starlin-castro-batI caught only bits and pieces of the Oscars last night, in part because ‘The Walking Dead’ was a priority, and in part because I saw approximately zero movies last year. From what I saw, though, Seth MacFarlane was pretty good.

  • Dale Sveum is already pretty sure that Starlin Castro will be his number two hitter going into the season. “I really don’t look too far down the line, but the way things stack up he will probably be my two-hitter this year,” Sveum said, per ESPN. I don’t love Castro’s offensive skill set in the two-hole (high contact, but not a guy you want to see giving himself up; relatively low power, low on-base, low pitches-per-plate-appearance), but I do think he’s the right guy for the spot. Not only is his skill set evolving (in theory, he’s going to be seeing more pitches this year, getting on base more, and hitting for more power), but he’s also clearly one of the Cubs’ best hitters. Generally speaking, you want your best hitters near the top of the lineup, so they get the most at bats. For his career, Castro is a .302/.335/.431 in 728 plate appearances in the two-hole. He’s been better in the leadoff spot (.319/.362/.459) and the five-hole (.298/.359/.440), but those sample sizes are relatively small (343 and 209 plate appearances, respectively), and the stats are subject to things that were going on at the time wholly unrelated to where he was hitting in the batting order at the time. In other words, it doesn’t bother me that Castro’s going to be hitting in a spot that isn’t his “best,” according to the splits.
  • Castro has said this Spring that he will have better focus this year, that he plans to win a Gold Glove, that he wants to be the best player in baseball, and that he’s taken Jorge Soler under his wing. Don’t forget: Castro hasn’t yet turned 23.
  • Jeff Samardzija undoubtedly knows that he’s now a pretty strong favorite to get the ball on Opening Day for the Cubs, but he’s keeping things humble and passing the praise. “I haven’t had a conversation [with manager Dale Sveum] at all,” he said, per the Tribune. “We’re still waiting to see what happens with ‘Garz’ and see how he comes along. Obviously they know where I stand on it and how I feel. It’s nice to have a few guys who are capable of doing it. Hopefully it gets decided out on the field instead of in the training room, but it’s more important to have Garza ready for one of those first five games than rush him along now and see what happens. He’s really a key part to this team, and we all know that.”
  • Here’s a quote I don’t like from Brett Jackson: “I’m playing every day like I belong. I’m aware of what they told the media but that doesn’t deter me from playing the way I want to play and thinking that I deserve to be on this team. A lot of that is out of my hands but I’m going to do everything in my power to play the way I know I can play.” Why do I not like it? No, it’s not because Jackson wants to prove he can make the team right now – I like that. What bothers me is the “I’m aware of what they told the media” part. Is he saying that the Cubs have told the media something different than what they’ve told him about his immediate future? The front office has been quite clear with the media that Jackson is going to start the year at AAA Iowa (barring, I assume, a rash of injuries). And I’ve always gotten the sense that they always discuss these plans with the players to keep them in the loop. So … did they not in this case? Or was Jackson just being coy? I’m thinking it’s gotta be the latter, but it unsettled me just a bit. Of course, it’s also possible that he was simply responding to a question that included the media reference (i.e., “So, Brett, the Cubs have told us that … “). Actually, yeah. That’s probably it. Nothing to see here.
  • Dale Sveum, dropping praise bombs on top prospects Jorge Soler and Javier Baez: “They did a nice job. Soler, like I keep saying, he just shows more and more poise every day at the plate. He’s not a pre-meditated swinger for a young guy. He gets a good look at the ball before he swings the bat. And Baez, getting the guy over, hits a missile to right field and did a nice job at shortstop. So far they’re living up to the hype a little bit.”
  • More on the most popular minor league camp invitation in recent memory, Dontrelle Willis.
  • Mark Gauthier

    I still like Starlin Castro in the Lead-Off. I believe it’ll do him good and give him some responsibility so he can get that Gold Glove. Darwin Barney is a mature player, but Starlin, with all of his skills, still needs to grow a bit. I like Starlin a lot, he’s exciting and he’s got a lot of talent, but he needs to get into the thick of it.

  • Norm

    I don’t think a two hitter should EVER give himself up. It’s a spot that will get the 2nd most PA, it should be used for one of your best hitters, and you shouldn’t have your best hitters giving up outs.

