Chicago Cubs: Is Starlin Castro’s clutch ability enough to keep a vital role this season?
By Paul Steeno
Has Castro shown enough “in the clutch” to have an important role moving forward?
Three-time All-Star Starlin Castro continues to experience a significant regression in performance this season, calling into question his long-term future with the Chicago Cubs. After benching him on August 7, Cubs manager Joe Maddon has to decide whether Castro will have a role with this team moving forward. The one thing that Castro can still do reasonably well is hit in clutch situations and even that may not earn him playing time with the Chicago Cubs.
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After starting in the Cubs 5-4 victory against the San Francisco Giants on August 6, Castro hasn’t received playing time in the last three games. In 104 games this season, Castro slashed .236/.271/.304 and committed 18 errors at his shortstop position. In 74 plate appearances since the All-Star break, he has slashed .183/.216/.225.
Advanced statistics that measure overall player performance show that Castro has done little to contribute positively to the Chicago Cubs this season. For the first time in his career, Castro’s offensive wins above replacement (oWAR) value sits below zero at -0.6. His overall WAR value is -1.3, also a career low and the third-lowest mark in the National League. Shortly after the news of his benching, Castro acknowledged to reporters that he understood why Joe Maddon made this move.
"They know what they’re doing. They know it’s better for me and it’s better for other players. Whatever decision they make, I’m in.–Quote obtained by Chicago Tribune reporter Paul Skrbina"
In June, I argued that Castro’s hitting statistics in clutch situations could save his career in Chicago. His statistics in clutch at-bats remain solid, however; are they good enough to give him a role on this team as a late-game pinch-hitting option?
According to baseball reference data, in 131 plate appearances Castro slashed .254/.305/.305 with 41 RBIs with runners in scoring position. In fact, Castro’s average increases steadily based on the number of runners on base. His batting average was .157 with one man on, .231 with two men on, and .286 with the bases loaded.
Aug 6, 2015; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Cubs shortstop Starlin Castro (13) and right fielderJorge Soler
(68) run off the field after defeating the San Francisco Giants 5-4 at Wrigley Field. Mandatory Credit: Caylor Arnold-USA TODAY Sports
In games deemed “late and close” by baseball reference, Castro slashed .240/.296/.240; a slash line with a batting average and on-base percentage that hovers higher than his season averages.
In addition, Castro has displayed a tendency to hit for a higher average later in games. According to baseball reference data, he has slashed .240/.268/.306 this season in at-bats occurring between the seventh and ninth inning. In innings one through three he has slashed .223/.267/.264 and in the fourth through sixth inning he has slashed .224/.248/.321. Although it is a smaller sample size, Castro has excelled in plate appearances during extra innings. In sixteen plate appearances, he has slashed .462/.563/.462 with six RBIs.
Overall, Starlin Castro has three walk-off hits this season. The first occurred on April 18 against the San Diego Padres and the next two came in back-to-back wins against the Cincinnati Reds in mid-June. In addition, on June 20, Castro hit a game-winning single in the top half of the tenth inning, helping the Cubs beat the Minnesota Twins 4-1.
Although he has performed decently this season at the plate in clutch situations, Chicago Cubs manager Joe Maddon recently removed Castro from the Chicago Cubs starting lineup.
"As a coaching staff, it’s our responsibility to help him get back and playing like he had been in the past, and that’s what we’re going to try to do. We’ve been doing it all year; it just hasn’t played. Maybe like a little break, maybe like a rebooting, something like that can help.–Quote obtained by the Associated Press, content published by Fox Sports"
Although he admitted that he was initially frustrated with the demotion, Castro later said that he understands that the team winning games is more important than his personal playing time.
"I feel a little frustrated, especially yesterday when they tell me I’m not going to play for I don’t know when. In the beginning, I take it like really personal, but after that I think about it and you can’t put those guys in the bench. They’re really hot right now, and I understand.–Quote obtained by the Associated Press, content published by Fox Sports"
The Chicago Cubs rightfully didn’t want to continue playing Starlin Castro as an everyday shortstop because of his mental lapses in the field and his hitting struggles at the plate. The addition of catcher Miguel Montero into the lineup following a stint on the disabled list gave Joe Maddon a perfect opportunity to take Castro out of the starting lineup.
With Montero back in the lineup, rookie sensation Kyle Schwarber moved to left field. Veteran Chris Coghlan, formerly the starting left fielder, moved to second base and rookie Addison Russell switched to his natural shortstop position. The idea behind all these moves was making room for Montero while still preserving a lineup with the players that would give the Chicago Cubs the best chance to win. Unfortunately for Castro, he was the odd man out.
Castro has hit decently in clutch situations this season, and a logical move to make based on this fact is to give him a pinch-hitting role late in games. However, with the way that the Cubs lineup is currently constructed and the continued regression in every sub-category of Castro’s overall batting statistics, allowing him any plate appearances isn’t a good move.
The Chicago Cubs have reserves on their roster that still hit better than Castro in late game and clutch situations. Switch-hitting Jonathan Herrera has slashed .333/.375/.467 in plate appearances where there were two outs and runners in scoring position. Outfielder reserve Chris Denorfia has slashed .273/.261/.364 in plate appearances deemed by baseball reference as late and close situations. Even 38-year-old catcher David Ross has hit .304 in late and close plate appearances.
Unfortunately for Castro, his utility on the Cubs continues to dwindle. Even his clutch hitting, the one facet of his game that remains respectable, lags behind a number of the other key Cubs reserves. The key to resurrecting Castro’s game is restoring his confidence. However, the Cubs can’t afford to absorb the growing pains that come with this process when they are in the midst of a tight playoff race. Castro needs a change of scenery because his days as a positive contributor on this Cubs team are all but numbered. Despite the reality of the situation, Castro said he isn’t worried about the future.
"I don’t really think about another team. The future, you worry about another time. –Quote obtained by Chicago Tribune reporter Paul Skrbina"
For Castro, his best chance for resurrecting his professional baseball career is a change of scenery. He needs to start thinking about another team.