Castro Is Fun to Watch. He’s Ready.

He can ride an invisible horse, for crying out loud. What else do you want?

Ryne Sandberg started his Cubs career going 0-20. After his first hit, he went another 12 at-bats before getting his second. That’s a 1-32 stretch to begin his Hall-of-Fame resume on the North side. But he was ready.

Mark Grace made 17 errors in his rookie campaign at first base, enough to lead the National League in that category. That was on his way to four Gold Gloves. He was ready.

Shawon Dunston made 17 errors in his first season with the Cubs (and in just 73 games). In his first full season (1986) he made 32 errors, the most of anyone at any position in either league. He also led NL shortstops in putouts and assists, and the world in Range Factor per Game (by a wide margin). Dunston shuttled between the majors and minors over his first few seasons, and it wasn’t until 1989 that his OPS+ reached the league average 100. But he was ready.

Starlin Castro has committed 5 errors in 5 games, good for a .762 fielding percentage, which I’m told is rather poor. He has also compiled a 1.067 OPS and a 169 OPS+, which I’m told is completely unsustainable. Get that? His fielding is awful and clearly indicative of his lack of maturity. His hitting is uncharacteristically awesome and sure to get worse.

Here’s what I see: Starlin has had a very good start to his shorter-than-Sullivan career, and his fielding percentage is more likely to drastically change than his offensive statistics. He will not continue to screw up in 1 out of every 4 opportunities. He won’t average over a base per plate appearance for very long either, but I’ve seen enough to know his hitting is less attributable to luck than his fielding is to nerves.

Regardless, this kid is a lot of fun to watch. The last I checked, that’s kind of a big part of the reason we like to follow baseball, is it not? It’s fun to see people with talent and/or infinite supplies of scrappiness play this game. Starlin Castro could be one of the five most talented baseball players I’ve seen come up through the Cubs organization, so I want to watch him play. It. Will. Be. Fun.

Obviously one could argue that any more prolonged defensive struggles would be detrimental to the Cubs’ chances of winning. But A) There really is no way he’ll make errors at this rate, and B) I think you have to ask yourself how important winning is to the Cubs right now.

That’s stupid. Winning is all there is. If winning isn’t your goal, you’re not a fan. You’re an idiot! Winning is kind of the point, isn’t it, moron?!? Fire Jim Hendry! Fire Lou! Fire Adam from this piece of garbage blog!

Now that we’ve got that out of our systems (Shutup, jerk, I’m still angry at how dumb you are!), I have a question: how many games do you think Castro’s defense will cost the Cubs over the course of the rest of the season, in combination with whatever gains/losses you expect from his offensive contributions? Go ahead, make a guess, write it down, enter it into your calculator. Now I want you to write down how many games you think the Cubs will wind up winning on the year if they demote young Starlin to AAA right this very moment. Now give those numbers a gander.

If you project the Cubs to win fewer than 85 games without Castro, it really doesn’t matter how many games you think he will cost the Cubs. You don’t think they’re going to the playoffs anyway. In the absence of winning, I’d rather watch a player who has a legitimate chance of doing something truly exciting every time he steps onto the field than, say, Fontebaker. Wouldn’t you?

If you think the Cubs are going to make the playoffs as long as Castro doesn’t hold them back, congratulations, you’re a part of the smallest club in America.

But if you, like me, expect Starlin Castro to actually make a net improvement to this team (maybe a small one, maybe a large one . . . I don’t know), then there’s no way you want to see Castro leave the ranks of the Chicago National League ball club.

Actually, I really don’t care either way. This kid has a chance to be something special, or at least something slightly better than ordinary. I would much rather see him develop before my eyes than read some scouting report about how well he’s doing in Peoria or who knows where. In all my life, I’ve never seen the Cubs even make it to the World Series, and the likelihood that a Castro-less team will do it this year is almost nonexistent. Starlin might not improve those odds, but that’s okay.

Because I’ve had a lot of fun watching the Cubs not win World Series. I have enjoyed watching Ryne Sandberg become a Hall of Famer, Mark Grace become a world-class Gold-Glover, and Shawon Dunston making him earn it. It has been fun seeing Carlos Zambrano try to grow up, Kerry Wood try to stay healthy and filthy, and Ryan Theriot continue to get dirty. Geo’s OBP getting higher than a World Baseball Classic after-party: love it. Carlos Marmol trying to reinvent the strike zone and the laws of physics: love it. Tyler Colvin trying to prove his identity: love it.

So why would I not want to see Starlin Castro go through the growing pains that lead to a more polished, sparkling career as a major-league shortstop? He’s got all the tools to do just that, and I think Cub fans (at least the ones intelligent enough not to boo him the first day they see him in person) deserve a ticket to that show.

The kid is ready. So am I.

2 Replies to “Castro Is Fun to Watch. He’s Ready.”

  1. I can remember Shawon air-mailing the ball over Durham's head on a regular basis. Yet Shawon also got many more opportunities to even field the ball because of his range. He was fun to watch-well, except when swinging at everything within 10 feet of the plate. 🙂 But I appreciated his hustle, even when he hit grounders that were clearly going to result in an out. I've missed that, and am happy to see someone exciting again at the shortstop position.

    Anyone who boos a new player is seriously lacking in brains and class. They can take their booze and their stupidity elsewhere-like Busch Stadium.

  2. Shawon was my all-time favorite Cub. If he'd had normal range, he probably would have cut his error totals in half, but in that first full season, there was nobody anywhere near him in range factor. Just so much fun to watch.

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