    I think this is exactly where he should hit.

    I hope Rizzo gets slotted 4th.

    • Brett

      Not intentionally (i.e., I, too, hate sacrifice bunts except in extremely limited situations). I’m just talking about hitting wisely with, say, a guy on second and no outs. I’d rather Castro never even had to think about it.

      • Grant

        Isn’t that where coaching comes in?

        I think 2nd is where Castro belongs long-term, he just needs to adjust to the spot.

      • Ben

        Isnt that almost the textbook definition of what the #2 hitter is supposed to do? Move over the leadoff man so that the third and fourth hitters can knock him in? I know that power is great, and that you’d like to see a guy get on base as often as possible, but if you take away the mandate to move the leadoff hitter over, what makes the #2 hitter any different from anyone else?

        • DB Kyle

          The No. 2 hitter is supposed to try to avoid making an out and get as many bases as he can in the process. He’s not different from all the other hitters.

          • DocPeterWimsey

            Indeed, the “ideal” #2 hitter is the old-school concept of the ideal #3 hitter. But in general, Earl Weaver was right: advance runners by getting hits or drawing walks, not by making outs. (His proof? Compare his teams’ runs-scored to Gene Mauch’s….)

            • waittilthisyear

              i reason i think castro works well in the 2 slot this year is that, assuming dejesus leads off, we won’t have a base=stealer on in front of him. if we had a guy who was gonna swipe 30 bags a year leading off, then having a free swinger like castro in the 2 hole would be more of an issue. as things are, i think he is the man for the job

    • Rcleven

      That two hitter has to have more bat control. ie: more of a situational hitter(hitting behind runners…ect. I don’t see that in Castro. I see Castro more of a power gap hitter (free swinger) which should be hitting third.
      That two hitter should never be giving him self up.

  • Rcleven

    What I hear out of Jacksons quote is (front office: Jackson will start in AAA) I am going kick ass in spring training and I am going to change their minds before camp breaks.
    I like that.

    • Brett

      I like that part, too, but that wasn’t the part I was talking about.

      • hansman1982

        Meh, I think you’re reading too much into it.

        • Brett

          It’s not like that isn’t exactly what I concluded.

          • Cedlandrum

            I was thinking, man he is really over thinking this one, then boom you pulled through. Nice work Brett.

          • hansman1982

            My comment still applies…thanks for the discussion point though!

            I think it’s just Brett being “stubborn” about what the FO told him or maybe they dangled a carrot in his face.

        • Jack Weiland

          Overthinking it, I agree.

      • BluBlud

        Yeah, I think you are reading to much into it. He was probably asked the question. I like that he is determined to make it. I think talent wise, he could change their mind. I think service clock wise and spots already promised, unfortunately, there is no way he could.

        • hansman1982

          Ya, he will get called up late June (if he is mashing and our RF situation is a mess) or once DeJesus/Soriano is traded.

      • Noah

        I did an interview for VFTB last year with Anthony Rizzo, prior to being called up, where I asked him if it was nice explicitly being told by the Cubs that he was going to start the year in Iowa. He said no. He was trying to make the team in any role that he could. I have the sense Brett Jackson is just trying to do the same here.

        • Brett

          I like that the front office is up front with the kids, and I like that they, in turn, want to prove the front office wrong (as long as they take well to the demotion when it happens). Everybody wins.

  • BluBlud

    I think Dejesus-Castro-Rizzo-Sori going 1-4 is a pretty decent top of the order. Castro belongs in the 2 slot, and him being protected by Rizzo may do him wonders. I doubt we will see him take as many walks though, as nobody is going to want to walk him with Rizzo and Sori coming up behind him. I’m hoping Stewart can get healthy or Castillo can have a break out year with the bat though, because if not, the drop-off after Sori is pretty steep and Sori would have no protection in the lineup.

    • Edwin

      I like that order, although I’d have castro in the 3 hole with either Rizzo or Sori in the 2 hole, depending on the pitcher. I think the best hitter should hit in the 2 spot, the best OBP guy should bat leadoff, and the best power/third best hitter should bat 4th. From there just plug hitters into the 3 and 5-8 spots in order of offensive ability. Of the players batting 5-8, If there was a player with great speed I’d bat him 8th.

