COMMENTARY | I know, I know, worrying about Starlin Castro at this point is the equivalent of parachuting out of a plane because of a little bit of turbulence. It's too early, it's too quick, and it's an overreaction. But what if Starlin Castro isn't the future superstar we all thought he was?
(queue creepy organ music)
A Game of Numbers
It's a terrible thought for a team in the heart of rebuilding that one of their core pieces might not be as advertised. Castro's lacking performance thus far in 2013 is disconcerting. The man who has been lauded as someone who can hit .300 every year is batting .243 (a miserable .208 against left-handed pitching). We're only 60 games in, but if we look a little deeper the concerns don't lessen, they grow.
Cubs fans have become resigned to the fact that Castro doesn't walk much since he has such an amazing ability to make contact (which he does). The problem is that when he doesn't hit, you end up with things like an on-base percentage of .283 --which is what he is currently sporting here in 2013. He's also so good at making contact that he often makes contact with terrible pitches that are almost impossible to hit with any kind of authority.
Castro hit .277 in April, .252 in May, and .042 so far in June. In 2012, he followed a similar pattern: .333 in April, .304 in May, and .264 in June. The only anomaly in his pattern is his average recovering in September (.311), but that can possibly be explained by the expansion of the rosters and consequently hitting against lesser pitchers. It also could be because the Cubs were long out of the playoff running and care-free baseball was the name of the game. Either way, Castro has shown a history of struggling down the stretch, not improving.
I think the most-basic answer -- fatigue -- is probably the right one. The Cubs insist on playing him every day. He played in all 162 games last season (158 in 2011) and has played in every game this season. I can understand basking in his durability -- especially with no real backup present -- but a little rest might give the man a much-needed and well-deserved break. I also understand letting him get the experience, but there's no sense in running him ragged on a bunch of teams that are destined for bottom-dwelling finishes.
The Cubs recently moved Castro down to the seventh hole in the lineup. With that he has now hit second, fifth, and seventh this season. In a small sample size, he has continued slumping there as well. I don't understand why a few days off hasn't been more seriously considered.
What If...I know, it's way too early to worry about Castro as a long-term bust (at least in relation to his long-presumed ceiling), though I would also question anyone who hasn't had the thought at least cross their mind. And it would fit perfectly into Cubs history.
Castro has been the Cubs' best hitter the last few seasons. I am aware of that and am not discounting it, but he is now into his fourth season and isn't really getting any better. He isn't hitting for power (three home runs), for average (.243), isn't stealing bases (three -- though this is at least partially related to not being on base), and is becoming less disciplined at the plate. To top it off, he remains an inconsistent fielder. It won't be long and giving Javier Baez a chance at shortstop will begin to look better and better. It won't happen (seven-year contract, remember?), nor am I suggesting the Cubs should, but the thought will be there.
Hope RemainsWhat would the Chicago Cubs be without hope? While Cubs fans have been holding onto that hope for decades, Castro shouldn't require that level of patience. He is still only 23 and we wouldn't readily believe someone who told us a player had peaked at that young of an age. He still has the opportunity to improve. The Cubs are banking on it considering the seven-year contract extension he signed just last season.
For now, us Cubs fans are all hoping it's just a little turbulence and not a gaping hole in the back of the plane.
Brian is a lifelong Chicago Cubs follower. Living in Illinois his entire life has given him a chance to closely follow and report Chicago sports as a freelance writer through Yahoo! Contributor and Yahoo! Sports . He is also a senior in college majoring in English and Creative Writing.
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