After a 2013 season that saw his batting average plummet to .245, Chicago Cubs shortstop Starlin Castro is off to an encouraging start in 2014. Castro has recently been getting it done from the clean-up spot in the batting order, which is an unusual position for the young player.
Castro was recently moved to fourth in the order, and hit in this spot for the duration of the Cubs’ three-game weekend series against the Milwaukee Brewers. It was reported that Cubs manager Rick Renteria made this move as a temporary measure to break up the glut of left-handed bats in the middle of the order, as well as to combat the multitude of Brewers’ lefty relievers. While the logic is clear, this is not a particularly good reason to shift someone around the batting order.
Whatever the reasoning for the move, Castro proceeded to go 5-for-12 over the three games, including a two-homer outburst in the Sunday finale that doubled his season home run total to four and helped lead the Cubs to a 4-0 victory. This performance raised his batting average to a solid .292 for the season.
Renteria has deemed it necessary to move Castro all over the lineup in the early part of 2014. While he is obviously trying to find a position in the order that will work for Castro, this type of approach is not the best course of action for any hitter, particularly a young player whose confidence may be somewhat fragile after a subpar season. Castro has been placed everywhere from second to sixth in the order this season. But despite this inconsistency, Castro has managed to keep his average at a respectable level, although he has certainly hit better in some positions more than others.
Ideally, Castro should be hitting in the second spot in the order. But I can understand the temptation to place him in the middle of the lineup, especially considering the dearth of run-producing options the Cubs currently have at their disposal. Castro is clearly not a prototypical clean-up hitter, but he may just be the Cubs best option at the moment. However, he will likely not remain their long-term, and should eventually be moved back to the second spot, or perhaps back to sixth, where he hit well earlier in the season.
The Cubs should be quite encouraged by the early returns from Castro, particularly after last year’s regression. However, they do need to decide where Castro is going to hit in the order, and then leave him there for the duration of the season.
While Renteria is compelled to tinker with the lineup more than other managers in an effort to stimulate this ineffectual offense, the Cubs need to also consider Castro’s long-term development and stop shuffling him up and down the order. While he will probably not continue to bat clean-up, Castro does need to find a permanent home in the lineup, if only for the sake of continuity.