Given that today is Starlin Castro’s 25th birthday, I’m going to show him a little love. Using the custom statistics feature on the Fangraphs Leaderboards page, I filtered for the stats of all qualified shortstops through their age 24 season, starting in 1960, to see just how good (or bad) Castro’s career has been compared to other precocious shortstops. I get the sense that we’ve taken Castro for granted a bit, so this should be a good exercise in demonstrating his relative value at such a young age.
The total population included in this study fell just short of 100 shortstops. Listed below, you’ll find some of the stats and rankings that I found particularly interesting, as well as some commentary on their relevance. There are plenty of other interesting data that you can take from this, though, so go explore and report back on what you found. I doubt you’ll be disappointed.
Castro’s overall batting average – despite his awful, adjustment riddled 2013 season – is good for 9th overall. With guys like Cal Ripken, Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez ahead of him on the list, I feel ashamed for expecting so much more out of the young shortstop. Some notable shortstops that fall in behind Castro aren’t too shabby either: Jose Reyes, Troy Tulowitzki and Barry Larkin.
Castro has always hit for a nice average, but his distinct ability to put the bat on the ball (any ball) limited his patience (and thus, his OBP), especially early in his career. In the years other than 2013, though, Castro’s OBP is much closer to .340 – putting him in the 10-15 range overall. No, you can’t just arbitrarily ignore a player’s worst stats, but there is reason to believe that Castro’s down 2013 season was affected by a variety of extraneous events. For example, if the front office had not urged Castro to alter his approach, he probably wouldn’t have been as good as he was in 2014, but he would have likely been a bit better in 2013. (I suppose, though, that’s why you can’t really play that “if this, then that” game when looking back at stats for comparative purposes.)
Frankly, I expected Castro’s slugging percentage to be one of his weaker areas of historical representation among shortstops, but I was wrong. Castro’s .410 SLG is good for 15th overall, just ahead of Juan Uribe. Also, the 2014 Starlin Castro (fresh off an adjustment to his swing and approach) put up his best slugging percentage (.438) of his young career. Heck, he’s 32nd in ISO overall, among our sample. For a young shortstop, Castro has quite a bit of pop.
Again, Castro’s ranking surprises the hell out of me. I would not have guessed that he would have hit the 12th most home runs out of all other young shortstops. Interestingly, he was only seven home runs away from settling into 8th place on the list, just behind Tulowitzki. Either way, Castro’s 14 home runs in 2014 tied his single season record (2012), in over 120 fewer plate appearances. Clearly something clicked last year, because Castro hit for more power and got on base more often while continuing to hit for a solid average – not to mention that his defense looked better than ever … but I digress.
Melting everything down, Castro’s 10.3 WAR through his age 24 season, is 15th overall for shortstops since 1960. Bottom line, that’s impressive. If you recall, WAR includes both offensive and defensive metrics, so remember not to dismiss the progress Castro has made with the glove over the past couple of years, either. Impressively, the two nearest guys ahead of Castro beat him by only 0.2 WAR – oh, and their names are Edgar Renteria and Troy Tulowitzki.
I always had a feeling that Castro was underappreciated, but now I feel like it is pretty definitively true. Due to lofty expectations and next to no team competitiveness, we’ve taken Castro for granted over the past four and half seasons. We’ve always expected so much more than he’s delivered, but rarely stopped to examine just how good he’s been.
Time may show that Castro was the first soldier in the battle to reclaim a World Series for the Chicago Cubs. He has endured five straight losing seasons, adjustments to the best pitching in the world at a young age, loads of (sometimes unwarranted) criticism, and the difficult decision to uproot his life and family from his home. Hardly any active Cub deserves the respect – or championship – that Starlin Castro does. I can’t give him either of those alone, but I can wish him the best. For today, I hope he has a great birthday and an even better season. I can’t wait to see his next five years.