At just 21 years old, Starlin Castro is the future of the Chicago Cubs. Fans young and old alike are drooling over this kid, and for good reason. He’s head and shoulders above normal 21-year-old ball players.
My colleague, Brett Rosin, recently wrote an article discussing Cubs manager Mike Quade’s decision to move Castro around the lineup, hitting him leadoff or 2 most of the season and then bumping him down to 6 or 7.
For reference, Castro’s number in the order last 10 games are listed below:
1) Leadoff: 3-5, 2B, 2 R, 2 RBI
2) Leadoff: 1-4, 2B
3) 6-hole: 4-4, 3 R, 3 RBI, 3B
4) 7-hole: 2-4, RBI, BB
5) 2-hole: 0-4
6) 3-hole: 1-5
7) Leadoff: 1-4
8) 3-hole: 0-4
9) Leadoff: 0-4
10) 3-hole: 0-4
As you can see, clearly Castro started this 10-game stretch off in quite a funk at the plate. A 2-for-25 slump, to be exact. In those six games, he was bounced around between the 1-3 spots in the order, which are really tough spots to hit even when a player is not scuffling.
To Brett’s point, Quade should just stick Castro in a spot in the lineup and let him grow.
But, I don’t quite stick with that theory. For one, what is the point of trotting a guy who’s slumping out in the leadoff spot every day? Or in the 3-hole? Those are arguably the most important positions in the order. The leadoff man sets the tone and the 3-hitter is supposed to drive in runs and get hits. Can’t do that with popouts and groundouts.
In that same regard, why keep putting such a young and largely inexperienced player in a high-pressure position to fail? He had just two hits in six games, he was clearly struggling. That’s not just bad luck at that point.
Quade didn’t bench the kid, he dropped him in the order to work out of his funk. And guess what? It worked.
Much less pressure and much more opportunity for Castro to get his head on right and the hitch out of his swing. It doesn’t do well for anybody’s confidence to continue to fail at such an alarming rate, let alone a kid who just recently made it exactly one year in the Majors.
Plus, even if Castro didn’t start hitting, I’m not going to second-guess Quade’s decision. He’s the one in the clubhouse sitting there and talking to his players. I have no idea whether he sat down with Castro and talked it out with him or not, but knowing the manager’s propensity for being a great communicator, I would bet he did.
I’ve had some experience as the head coach of a baseball team, though obviously not in the Major leagues or anything close, but I can understand Quade’s standpoint. Last season, one of the best hitters on the team I was coaching was scuffling in the two-hole. He started out the season there after hitting almost .500 the year before, so I knew what we had in him already.
After about 10 games or so, I finally talked to him and realized he was putting entirely too much pressure on himself to succeed in the two-hole. So, I dropped him to seventh and guess what? He started hitting.
Again, this is nothing like the Castro situation in terms of the magnitude of baseball. Illinois State Club Baseball is not Major League Baseball. But, the communication point is the same. Managers like Quade don’t make moves just to make them.
Castro didn’t spend a day below the 3-spot all season long before a few games ago, so it’s hard to say Quade is “overmanaging.” Plus, it worked. The results were there. Why second-guess a decision that worked?
Brett is right on two points however—the Cubs are far from winning a World Series and Castro will not get comfortable until he starts hitting in the same spot consistently.
As you can see just from those 10 games, the Cubs’ young shortstop can’t find a rhythm when his name is penciled in the lineup in a different spot everyday.
But at the same time, Quade shouldn’t just stick him in the 3-hole and be done with it. In nine games so far this year, Castro is hitting just .158 in the 3-hole (6-for-38). By comparison, he’s hitting .426 in 15 games at leadoff and .256 in 10 games in the 2-hole.
So, if Quade is going to stick with Castro in one spot, it’s looking increasingly like it should be the leadoff spot. Kosuke Fukudome is great at taking pitches and has hit well this season, but he wouldn’t be bad at the two-hole, either.
And, while the Cubs are very, very unlikely to win the World Series this year, there’s no point in just cashing in this season and hitting Castro 3 just because that’s where he’ll line up in the future. The NL Central isn’t made up of a bunch of teams that will challenge the 100-win mark (though the Cardinals do look good and haven’t lost a series in a month), and the Cubs do have talent, so in mid-May, it’s not smart to just give up. And given the way Castro has hit in the 3-hole, I would say that’s giving up, to an extent. Cashing in this year for the future.
However, I do agree with Brett in that if they stuck Castro in the leadoff spot every single game, day-in and day-out, I’d be perfectly fine with that. More at-bats to help him learn, more chances to see pitches and adapt and adjust. Plus, it serves the team best that way.