Starlin Castro Right at Home With Cubs

Starlin Castro is one of the best shortstops in baseball. There, I said it. You may not like it, but it’s true. He’s always been a polarizing figure among fans and media, for some reason. You’d think a 20-year-old that came up and went 2-for-5 with an opposite field home run and six RBI in his Major League debut would be beloved, but people have been all over Castro for one reason or another since day one.

People complained that Castro didn’t walk enough. His career 5.2 percent walk rate is evidence that he wasn’t developed to be a more patient hitter. Former Cubs manager Dale Sveum took it upon himself to try to “fix” something that wasn’t broken in Castro, who has always been a great hitter, and only ended up messing with a good thing. Also-former Cubs manager Rick Renteria worked with Castro on confidence and just being himself last year, and he bounced back.

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Once Castro’s bat returned, it became that his defense isn’t good enough. I’ll give you that Castro isn’t a perfect defender, and he makes a lot of errors; 121 of them since he first came up in May of 2010. But his defensive metrics aren’t as bad as you’d expect, given his reputation. In 2014, he had a -3.8 Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR). If you’re curious about UZR and how this measures a fielder, Fangraphs does a really good job explaining the metric and its application.

To summarize, a rating of ‘zero’ places a player right at average. Below average is quantified as -5, which places Castro as slightly below average as a fielder. His UZR rating not only placed him in the middle of the pack defensively, but also ahead of Elvis Andrus, Jean Seagura, Derek Jeter, Jose Reyes, Hanley Ramirez, and Adeiny Hechaverria. Is that acceptable? I’d say it is, if your below-average shortstop is an above-average offensive player.

Here are Castro’s rankings at shortstop for both his career and in 2014 in several important offensive categories, which gives you an idea of just how good he’s been. Try to keep in mind that Castro is 25 years old this season, so he technically hasn’t hit his prime years yet.

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Did I mention that Castro’s only 25 years old? He’s already an elite offensive player at a position where it’s hard to find offense, and he comes with defense that may not be great, but you can live with.

So what’s the problem? Well, the problem is mostly imaginary. Let me explain what I mean. Check out this tweet from a national baseball writer.

National writers see the fact that the Cubs have a glut of organizational depth at shortstop and make assumptions on what the Cubs want to do with their players. It makes sense for them to move Castro, right? The Cubs have one of the top prospects in the game hiding down at Triple-A, and I don’t mean Kris Bryant. Addison Russell is a potential Gold Glove shortstop that Billy Beane once compared to Barry Larkin. Ship Castro to the Padres or Mets for some pitching prospects, plug Russell in at shortstop, win the World Series. Pretty simple, eh?

Calm down. Think back to playing little league baseball. Where did the most athletic kids always play? That’s right; shortstop. If you can play shortstop, you likely can handle just about any position on the diamond. If (and with prospects, it’s a huge “if”) Russell turns into the kind of player the Cubs believe he will be, he or Castro could move to just about any other spot on the field. The Cubs don’t have anything set in stone at second base, for example.

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The Cubs have never said it’s an either/or situation with Russell and Castro

I don’t want to call Bob Nightengale lazy for his assertion that the Cubs will trade Castro because they like Russell, because he probably has his reasons for believing this. He’s also not the only one either, as Ken Rosenthal tweeted some ideas about moving Castro recently as well. A little excerpt from his recent column gets at a few of the points I’ve tried my best to debunk:

“But if (the Padres) acquire a shortstop, I’m guessing it will be a younger, less expensive player than the most obvious names – the Cubs’ Starlin Castro and Rangers’ Elvis Andrus.

Much of the recent media speculation centers on Castro, whom the Cubs likely will attempt to move to clear the position for top prospect Addison Russell.

Well, the Padres indeed have talked to the Cubs about infielders, but not recently, one source said. What’s more, some with the Pads are less than enamored of Castro’s defense, another source said, echoing a view held by many in the industry.”

Did you notice the jabs at his defense, which we already know is right-around-average? Compare Castro with Andrus, the other name that Rosenthal mentions, whom we’ve established had a lower UZR than Castro in 2014:

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The question of whether they will or won’t deal Castro is not clear, as any player can be had for a price. But if you’re asking whether the Cubs are looking to deal Castro, I strongly believe the answer is no. They certainly don’t need to trade him. It’s easy for me to see the reasons why they Cubs would want to keep Starlin Castro, but you don’t have to take my word for it. If they wanted to unload him in favor of a prospect, you’d think that after his rejuvenated 2014 season would have been the perfect time. But according to Jon Heyman, the Cubs were rebuffing teams that called to inquire. The fact is, the Cubs love Castro. He’s become a leader in the clubhouse, something which Patrick Mooney of CSN Chicago does a fantastic job detailing.

And why would they want to?

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