Starlin Castro of the Chicago Cubs and Andrelton Simmons of the Atlanta Braves will both be 24 years old by the time Opening Day comes, and each guy will be the clear starting shortstop for their team, but Castro has over 2,400 major league at-bats over the last three-plus seasons while 2013 was Simmons’ first full season in the big leagues. Simmons won a Gold Glove last year and hit 17 home runs, while Castro struggled offensively (.245, 10 home runs and 44 RBI) but played 161 games.
Castro and Simmons are both ranked among the top 10-15 shortstops in preseason fantasy baseball rankings, but is one a better bet for owners this year?
The Case For Starlin Castro
Castro put together solid seasons in 2011 and 2012, and a more patient approach at the plate (3.9 pitches per plate appearance) was thought to potentially help him take the next step as a hitter last year. But his walk rate (4.3 percent) and on-base percentage (.284) dropped while his strikeout rate increased to 18.3 percent. By comparison Castro saw 3.5 pitches per plate appearance in 2012, and while his walk rate was merely adequate (5.2 percent) he set career-highs in home runs (14), RBI (78) and stolen bases (25) while hitting .283 with a more aggressive approach.
Castro’s stolen base production also eroded in 2013, with just nine steals in 15 attempts. Getting on base less was surely a driving force for that, along with the fact he was thrown out 13 times in 2012 (tied for most in the majors) and got the green light less often. Somewhere in between the past two seasons in terms of stolen bases is a realistic expectation for Castro in 2014, though it would be nice to see his success rate improve (64.7 percent for his career).
The Case For Andrelton Simmons
Simmons had just nine home runs in 1,096 professional at-bats heading into last season, so his 17 home run outburst qualified as unexpected. More fly balls (39.1 percent) helped, but his home run/fly ball rate only increased slightly (7.9 percent, 7.5 percent during his time with the Braves in 2012). But with that power spike came a dismal batting average (.248) and hardly any stolen bases (six, in 11 attempts), though it is a bit of a reach to relate all three of those numbers to each other directly.
Simmons’ average was driven down by a severely unlucky BABIP (.247) last year, so a simple correction there should bring a batting average closer to his minor league level (.299) and his on-base percentage should also get a boost and bring more stolen base opportunities.
Castro is a strong candidate for a rebound this year, but his 2012 production has to be considered his ceiling until he proves otherwise. A batting average of .270-.280 with double-digit home runs, 70-75 RBI and 15-20 stolen bases is a realistic projection for Castro in 2014, and that makes him a worthy middle round pick in most fantasy drafts.
Simmons’ home run total will almost surely go down this year, but a better batting average and more steals should also come in his second full major league season.
The decision between Castro and Simmons from a fantasy perspective comes down to draft day value, and for that reason I lean toward Simmons. Overall his production has a good chance to be similar to Castro’s when it’s all said and done, and he’s likely to go off the board a few rounds later in mixed league drafts.
Brad Berreman is a Senior Writer at Rant Sports.com. Follow him on Twitter @bradberreman24.