    • Rich H

      I really expect a huge dip in Soriano’s numbers just because what you are talking about. He really has no protection in the lineup if he bats 4th. But if you put Castro 3rd, then Soriano, then Rizzo then you have protection 3 through 5 then the question becomes who is that 2 hole hitter to get the lineup to churn and take a lot of pitches.

      In a koolade world this problem takes care of its self with Brett Jackson manning the leadoff spot and DeJesus batting 2nd playing RF. I just do not know if that is going to happen. Even if Jackson tears up the ST enough to be on the big club then I expect that DeJesus or Soriano is traded. Meaning we are still having this conversation.

      • Jim

        I would much rather see DeJesus hitting in the 2 hole. The reason is two fold. You have to expect your lead off guy to get on. DeJesus is left handed and having the guy on ahead of you should open up a hole to hit through. The second reason is that DeJesus is probably the smartest hitter when it does come to situational hitting. He is a guy that you probably don’t have to say “hey, take a couple of pitches and see if X can steal a base”. With a Castro you really don’t want to be taking away his aggressiveness, since that is when he is at his best hitting. But until Jackson is up, I don’t think there is a better candidate to leadoff than DeJesus, so until BJax is up I think you have to bat Castro #2. For now …

      • MichCubFan

        Protection in the lineup is a myth. Pitchers try to get hitters out. Maybe in some situations a star player might be walked on purpose from time to time, but the whole protection in the lineup thing has been way overdone. It isn’t something to worry about.

  • John

    In putting Castro in the two hole- in the early 80’s they put a young man there- changed his swing a little bit and he became a hall of famer? Not saying Castro will- but Sandberg sure took off in that spot.

  • RoughRider

    I could see Dejesus and Castro flopping positions in the order. Castro hits for a better average and is a much better base stealer. Dejesus is left handed and more patient, he would probably see more pitches allowing Castro the oppertunity to steal a base. Dejesus would see better pitches with Rizzo hitting behind him. Batting second Castro might hit into more double plays. He hits the ball hard and Dejesus while not a slow runner is not a Tony Capana either.

    • DocPeterWimsey

      DeJesus will almost certainly post a higher OBP than Castro will. Nothing else is important when deciding which of two batters is the better leadoff guy.

      Given that the traditional paradigm about #2 and #3 batters is backwards, I’d put Castro 3rd and Rizzo 2nd given this lineup.

      • Brett

        Inverting that gives you the advantage of lefty-right-lefty-righty at the top, rather than lefty-lefty-righty-righty.

        • DocPeterWimsey

          True, it does: but that’s more of a concern for late in the game. However, I look to the beginning of the game: last year, over 70% of games were won by the team that held the first lead in the game. When you break it down by overall records, it applied to individual teams: a teams winning percentage is basically the proportion of times you took the first lead plus/minus sampling error.

          Now, flip-flopping Castro & DeJesus won’t make that much of a difference: but it would very slightly encourage scoring in the first, and that greatly encourages taking an early lead.

        • RoughRider

          It also gives you a left handed batter blocking the catchers vision with your best baserunner on.

      • Norm

        I’d put Soriano 3rd, Rizzo 4th.
        3rd comes up just too often with None on, 2 out. I’d rather Soriano be up in that situation than Rizzo/Castro.


        • Brett

          For whatever it’s worth, if you assume average on-base percentages in the top two spots, the third hitter comes up with two-out and none on less than 45% of the time. I suppose it’s more rare for the fourth hitter to lead off (i.e., all three in front of him get out), so you’ve got that. I’d rather Rizzo were getting the slight edge in overall at bats, though.

        • DocPeterWimsey

          At any rate, if your lineup is any good, then the #3 batter should have the lowest proportion 2-out PAs from innings where he’s the 3rd batter. (The number might be greater simply because of a contrived situation: he’s the only one guaranteed one PA a game in which he’s the 3rd batter.)

    • Edwin

      I just don’t know if Castro has the OBP to be a good leadoff hitter. He hits for average just fine, but his walk rate is just so low it really hurts him.

    • ssckelley

      ^ this

      I do not think they are taking advantage of each players skill set by putting Castro in the #2 spot and DeJesus leading off. But whatever they do I hope they stick to it, let Castro settle into a roll without moving him around the lineup all the time.

