Poor start obfuscates Castro, Rizzo

The Cubs are in the midst of a brutal season this year. There’s no way to sugar coat it, there aren’t a whole lot of silver linings to be found this season. The North Side Nine haven’t found a way to execute all facets of their game for any consistent stretch at all this season. When the offense has produced the pitching has been bad. When the starters have gone deep into games the offense has been absent or, worse yet, the bullpen has blown leads late.

When Pedro Strop lost the control and blew the Cubs’ lead on the day Wrigley turned 100 it drove home the point that this team isn’t about present roster construction. The fashion in which the Cubs have been non competitive has made it very easy to focus in on seemingly roster-wide player regression. Their particular style of losing baseball has obfuscated two bounce back years from the two most important players on the current roster.

Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro are playing well.

There will be ebbs and flows in their stat lines as they adjust to the adjustments that the league has made to their early season starts but they’ve certainly improved over last year’s disastrous campaign.

It’s early to profile LD rate as those numbers stabilize after 600 Balls In Play but both players have upped their line drive rates by ~5% and in Castro’s case he’s cut his GB% (a stat that has stabilized) by 4%. They’re passing the eye test too as each player has put together improved at bats over last year.

For Rizzo this season was about finding the missing singles and adjusting to lefties. I doubt Rizzo hits .300 so I do expect his average to fall throughout the season but in a small sample he has hit left handed pitching and at the very least he has not looked lost against southpaws. The extra base hits will be there for Rizzo and one of the more encouraging signs for him is the 0.87 BB/K ratio he’s posted thus far in 2014. He’s walking more and striking out less, that’s a tremendous sign.

In Castro’s case, the power isn’t there quite yet but he’s making hard, solid contact and isn’t swinging through fastballs in the zone as often as he was during 2013. His at bats have looked natural and he’s been reacting in a simpler manner this year.

Yeah, this has been a tough year to watch the Cubs. It’s unfortunate that we’re in a holding pattern for some young talent to come through the system and produce. There’s not a whole lot of glimmer on this product, but for me this year was about Rizzo and Castro only. Everything else on the Major League roster was gravy.


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  • I agree, the most important thing in 2014 is Castro and Rizzo blossoming into all-star players. I hope Welington can cement himself in the core this season also.

    I hope by the end of the year a few of Olt, Bryant, Baez, Alcantara, Lake, Kalish, Castillo are lineup regulars. I'm guessing Samardzija is gone n July, so if we can get some guys back that can make an impact next year, i will feel better about our chances in 2015.

  • Oy yoy yoy.. Once again people are bringing up the Castro All Star talk. Why can't people just accept him for who he is; a good (not great) shortstop.

    His slash is .239/.271/.283 for the last 14 days. His wOBA is .250 and WC+ is 50; yipes. Now before anyone jumps up and claims that this is a small sample size, where were you when Castro was hot the first 2 weeks of the season.

    I'm not coming on here to rag on Castro. I just think people need to temper their expectations of him. Before the season even started, I would have been happy if he matched his 2012 numbers (.283 avg, 14 HR and 78 RBI). And right now, he's a little short of THAT pace.

    Is he as bad as his numbers indicated last year; no he isn't. Is he as good as his numbers of 2010 and 2011; nope. I believe he falls right around his 2012 numbers.

    I think at some point when Baez and Bryant get promoted, Castro will settle in to the 6th spot (he's not a top of the order guy) in a good batting order and be a fairly productive player.

    He'll have some All Star caliber seasons, but won't be a perennial All Star. He's a talented played that was brought up before his development proved he was ready. And now he's struggling to develop his skills and focus to match his talents, because of the weight of expectations.

    For Castro's sake, I hope all the All Star and face of the franchise nonsense will stop at some point soon.

  • In reply to Alex:

    The kid is 24 years old we don't know where his ceiling is going to be. I think its unfair to say what a 24 year old kid is because of 14 games.

  • In reply to seankl:

    Apparently you didn't read my comment through. My 14 day point was in response to ALL the people who were claiming Castro was back after being hot the first 2 weeks. I said that I believe he falls right around his 2012 numbers.

    Castro may be 24, but this is his 5th season. You get a better idea of a player's ceiling when he's been in the majors for this long vs. a 24 year old that is just coming up for the first time.

  • In reply to Alex:

    I know what you were trying to say, Being in the league for five years don't make you who you are as a ball player. At his age he still has things to learn, which is natural. I'm not saying he is going to be a superstar but it takes time for it to click for other players. Look at a player the cubs are playing this weekend carlos gomez, it took him years to figure it out and now he is one of the best players in the league.

  • In reply to seankl:

    Being in the league for 5 years doesn't make you who you are as a ballplayer, but MUCH more often than not you can narrow down a players ceiling if they have been in the league going into their 5th season.

    Kudos to Gomez for figuring it out. Fortunately for him, he didn't have the weight of fan expectations of being an All Star and the face of the franchise on his shoulders.

    I wish this regime had Castro when he was first coming up. He would have had the benefit of taking time to develop instead of being rushed to the majors after a cup of coffee in AA.

    Once again, you have a talented player that hasn't properly developed his skills and focus.

