The Defense of Starlin Castro

I like Starlin Castro. I think he’s really good. I have his shirt. He’s probably my favorite baseball player.

The problem is, people look at him as a lackadaisical player who doesn’t care about improving his game. People want to move him to second, third, or the outfield. They’re tired of his defensive mistakes. They’re tired of him forgetting how many outs there are. They’re tired of him getting thrown out at third. They want him benched. They want him demoted to Triple A. They want him traded.

It’s obvious people are frustrated with Castro, but these people are applying a label that no longer fits him. They see the person who Bobby Valentine ripped to shreds on Sunday Night Baseball last year. They see the guy who was a bad defensive shortstop who made error after error. They see the guy who would do things that would make fans go crazy.

There’s no doubt, at the end of last season, Castro needed to mature and start focusing on defense. But that was last year’s version. Castro has vastly improved on defense this season, and both Fangraphs (3.3 fielding rating) and Baseball Reference (1.7 dWAR) reflect this fact. He’s made a few plays that make you scratch your head this year, but all players do that from time to time. Even great ones.

Anthony Rizzo, the Cubs’ most recent golden child, got doubled up on an infield pop up. He was jogging to second base and didn’t even make an attempt to get back to the base. As I watched it happen, I thought, “If that was Starlin Castro, articles would be published, managers would comment, and fans would call for his head.” But because it was Rizzo, no one cared.

The problem is that Starlin has been a Cub for more than two years and Anthony Rizzo has been one for less than two months. Don’t get me wrong, I love Rizzo. I’m a huge Rizzo fan and love to watch him play. But people might look at the two errors in judgement and say, “Starlin has been in the major leagues longer, Rizzo’s just a rookie.”

True, but Rizzo is actually older than Castro. And since when would such an error not be addressed in the minor leagues? Baseball experience is baseball experience. Castro has 2,802 career plate appearances in professional baseball and Rizzo has 2,233, so it’s not like Castro has that much more experience than Rizzo (the difference comes mostly from the 468 PA Castro had in his 17 and 18-year-old seasons, compared to Rizzo’s 111).

People also slam Castro for his lack of walks, but there’s not too much that can be done about this. What Castro does do is hit, and is starting to hit for power. He should hit .300 for his career and could add 20 home runs a season to it. That sort of production from a shortstop is rare. It’s special. But people focus on the walks.

I believe part of the reason Castro is slumping right now is because he is making an adjustment in his approach at the plate. I think he’s trying to be more patient, to draw more walks, to find that pitch to hit and drive. Since June, Castro has drawn 16 walks (including 5 in August). It can be tough for a hitter to change their approach, and takes awhile to get the hang of when to swing and when to lay off. I think Starlin’s trying to make that adjustment, and it’s just not going too well thus far.

The real problem isn’t with Castro, it’s with fans. They expect too much from a 22-year-old and aren’t willing to wait. They also aren’t willing to re-evaluate what they see now and forget what they saw in previous seasons. What they expect is a robo-shortstop who makes all the plays, hits for average and power, and walks 10 times a month. That isn’t Castro, but it also doesn’t mean he isn’t special.

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