Cubs Starlin Castro, Anthony Rizzo, Luis Valbuena: Who Could Put Up .800 OPS?

Cubs Starlin Castro, Anthony Rizzo, Luis Valbuena:  Who Could Put Up .800 OPS?
Starlin Castro's plate approach is indicative of the Cubs as a whole.

I had a mini-debate on Twitter with Mr. @dabynsky about what the Cubs' infield could do this year.

The point of conversation: OPS. What might the Cubs Starlin Castro, or Luis Valbuena, produce in 2014?

A couple points to preface. First, league-wide OPS in 2013 was .714, down from the .720s in 2012 and 2011, and down from .750 in 2010 and 2009. In this post we're going to talk about .800 OPS being a nice benchmark, because it's round and all, but realize that might be an even greater accomplishment in the upcoming season.

Second, a warning: there are a lot of numbers flying around in this post. If you don't know, or care, what K%, BB%, BABIP, or ISO are, it's probably best to move along.

Lastly, I'm not about to claim my random number generation is more meaningful than ZiPS, or even Oliver. But some Cub hitters have more upside than others so I want to talk about that. For example:

1. Anthony Rizzo

Can Rizzo OPS .800? And yeah, OPS is a verb for today.

So can he? There are a couple of reasons to think that he can. For one: he's already done it! Over 87 games in 2012, Rizzo OPSed .805 (.285/.342/.463).Cool!

Also, ZiPS thinks that he can. My favorite projection system has Rizzo for a .255/.336/.464 in 2014.

So that was easy! Check!

2. Luis Valbuena

Unlike Rizzo, Valbuena is not projected to OPS .800 in 2014, nor has he ever accomplished the feat. So he's a less likely bet.

But let's talk about what would have to happen for LV to get to .800 before we decide how crazy we think it would be if he did it.

Valbuena's career OPS is well off of .800: he's got a .222/.302/.352 line to his name. That said, his 2013 was better than that: .218/.331/.378 for a .708 OPS.

And now let's go a bit further and cherry pick samples! From April 6 to June 26 -- 58 games -- Valbuena OPSed .804! And in August and September, he OPSed .767 in 60 plate appearances. Neat!

Let's look more closely at that April-May-June stretch. What did LV do to achieve his .800?

Valbuena slashed .260/.374/.429. He walked 31 times in 212 plate appearances, and hit 10 doubles, a triple, and six homers (.169 ISO).

The extra base hits aren't crazy (he ISOed .160 for the full year, and ISOed .166 in 2009), but a 14.6 percent walk rate is pretty hot and heavy. Only six qualifying batters walked in at least 14 percent of their plate appearances last season, and only four topped the 14.6 percent mark (Votto, Choo, Trout, Stanton -- yow!!).

Valbuena's career walk rate is 10, and the four projection systems on his Fangraphs page have him between 10.6 and 12, which feels right. The most generous projection for Valbuena is generated by Oliver, which gives him a .255/.352/.420 next year -- .771 OPS -- based on a 12 percent walk rate, a .291 BABIP, and a .164 ISO, all substantially better than his career averages. (Oliver has him for 18% K%, about his career mark.)

If Luis were to post a .770 OPS over 600 plate appearances, we should all be thrilled. I think he might get there, but he'll be really hard pressed to reach .800 in 2014.

3. Mike Olt

Olt is tricky to project because he doesn't have a lot of major league experience. ZiPS has him for a .682 OPS, which would be bad -- in fact I think he'd get sent to Iowa if he hit that poorly for an extended period.

ZiPS' guess is based on a walk rate of 10%, a K-rate just under 31%, a BABIP of .293, and an ISO of .163. If Olt is to make up ground in any of those categories, it'll be power and Ks. He needs to put up a .200 ISO to reach 800, and he needs his K-rate closer to 25% rather than 30% in order to stay in the bigs.

Jay Bruce hit .262/.329/.478 in 2013, with a 9% BB rate, 26.5% K rate, and .322 BABIP. There's pretty much no way Olt will be able to produce those numbers, but if we shave off 30 points of BABIP (subtract from each part of Bruce's slash line) we get .232/.299/.448. Add in a few walks and you're in the neighborhood of .800, although not quite there.

4. Darwin Barney, Emilio Bonifacio, and Donnie Murphy

This group has career OPSes of .628, .662, and .685, respectively. Even with 11 homers in 46 games last year, Murphy just barely got himself over the .800 mark. I don't think any of these cats can hit .800, and Murphy might not even get the chance to try as a Cub.

Now here comes the funcooker.

5. Starlin Castro

Fact: Castro OPSed .631 last year.

Fact: As a 22-year-old, Castro ISOed .147 -- and ISOed .165 after the All-Star Break that year (2012). Those are good, especially considering age.

Fact: As a 21-year-old, Castro OPSed .773 on a .307/.341/.432 slash.

This is my way of telling you that, despite last year's ineptitude, I really don't think it's that big a stretch to imagine that Castro could reach .800 this season. ZiPS has him for .280/.319/.413, which would be a .732 OPS. That's based on a BB rate of 4.8%, a K rate of 16%, a BABIP of .319, and an ISO of .132.

Let's take a minute to look at what Shane Victorino did in 2013 (NON SEQUITER ALERT! but I'll bring it back in a second). The Flying Hawaiian did indeed meet the 800 OPS threshold, and did so in the following way:

.294/.351/.451, 4.7% BB, 14.1% K, .321 BABIP, .157 ISO

I feel those numbers are all well within the realm of achievability for Castro. For his career, he has a 5% BB, 15.1% K, .323 BABIP, and .121 ISO. So he's already really close -- and he just turned 24 on Monday!

IN SUM!

If the league average OPS is between .700 and .720, I think Rizzo, Castro, Valbuena, and Olt could all be above-average hitters in 2014. Rizzo stands the best shot at reaching 800, followed by Castro. Valbuena and Olt probably won't get there, but could each provide nice value in their own special ways.

@AJWalsh08

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  • No matter what. This infield could really be so much more productive with Olt, rebound from Castro and possible Baez injection by summer.

    I also think Rizzo has nice year.

  • The Zips and Steamer estimations for Olt are a lot lower than they would be otherwise, since they have been colored by his injury-riddled campaign of 2013. I think its not out of line to expect an ISO of .180 with a walk rate hovering around 12% (he maintained a 13% walk rate last year even with his well documented eye problems). With a .250 BA that would drive his slash up to .250/.322/.430 for an OPS of .752.

    For a rookie that is a pretty solid slashline, and with Olt's experience, I would not be surprised to see a .2 point bump in either his BA or ISO (raises in both of which would but him at about an .810 OPS). Anything less and I think we are looking at another stop-gap player at the hot corner.

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