  • In reply to Alex:

    You can narrow down a players ceiling in five years if doesn't have much of a ceiling. Castro still has a time to reach his ceiling, its funny because people are still waiting for shark to reach his ceiling but he is older and been in the league longer than castro. As a front office your all ways looking for players who has high ceilings but have not put it all together.

  • In reply to seankl:

    As for the front office looking for players with high ceilings; I agree with you. That's why I'm all for the Cubs keeping Castro and just letting him be. Do I think he will reach his ceiling? That's all relative.

    And I can't believe I have to make this point again. It's harder for Castro to reach his ceiling with all the fans expectations of him. I'm saying, just let the guy play. If he reaches All Star status, great. But it's unfair for fans jump the gun and say that he's back to his All Start level again.

    Wow, a couple of good weeks to start the season and a good portion of comments proclaim him to be back. I bring up his last 2 weeks stats and you say I'm being unfair for using only a 14 day sample size.

    And regarding comparisons to Shark, it's different for him, because he was brought up as a reliever and only has been a starter for past 2 or 3 years. Apples and Oranges.

  • In reply to Alex:

    I agree that Castro is not, and very likely will not, be great. But there is quite a distance between merely GOOD and GREAT. I believe there is a pretty good chance that he will be closer to the top than the bottom on that scale.

  • In reply to DaveP:

    I agree Dave, but my point of contention has always been to let Castro play and not have to deal with the enormous amount of expectations the fans have placed on him.

    I WANT him to get to great, because then he would be a key piece in the Cubs winning a World Series.

  • In reply to Alex:

    I agree with you alex on that part. I guess the disagreement came when you said that after five years he is what he is. We all want him to be great and but he could be good to very good which fine by me.

  • In reply to seankl:

    Hey Sean. My point all along is that people are too quick to say that Castro is back to his old self again after a couple of weeks.

    He's a talented kid, no doubt about it, but unfortunately he became a victim of his early success. Now that teams have a book on him, he needs to adjust and it just doesn't seem like he has over the past 2 seasons.

    There is no way he was going to maintain a .345 BABIP like he had the first two seasons. Even if he is at league average, he is going to be around a .280 hitter. For a SS, if he can even put up numbers similar to 2012, I think we should all be happy.

    Will he reach his ceiling? That's up to him. But he needs to change his approach at some point. He can't get by on just his talent.

  • We really need to sign Shark and then we have to go sign or trade for another TOR pitcher. With a TOR,Shark & Wood we then have plenty of quality options for #4 & #5. I would be most concerned about a closer for 2015 (we need to see Vizcaino take over that role this summer) and finding consistant quality hitters after Castro,Rizzo & Castillo and maybe Bonafacio if we cant it doesnt really matter how good the starting pitching is.

  • The product that has been put on the field is absurd. A major market team with a $72 million dollar team on the field. April 25th, and you have a player with a career .720 ops and 39 home runs batting cleanup.
    Its ridiculous. And the problem is the ownership of the cubs. I wish they would sell the club, at least the majority. Bringing up a bunch of rookies only ensures more losing, you have to spend money and get proven big league players to go with them. And the severe financial situation with the Ricketts will continue to prevent that.

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    They were 71-91 with a $140mil payroll

  • In reply to Mike Partipilo:

    Come on mike, the key to winning in mlb is not slashing your payroll. The Cubs have a bargain bin team on the field this year. The other day, they had 4 of 8 starters who had been picked up off waivers from other teams.

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    He's trying to say spending lots of money does not directly translate to wins. Especially in 2014 where the only place to spend money are on past-their-prime 30+yr old players whos contract will become an albatross after a year or two. We've been there, done that already and it failed.

    Red Sox tried the same thing a few years ago, we know how that turned out. I agree, something needs to be done, but paying for past performance or grossly overpaying anyone is not the answer, Hasn't been for a long time. I just shocked teams are even still doing it. There's no glory in spending millions to win 75 games.

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    In reply to Marcel Jenkins:

    Well said, Marcel. Thank you.

  • Pretty Please tell us what the key is Sensei

  • In reply to Mike Partipilo:

    I long for the good old days of 2012 and 2013.

  • "Bringing up a bunch of rookies only ensures more losing"

    They're only rookies for one year.

  • I have no problem signing Shark long term, but what makes anyone think Shark is interested in sticking around for another 2 bad seasons?

    He may want to get out of town and start winning games.

  • In reply to IrwinFletcher:

    His quotes last week made it seem like he's going to be happy to test free agency and get paid.

    I can't blame him if he's frustrated with all of the the talentless players around him.

  • If the stats indicate that Castro has gotten better offensively, then fine, I will buy it.

    But I don't really see it so far. It will help if his FB contact rate improves because his pitch recognition is terrible. He often times works himself into a good count and then blows it by being over anxious.

    I am hoping that the power shows itself soon. I do not believe that he is a .300 hitter anymore. I think we need to hope for a .270/.320/.400 slash line.

    Now defensively, I think I have seen a great improvement. Still can be sloppy and makes the occasional mental mistake, but he has made many difficult plays and makes them look easy. Enough to believe that the FO needs to look to move Baez to another position.

