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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10 years 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.

10 years ago
Reply to  Ryan Campbell

Nonsense. Everyone knows fangraphs doesn’t have editors

Poor Nunomember
10 years ago
Reply to  Pg

Is this a serious complaint?

10 years ago
Reply to  Pg

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

10 years ago
Reply to  Pg

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

10 years ago
Reply to  Pg

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
10 years ago
Reply to  WY

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
10 years ago
Reply to  WY

Not true.

cable fixer
10 years ago
Reply to  Pg

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.


10 years ago
Reply to  Pg

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.
10 years ago
Reply to  Pg

Starlin Castro *is* good at baseball.