Despite having a stellar career thus far–from an offensive aspect, at least–many still want to put the shortstop on the first thing smoking out of Chicago.

But why? Is it an ironclad guarantee that Addison Russell will be even half the player Castro already is, or that Javier Baez will eventually figure out major league pitching? Of course not. As I’m wont to say, a birdie in the hand is worth two in the bush leagues. And Starlin is a pretty bird indeed, even if it does seem that his head is hanging onto his shoulders with little other than duct tape.

Still, I like him. I like him a lot. But I was spurred to do a little more research when this tweet came across my timeline yesterday:

Huh, so that’s pretty good. I had initially assumed that Troy Tulowitzki was among the two ahead of Starlin in some of those categories, but using “qualified” eliminates him from the conversation, as yet another injury-plagued season limited him to only 91 games and 375 plate appearances.

It should also be noted that Minnesota Twins newcomer Danny Santana is putting up quite a season in just 96 games so far, slashing .314/.351/.469 with an .820 OPS. These numbers should be met with a little caution though, as his .395 BABIP is an indication that a line like this isn’t sustainable long-term. Still, hell of a hitter for a 23-year-old.

And because Santana isn’t an established quantity, his inclusion here really makes no sense. So who are the other two shortstops ahead of Castro on those batting lists? Hanley Ramirez and Jhonny Peralta. And expanding to the ISO* stat, we throw Ian Desmond, Jimmy Rollins, and Asdrubal Cabrera in the mix as well. However, given the fact that Starlin is ahead of them in all the other areas, the inclusion really doesn’t hold water.

Ostensibly, there are only three shortstops in all of MLB who are better hitters than Starlin Castro and all of them–Peralta (32), Ramirez (30) and Tulo (29)–are significantly older than he is. Since Castro’s season is officially over now, and because this is what we do as Cubs fans, we need to look at next year to see what is best for the team.

The argument could be made that a better defensive player could make up with his glove what he gives up with the bat, but that’s not an easy projection to make. By all accounts, Addison Russell is a stellar defender and he’s swung a really good stick, but he’s still in AA. We’re still in wait-and-see mode on Baez, but the initial move to 2B speaks volumes of the front office’s projection for him.

Perhaps someone smarter than me can tackle the issue of improved D via UZR and other metrics, but I’m going to look solely at offense for now. Starlin Castro is the best-hitting under-30 (Tulo’s birthday is in less than 3 weeks) SS in baseball and trading him would be a mistake…unless the Cubs get a stupid haul for him.

So before you go lamenting the occasional space-cadet adventures, take a moment to realize just how good Starlin Castro really is. Consider also that he’s got a good 5 years left in his prime, if not a couple more. His value at this point is higher in a Cubs uniform than as trade bait and I think we’re going to be seeing him in blue pinstripes for years to come.

*Actually a very simple metric, ISO measures a hitter’s raw power to see how often he hits for extra bases. While a more complicated calculation exists, the easiest way to find ISO is to subtract a player’s batting average from his slugging percentage.

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