The Everlasting Starlin Castro Narrative

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Don’t write about Starlin Castro.

It is a simple rule that I’ve broken now in consecutive days. The reason I have this rule is best described by Sahadev Sharma over a week ago.

There is no winning in any debates about Starlin Castro. If you criticize a play that Castro makes then you are out to get him. If you defend Castro you are an apologist that is blinded by fan loyalty. However, I am going to wade into these dangerous waters because I was troubled by something I read while working on a recap at Cubs Den. It occurred in the eighth inning when Addison Russell made a potentially critical mental error in getting picked off of second base.

The response on twitter was expected. Many people, rightly, pointed out how the reaction was different than if Starlin Castro had made the same error. The conversation devolved quickly as it usually does when Starlin Castro is involved, but one explanation for the difference really stuck out to me. That was that the expectations were different for Starlin Castro as a fifth year veteran than a 21 year old rookie. That is certainly true that the expectations should be different and that there some grace should be extended to a young rookie. The problem with that statement is that Starlin Castro was not extended that same grace, and that it is only revisionist history if you believe that it is years of watching these mistakes that makes Starlin Castro a lightning rod.

Now I have no interest in debating the merits of a talented but struggling, flawed player. What does interest me is exploring what is different between Starlin Castro and Addison Russell at this point in their careers. Starlin Castro by the end of his age 21 season had played in an All-Star game and accumulated 346 hits along his way to a .304/.343/.422 slash line. He also had his work ethic, focus and intelligence questioned by many fans and others around the game. The nicest versions of this might be exemplified by the suggestion that Starlin Castro suffered from ADHD. Castro earned that after playing 283 games in the big leagues is one argument, but Castro was booed in his first game at Wrigley Field. The difference in games played at this point isn’t a complete or total answer for why Russell has escaped the microscope that Castro was placed under immediately.

The frequency of mistakes and errors is not an explanation either. Addison Russell has made 8 errors this season. That is second most among 2B, and the only player ahead of him has played over 130 more innings at the position than Russell. His fielding percentage is the lowest among qualified 2B, but I have not heard a peep about Russell lack of focus or work ethic. I didn’t even realize he had made that many errors until I looked it up, but there were constant updates on Castro’s fielding from the beginning. “He leads the world in errors” is something that was constantly pounded into the narrative about Starlin Castro. Now errors are a terrible way to measure defense. Maybe fans are getting smarter about that and that explains why the difference in how these statistics are viewed. It is a stretch, but perhaps that explains it.

Maybe Starlin Castro’s presence protects Addison Russell from the ire of fans. Castro certainly is a lightning rod for criticism, that is indisputable whether you believe that criticism is justified or not. The problem with that explanation is that Castro had similar lightning rods around when he broke into the big leagues. Alfonso Soriano was frequently criticized for lack of hustle and or focus. Aramis Ramirez certainly drew the fans ire from time to time as well. And yet Starlin Castro was not shielded in anyway from that criticism through his age 21 season.

I am not certain what is different between the two players that has resulted in such a stark difference in perceptions at a similar age and MLB experience level. Fans could be smarter. Again perceptions of errors might have changed among enough fans for it to be de-emphasized as a measure of baseball ability. Fans might also be more aware of the growing pains associated with a talented rookie. The Cubs really didn’t have many talented young position players come through the system. Geovany Soto was the last Cub to make the All-Star Game after being developed in the Cubs system, but before that you had to go back to Mark Grace to find another such player. Perhaps seeing the struggles of Starlin Castro, Anthony Rizzo and others bought Russell a modicum of patience that Castro did not benefit from.

A bigger factor probably was the manager of the Chicago Cubs. Starlin Castro played his second year in the majors under a first year manager that was in over his head. The only players that ever drew criticism from Mike Quade were the youngsters, whether it was the miscommunication between Castro and Darwin Barney being the reason a blow out occurred in May. This trait was repeated by Dale Sveum down the road suggesting that Castro and Rizzo might need to be sent back to the minors. Compare that with Joe Maddon, who has yet to throw a single player under the bus. The manager certainly has an effect on the perception of Cubs fans.

There is also the infamous Bobby Valentine incident. Here is a good recap of how ludicrous the situation was. ESPN has the ability to generate narratives that become very powerful. We saw it take hold with Jon Lester and throwing to first base. That moment shaped a lot of fans opinions around Starlin Castro. While Castro deserves criticism for his play at times, this has really helped fuel the overboard reaction to many plays over the years.

I am not trying to change or shape your opinion about Starlin Castro the player today. You can feel that the criticism Starlin Castro faces today has been earned, but at least acknowledge that the way Addison Russell and Starlin Castro have been treated by age 21 has been different.

And as if I needed more proof of my rule. I was followed by this account today.

 

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2 Replies to “The Everlasting Starlin Castro Narrative”

  1. “The frequency of mistakes and errors is not an explanation either. Addison Russell has made 8 errors this season. That is second most among 2B, and the only player ahead of him has played over 130 more innings at the position than Russell. His fielding percentage is the lowest among qualified 2B, but I have not heard a peep about Russell lack of focus or work ethic.”

    Probably because all the advanced metrics show Russell is the best fielder on the team.

    http://www.fangraphs.com/leaders.aspx?pos=all&stats=fld&lg=all&qual=0&type=1&season=2015&month=0&season1=2015&ind=0&team=17&rost=0&age=0&filter=&players=0&page=1_50

    I kind of thought we all were beyond errors & fielding %.

    • A) Did you gloss over the part where I offered that as an explanation? Here it is in case you did:
      “Now errors are a terrible way to measure defense. Maybe fans are getting smarter about that and that explains why the difference in how these statistics are viewed. It is a stretch, but perhaps that explains it.”

      B) Advanced defensive metrics take years to stabilize and reveal the true defensive talent level of a player. UZR, for example, is supposed to be looked at in 3 year sample sizes.

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