Credit: Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports
In 2013, the Chicago Cubs disappointed fans yet again, winning only 66 games, compared to their 96 losses, while posting the tenth worst ERA in the MLB (4.00), the tenth worst fielding percentage (.983, making 100 errors), and the fourth worst batting average (.238). They also scored the third fewest runs (602). These statistics represent one thing: failure across the board. While the Cubs actually improved their win total, ERA, and fielding percentage from 2012 to 2013 (yes, 66 wins and tenth worst in the league in both ERA and fielding percentage were improvements), the 2013 season was seemingly more disappointing for two reasons: Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo.
Despite the team’s epic 101-loss season in 2012, management has preached a look-to-the-future approach, and both Castro and Rizzo provided fans with a glimmer of hope in 2012. Before trying to project what they will do in 2014, here are the stat lines for Castro from 2011- 2013:
(Between 646 and 674 at-bats in each season, 158 or more games in each season)
2011- Average: .307; On-base Percentage: .341; HR: 10; Steals: 22; Strikeouts: 96
2012- Average: .283; On-base Percentage: .323; HR: 14; Steals: 25; Strikeouts: 100
2013- Average: .245; On-base Percentage: .284; HR: 10; Steals: 9; Strikeouts: 129
And here are the numbers for Rizzo from 2012 (87 games played) through 2013 (160 games played):
2012- Average: .285; On-base Percentage: .342; HR 15; Strikeouts: 62
2013- Average: .233; On-base Percentage: .323; HR 23: Strikeouts: 127
Castro’s performance trend is obviously concerning. His batting average has dropped substantially in each of the past three years. For some reason, his base-stealing total dropped substantially between 2012 and 2013. Starlin’s strikeout totals also increased significantly. The combination of these statistical drops and concerns about his defense, mental mistakes, and what many call lack of plate discipline, are undoubtedly alarming. At 23 (soon to be 24) Castro appears to have regressed, rather than developed, after an extremely strong start to his Major League career.
Rizzo’s 2013 stats do not look much better than Castro’s. After posting monster numbers in AAA, Rizzo essentially forced the Cubs to bring him up in 2012. In about a half season, he was on pace for nearly 30 home runs and 100 runs batted in with a batting average of .285. The drop in performance for Rizzo is possibly less concerning than Castro’s for several reasons. For one, this was his first full season. Where Castro’s stats could be viewed as a trend, Rizzo’s hardly merit that title. Additionally, Rizzo was not criticized for fielding issues or mental mistakes, meaning that there is less of an overall regression concern for Rizzo. While the .233 batting average is certainly concerning, it is easier to believe that Rizzo’s 2013 was a blip on the radar.
While both players were criticized for lack of plate discipline, the biggest silver lining here is that both players actually saw more pitches at the plate last year (Castro saw nearly a half pitch more per plate appearance in 2013 than in 2012, while Rizzo’s improvement was less substantial), swung at fewer first pitches (again, Castro’s first pitch swings dropped substantially, nearly 10%), and saw very minor drops in contact percentage. Additionally, each player improved in the field (each improved their fielding percentage).
For Starlin, there are some really big takeaways here: it appears that he is working to change some things about his game, most notably his approach at the plate and his defense. Though he did not improve upon his walk totals, Starlin did make pitchers work harder and was much more selective at the plate. Because he is not making any less contact, is seeing more pitches, and appears to be more selective (based on his drop in first pitch swings), Castro seems bound for a bounce-back year. All of those signs are indications that he is doing what he needs to be doing and it is surprising that he struggled so much last year. One additional note on Starlin… the only numbers that stand out in his stat line when looking at splits is a disparity between home and away plate appearances. At Wrigley this year, Starlin hit a mere .229, while the batting average on the road was at .260. This is an atypical statistic (Rizzo’s cut the other way, .251 at home and .215 on the road), but worth noting.
Rizzo’s signs all cut the same way: increased pitches seen, no significant reduction in contact, decreased first pitch swings, and actually a significant boost in walks taken for Rizzo. It is hard to explain Rizzo’s drop, other than this being some sort of sophomore slump. Rizzo’s approach at the plate improved and all that he has to show for it are some pretty disappointing numbers.
Theo and Hoyer are trying hard to change the culture and philosophy of this team. Rizzo and Castro are both still exciting players, and 2014 is an important season for them. Another down year could seriously rattle either player’s confidence. One issue to keep in mind before criticizing either player: these two are the only truly talented players in the lineup. Other teams game-plan for these guys because they do not have to worry about facing the rest of the weak Cubs lineup. The idea is that you can’t let Rizzo and Castro beat you. The best way to help these players out would be to insert one or two talented veterans into the lineup to help protect the younger players. This same concern will arise when the “core four” (Kris Bryant, Jorge Soler, Javier Baez, and Albert Almora) come to the majors in coming years as well.
Predictions for 2014:
Rizzo: .280, 32 HR, 90 RBI, .380 OBP.
Castro: .295, 15 HR, 60 RBI, .345 OBP.