I understand the frustration with the Cubs this year and specifically with Starlin Castro. There's not a Cubs fan, including myself, who doesn't want to see him reach his "potential"-- whatever that may be.
Sometimes the focus is so far ahead that we forget that Castro is a good player right now. He has been a 3.2 WAR player for the past two seasons, not to mention an all-star shortstop. He is the team's best hitter, plays a premium position well, if not consistently, and he's 23 years old, still a few years from his peak seasons. So the best may be yet to be come.
Yet everyone out there seems to talking about the error yesterday. Or the fact that he hasn't walked yet. Has anyone brought up yet that he occasionally looks over his shoulder when on the bases yet? No? Give it time. When it does, it's certainly going to be a more crucial event than his production as a ballplayer.
Errors are a visceral thing. We see them, they are obvious, and they cause a strong, instant negative reaction that tends to linger. Because of that, they can also be misleading. We fall into a sort of trap. The memory of the last error is still vivid when, oops, a second error is committed. Then, perhaps a third. Now we believe we see a pattern of error-filled play. From there we fall into a loop of confirmation bias. We have decided that this is the way things are, so much to the point that we will discard everything else in between errors. We may rave about a Castro at-bat or defensive play, but when that next error is committed -- even if it occurs after many games, the focus shifts again. "See, Castro is always making errors!" And we confirm our bias, even though in that time span, Castro will have produced above and beyond the cost of one error.
It's a very human thing. We all do it at times whether we realize it or not. This is why modern statistics are so important. We may overemphasize certain patterns, specifically the ones that stand out, and because we do so, we can come to incorrect conclusions about the big picture. Advanced statistics are sometimes counter-intuitive, which explains much of the resistance to them. They don't always "feel" right. When we saw Castro making errors early last season, yet defensive metrics graded him as average or above, it just doesn't seem to make sense.
This isn't limited to errors. It can be whatever pattern we choose to seek out. It can be either positive or negative. We may think Tyler Colvin was a tremendous player last year because he had a good run early, so that when we look at his final numbers, we may be surprised to find that he was an average player -- and much less than that away from his hitter friendly home park. We may lament his loss and not even notice that he didn't make a mediocre Rockies roster this year. We may think Aramis Ramirez doesn't try hard because we saw him dog it to first base a couple of times. Perhaps that image becomes even stronger if it's confirmed by a third party. Eventually that becomes such a big focus that we forget that Aramis Ramirez was a very good, productive player for the Cubs who was well in the black for his career in Chicago when it came to how many wins he added with his overall play.
So getting back to Starlin Castro, a similar cycle is beginning to emerge. Suddenly there is talk of trading him and eventually replacing him with top prospect Javier Baez without, even considering the fact that Baez has the same exact flaws at a much lower level of play. He swings too much, he's made errors early on (4 so far) -- and most importantly, he is nowhere near a guarantee to produce at the same level that Castro already has to this point. In fact, Castro was already a productive MLB player when he was Baez's age. This is not saying I want to trade Baez or that he won't be a good player. In fact, I believe he will be a very good player. But I already know that Castro is a good player and at age 23, if normal MLB age progression is applied, he's almost certain to get much better over the next several years. If Castro were to be traded, the Cubs are basically guaranteeing they will lose significant value at a premium position and would likely be taking on players that don't offer that same promise.
I very much want to see Castro improve his game and I am as frustrated as anyone when I see mistakes such as the one he made yesterday. But I don't want to miss the forest for the trees here. Castro is a good, productive young player who history says will get even better over time, and while the next mishap will probably make us doubt that once again, we need to step back and see the whole picture -- because that picture is a very good one overall, even if it's still incomplete and contains a few flaws.
In the news:
- The big news yesterday was the melee that resulted in a fractured clavicle for the Dodgers top starter and key free agent acquisition Zack Greinke. Carlos Quentin was hit by a pitch, apparently took it personally, and charged the mound. The two collided with Greinke absorbing the blow with his left shoulder, which may have caused that fracture. Apparently there was a history between the two players and Greinke has hit Quentin 3 times, though he says none of them were intentional. Quentin, as you may know, gets hit with a lot of pitches and, in fact, led the league one year. Buster Olney of ESPN calls Quentin's reaction "ridiculous" (insider only).
- Here is a very good article on statistical trends and Paul Konerko by Christina Kahrl. The article is honest in that it says we don't know everything despite all the advances and uses Konerko's improved production at a point where historical trends say have been declining.
- Baseball Prospectus talks about the top 11 (actually 10) players who have re-invented their careers. Number 5 on the list is Scott Feldman, who changed his delivery, and number 8 is Bryan Bogusevic, who has become a better hitter.
The Cubs face the Giants today at 1:20 CT as Carlos Villanueva tries to build on his previous start and tries to outduel Matt Cain, one of the better pitchers in baseball.
- DeJesus CF
- Castro SS
- Rizzo 1B
- Soriano LF
- Schierholtz RF
- Castillo C
- Clevenger 3B
- Valbuena 2B
- Villanueva p
What to Watch For:
Felzz: Steve Clevenger playing 3rd brings the total of people playing 3rd base this year to 3. ( I set the over/under at 5.5) and we're only in the second week. I'm sure Bochy will lay down a bunt or two. But I think he'll handle himself OK. Hopefully his bat makes this part time experiment worth it.
John: Like Felzz I'm curious to see Clevenger at 3B but it also means Luis Valbuena playing 2B. The third DP partner for Castro in the early going and there will be a 4th when Darwin Barney finally comes in to re-stabilize the position. Aside from seeing Valbuena's defense at 2B, he had some good ABs yesterday and hit a couple of balls very well, including just missing a big HR late in the game.
Tom: Want to see how Starlin Castro bounces back from yesterday. Hopefully it won't carry in to today.