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- Coming into the year, do you recall that most thoughtful Cubs fans said if they could pick just one big thing to happen this year, it would be Starlin Castro rebounding from his forgettable 2013 season? That struck me as the most common answer to that kind of question, with a breakout from Anthony Rizzo, and another step forward from Jeff Samardzija as the next two. (That’s probably how I had the top three, with a breakout from Jake Arrieta (hooray!) and a recovery from Mike Olt (eh) as the next two after that.) Well, Castro – so far – has answered the call in spades, hitting .291/.333/.482 with a 119 OPS+ (the average player in baseball is 19% worse offensively than Castro).
- Consider this: Although Castro’s BA and OBP aren’t what they were two/three years ago, the game isn’t what it was back then, either. When you consider his dramatically increased slugging, Castro’s wOBA this year – .356 – is by far the best of his career, and bests his career mark by 35(!) points. Castro is pace for a nearly 4-WAR season, and currently has the third-best shortstop wOBA and wRC+ in all of baseball, behind only Troy Tulowitzki and Hanley Ramirez.
- Also consider this: it’s a little bit of the arbitrary endpoints game, but if you lop off the first four games of the season – remember, Castro had no Spring Training, and those games were kind of like his rehab assignment – Castro’s line jumps to .302/.344/.506 with a .370(!) wOBA and 132 wRC+. It’s not like I’m cherry-picking his best 10-game stretch of the year. That’s basically his entire season, if you just take out the first four games when Castro was probably getting himself ramped back up.
- Patrick Mooney writes about the adjustments/development left for Kris Bryant at AAA before he comes up to the big league team where – because of the Cubs’ situation, and, let’s be honest, the way fans pore over every top prospect bit – he’s going to face immense pressure.
- Kane County manager Mark Johnson admits that developing at catcher can hold a guy’s bat back a little bit (it’s a tough, demanding position – Johnson, a former catcher, knows something about it), but the organization is still committed to giving Kyle Schwarber at least some time behind the plate (Tony Andracki at CSN). For me, that’s fine, and versatility is great. But to be a big league caliber catcher, even part-time, I have trouble wrapping my head around a guy learning/developing enough behind the plate to do it if he’s moving as quickly through the system as you’d like to see Schwarber move, because of his top notch bat. That’s not a judgement here by me, because I’ve never caught, and I really don’t know diddly-poo about it, other than what I’ve seen and read. I could be totally wrong, and I’ll be fascinated to follow Schwarber’s story in that regard. Johnson suggested that Schwarber will be a more complete look as a catcher in the Fall, during instructional ball. Ultimately, I think he makes a full-time move to the outfield by next year, but we’ll see.
- Eno Sarris at FanGraphs took a look at Jake Arrieta’s pitch mix of late as a factor in his current breakout, and partly attributes it to an increased reliance on a cutter. It’s a very interesting read. I think Sarris is right to look at the pitch mix (the increased two-seamer/sinker usage is notable, too, as part of Arrieta’s increased groundball rate), but I’d caution that the cutter might not quite a true cutter. It definitely has cutter action – hard, lateral movement toward the left-handed batter’s box, without much of a drop in velocity from a fastball – but I think Arrieta just calls it his hard slider (and Sarris does discuss this kind of “baby slider”, which can be hard to distinguish from a cutter). To my eyes, Arrieta seems to throw, intentional or not, a slider in the 90/91mph range that moves like a cutter, and also throws a more traditional slider in the 87/88mph range. In other words, I’m not sure I’d say he’s increased his reliance on a cutter this year, though the distinctions here are paper thin.