Starlin Castro’s struggles this year have been well-detailed, and it is not debatable that he’s been a below average bat on the year (92 OPS+). When you’re a rising star on a crappy offense, those struggles – and that below-averageness – will become magnified, perhaps unfairly. And everyone will try to piece together “the fix.”
A popular quick fix suggestion for a guy who’s struggling is to play with his spot in the lineup. Move him up so he’ll see better pitches. Move him down so there will be less pressure. That’s certainly been the case with Castro, who’s been described as everything from an ideal leadoff hitter, to a prototypical second hitter, to a middle-of-the-order type. But no one has yet suggested the spot where he probably makes the most sense right now: the bottom of the order.
Until, that is, Cubs manager Dale Sveum dropped some truth about Castro’s proper place right now, all things considered.
“The way his approach to hitting is, I don’t think he really knows where he’s hitting in the lineup, so that makes me a little more comfortable with [moving him],” Sveum said of Castro, per Carrie Muskat. “He’s kind of a ‘cut and slasher’ [type hitter] so no matter where he is in the lineup, it won’t change his approach anyway …. What makes sense, the way he hits, not really working counts and working walks, probably in a real world, in a prolific offense, it would probably be more the sixth or seventh spots really.”
Some folks saw those comments and took it as Sveum ripping on Castro, but I just don’t see it. The kid – whose future remains extremely bright – is an impatient, hacking swinger without a ton of power. His OBP is barely above .300 (it’s currently .304). In a lineup full of quality hitters, why on earth would he be hitting any higher than 6th or 7th? How is that even debatable?
To me, Sveum was simply stating the obvious, while couching it in a call to action. He was saying, “Starlin: there are some things you need to work on in your offensive game if you’re going to become a top third hitter.”
That all said, given that this year has become about learning and preparing for the future, this discussion – while interesting – is entirely beside the point. The question is not where does Castro hit in an optimized and prolific lineup. The question is where should Castro be hitting right now to best prepare him for the future.
Is that spot number 5? Number 3? Number 2? I can see a good argument for each of those spots.