Photo courtesy of Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports
On Monday afternoon when the Cubs lineup was posted on twitter, many noticed a rather large change: Starlin Castro was no longer in the clean-up spot. I’m not sharing any new information with you by saying that Castro has looked rough at the plate of late, you’ve seen it, you’ve tweeted* about it, and you’ve read about it; we all know the score.
*I’m really digging this new trend on twitter. People complain about Castro. Then others defend Castro on twitter. Then that first group complains that people are complaining about them complaining about Castro. You’re all making twitter so fun guys!
But just how bad has Castro been in the four-hole? It lasted for 16 games, well, in 15 of the last 16 games, Castro batted clean-up, a total of 67 plate appearances. He slashed .217/.299/.233 with one double and four RBI in those situations.
Wait, Sahadev, of all numbers, why would you include his RBI in there? Don’t you think that’s a totally overrated statistic?
Oh, good question, I’m glad you asked. (But never interrupt me again!) Yes, I’m not crazy about RBI, but in this case, I am curious as to how Castro is doing at driving runners in. He has three guys ahead of him who get on base regularly in Dexter Fowler, Kris Bryant, and Anthony Rizzo, so if he can just do his job and get some hits, he should be racking up the ribbies. To be fair, Dexter Fowler has been in quite the funk of late (.282 OBP during the time Castro was manning the four-spot). But Rizzo’s had a .408 OBP and Bryant has posted a .362 OBP during that stretch, not really as great as they’ve been in the past, but good enough that Castro has had his opportunities.
In fact, Castro has seen 51 batters on base during this stretch, including 25 who have been in scoring position, and he’s knocked just four of those people in. Here’s how those four runs scored: sacrifice fly, groundout to third, groundout to short, and a two-out, run-scoring single. That last one could have actually been pretty big, it was an insurance run in extras against the Diamondbacks that put the Cubs up 4-2. Of course, they went on to lose that game after Hector Rondon coughed up the lead in the bottom of that inning when he served up a two-run homer to Paul Goldschmidt. Of all the things he’s done on offense during the very small-sampled rough stretch, that, and his two-out single that preceded Jorge Soler’s two-run double to tie the middle game of the Arizona series up, are probably the two biggest positives.
But those are getting drowned out, and justifiably so, by all his struggles. With runners in scoring position he’s slashed .059/.190/.059 and with runners on, it’s been .107/.212/.107. And that includes the two intentional walks he was handed on Sunday in two big situations.
To compound matters, Castro’s teammates haven’t picked him up much when he’s failed to come through. In those situations when Castro has been unable to deliver with runners in scoring position, the Cubs have gone on to score a total of three times, which includes Soler’s two-run homer on Friday against the Royals.
The Cubs went 9-6 in those 15 games Castro batted clean-up, so his presence in a theoretically big spot certainly didn’t derail any playoff hopes the Cubs have. But this included a stretch where they were abysmal with runners in scoring position, so Castro’s struggles during this time was just all the more amplified.
If you know me, I’m not one to pile on Castro, in fact, I strongly believe things are going to turn around for him and soon. However, I also agree with Maddon moving him down a bit in the lineup. This team needs to score more runs, especially with a bullpen that doesn’t instill much confidence, so padding a lead certainly isn’t something anyone is going to be against.
Some would say that this move was long overdue, but come on, that’s nonsense. The fact is, Joe Maddon believed it would work; he believed it would help both the team and Castro, thus he owed it to everyone involved to try and at least give it a legitimate chance to succeed (or fail, as it turned out to be). Would anyone really want a manager who believed so little in his own decisions that he’d pull the plug at the first sign of trouble? And this was hardly a very long sample, it was just 15 of 16 games, but Maddon likely noticed what many of us did: Castro’s tendency to roll pitches over to short may not last forever, but he and the team would be best served if Castro was figuring things out somewhere other than right behind two of the better (the best?) on-base guys in the game.
This wasn’t a disaster, the Cubs offense has had other issues than just Castro not coming through when it matters, but I do believe that moving Castro out of the clean-up spot is the best move presently for this team. It wasn’t even an ill-conceived idea, Maddon has pointed out in the past that Castro seemed to be thriving in situations with men on base earlier in the year (he did have 20 RBI—if you’re into that stat—prior to being moved to the four-hole, while hitting .318 with runners in scoring position), but the decision just didn’t pan out in the Cubs favor. Maddon isn’t a manager who is big on sticking with consistent lineups in general, so when things aren’t clicking, it certainly makes sense to see some tweaks here and there. With Soler swinging the bat better of late and just being more of an extra-base threat in general, it makes sense to have him up in a spot that is expected to see more men on base. Hopefully, for the Cubs sake, he’ll see better results than his predecessor in the clean-up spot.