  • Coldneck

    A pet peeve of mine is calling a batting spot a 2-hole, 5-hole or whatever. Especially when it is written. I don’t mind as much when a color guy or announcer says it. Does anyone know where this came from? Does it make any sense?

    • Brett

      I imagine it developed as an easier thing to say/type than “the fifth spot in the batting order,” again and again. It’s also nice because, in this context, it’s unique to batting order – whereas “five spot” could also be used for the rotation.

    • BluBlud

      So in other words, you don’t mind when a black person or a “color guy” calls it a 2-hole or a 5-hole, just as long as no else calls it that. Or am I reading to deep into that.

      • BluBlud

        That was a joke. People, please don’t get to upset.

        • ETS

          Can we get upset that it wasn’t funny? /s

      • cjdubbya

        I believe that Coldneck was using the term “color guy” as a shortened version of color commentator (i.e. Bob Brenly in 2012, or Jim Deshaies in 2013), as opposed to the term “colored guy”, so yes, I’d say you’re reading too much into it. Not upset, just explaining.

        • BluBlud

          Yeah, i know what a color guy is. I was just being funny or not so funny, which eve one.

      • hansman1982

        Yup, he is a Hole-ist when it comes to white people doing it…

  • Edwin

    One of the things I think will be interesting to watch is whether Rizzo can adjust to LHP. He’s been terrible so far at the MLB level, but he’s only had 140 PA against LH.

  • Edward

    Brett, I don’t blame you for not watching the Oscars, but 2012 was a great year for movies.

    You should definitely see:

    Django Unchained
    Zero Dark Thirty

    • Brett

      I very much want to see all of those (‘Skyfall’ is the only one I’ve seen so far). Time got away from me, and then it’s like, well, they’ll be out on DVD soon, so …

    • BluBlud

      Django is a great movie, but if you are not a very open-minded person, you may not want to watch it. I’m a black man and I didn’t get offended at all. I thought it was very funny and a very good love story. and of course, Kerry Washington makes watching any movie worth while.

    • Whiteflag

      Perks of being a wallflower
      Silver linings Playbook
      Les Miserables (good for a musical on screen)

      And the don’t see…

  • DocPeterWimsey

    What really is remarkable about Castro’s numbers in the #1, #2 and #5 spots is just how invariant they are. A hypothetical “true” 0.300 hitter (that is, 30% chance of a hit in each AB) usually would show much greater variation in BA over three slots in the order given the small sample sizes involved. Even his OBP is remarkably invariant: the biggest difference results in 2-3 more/fewer non-outs every 100 PAs (i.e., about 3.5 weeks of play). Again, that should be common simply by chance, and especially so given the heterogeneity of opposing pitching staffs.

    • ETS

      I’ll agree with this. What I am much more interested in with Castro is time series data as oppose to spot in the line up. We are all hoping for more patient and power, but also hoping for not too far of decline in BA. We’ll see what this year brings.

      • Rcleven

        Isn’t that what the Cubs did with him last year? Pushed him to be more patient.
        Man it’s hard to change a leopards spots.

        • DocPeterWimsey

          They might have pushed Castro to be more patient, but his pitches per PA and walks & K’s per PA didn’t change. The leopard’s spots probably are a good analogy: there are some things that are just traits, not developed.

  • Farley Flash

    Way over thinking the Jackson comment. From a coaching perspective I like it! My daughter played basketball not that great but she had an attitude of I’m going to work harder than anyone else on the court and make id difficult for the coach to not play me. That pretty much is what Bret is saying. I believe they have not told him anything different then what we have read. Now, lets look at the future lineup for the Cubs. Where do Baez and Soler and maybe Almora hit in the lineup? If so than where should Castro and Rizo hit to prepare for the change in the lineup?

  • Bilbo161

    I like the projected line-up. Castro batting second gives him more chance to drive in a run in the first with a decent OBP guy in the 1 hole. :-) Then, Rizzo batting behind him will mean better pitches for Castro to hit. The same with Sori behind Rizzo. That’s my thinking anyway.

    I love Brett Jackson’s comment entirely. What the press thinks is just not important.

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