  • In reply to IrwinFletcher:

    Maybe it's time to face reality. Castro at best is an ordinary shortstop, offensively and defensively.

    Rizzo is an above average fielding first baseman. He has some power but appears at this point to be a guy who'll average 25 homers and hit around 270 at best.

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    In reply to Aquinas wired:

    At 24 years old it's a little too soon for that. Neither are even in their prime years yet. People were saying the same about Ian Desmond. He didn't break out till his age 26 season. Goldshmidt broke out at 25 following an ok season.

    The Trouts, Machados, and Harpers of the world have spoiled everyone into thinking players with high ceilings should reach them finished developing by 22-23 years old. It's not time yet.

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    In reply to Aquinas wired:

    We've seen Castro at his best. Twice in four seasons, he's batted .300 or better and twice he's led the league in both assists and put outs. And as Marcel points out, he's still just 24.

    None of that spells "ordinary" to me.

  • In reply to Mike Partipilo:

    He also is ahead of Pete Rose's hit pace, he is going to get hits but wont take many walks. I think when his BABIP is good he is going to hit around .300 when its low he may hit around .260-.270 but that may be way better then Baez or Alcantera ever do.

  • Obfuscates? Overshadows. Better.

  • I used to abhor the phrase "staying within myself" but that will be the challenge for Renteria: to keep Castro, Rizzo and Shark from trying to win singlehandedly. Aram, with his unusual early production would have been helpful. Trying to add that piece strategically is Epstoyers challenge. This season is going to be brutal until the kids arrive. Results may be similar but it will infinitely more interesting. Hate to reiterate the obvious but ......

  • Good piece Mauricio, I agree with rizzo and castro. The eye test says both look better than last year, I am more encouraged by castro hitting the fastball and his bat looks quicker. Last year people were saying that castro lost bat speed but I think his mind was slowing his bat down. People saying castro is anxious at the plate are right but I would like for castro and rizzo to have some protection so they would not feel like they have to do something.

  • It's been so hard to watch, I can find my only baseball joy in MLB 2014 The Show, where my Cubbies actually have a winning record.

    I did, however, had to finally make a trade to achieve this record. I sent Castro, Barney, and Ryan Sweeney to the Mariners for Nick Franklin, Brad Miller, and Franklin Gutierrez, and since they didn't refuse like they most likely would have in the real world, neither did I. :)

    I now am battling for first place with the Brewers in early June.

    As for the real world Cubbies, I just haven't been able to watch much. Got back into it in the D-backs series only to be slapped with that 9th inning meltdown by Strop in the 3rd game. Painful.

    My only newly evolved thought is this:

    Elite Closers are either not overpaid, or, there should be no such thing as a closer, and it always should be based on how well a pitcher is throwing "on that day" along with playing strict bullpen matchups as best as possible in late innings.

    Closer by committee? If you don't believe the former, then in my opinion, yes!

  • In reply to givejonadollar:

    I'm feeling your pain. Too much of the likes of Swingles, Failish, and Nobuena will do that to a person.

    I hope I'm being too harsh. Maybe these guys will start resembling productive baseball players as the season goes on. There are a lot of games left. But part of me wonders if we'll see more scoring from the Blackhawks over the next few weeks.

  • In reply to HefCA:

    You mean Valbuena and Kalish, the guys who are 3 and 4 on the team in OBP? Valbuena has been one of the most productive players so far this season and is blocking no one by playing 2B like he has been lately. Who would you suggest instead?

  • In reply to nmu’catsbball:

    Is OBP the only thing that matters to you? Not to me. It says a lot about the Cubs offense that they are 3 and 4 in OBP, though.
    Bonifacio should play 2nd, and at 3rd I'd give Olt the majority of starts.

    The Cubs really have nothing in the outfield. Maybe Kalish should be getting more starts, but because he has been productive (he clearly hasn't), but because the Cubs have nothing better right now.

    It's still early, like I said in my previous comment. And I hope these guys start playing better, but they are in danger of falling out of the playoff race before June. That is awful.

  • In reply to nmu’catsbball:

    Fourth on the Cubs in OBP and he wouldn't be on five other major league teams.

    Big whoop!

  • In reply to Jimmie Ward:

    What do you think is the solution? I don't see how sitting the only players being productive solves anything.

  • In reply to nmu’catsbball:

    There is no solution. Whatever they do with this current roster won't solve their problems.

    Some problems cannot be solved, this is one of those.

  • In reply to nmu’catsbball:

    These are not productive players (Kalish and Valbuena) by any objective measurement. Valbuena has a lifetime .650 OPS with over 1,000 at bats. That is a bad hitter. That's what he is. Kalish is sitting at .668 OPS this year. That is not a productive starting OFer. Guys like Olt, Lake, Castillo, Castro, Ruggiano are all in the same general area. So it would not be a drop-off of any kind for them to play instead.

    I'm not blaming them for the poor offense. This is a team-wide problem, not just the fault of a few players. And I (sort of) appreciate Luis' good eye at the plate, and the way he still survives despite his limitations. But I do think he gets way too many at-bats.
    His walk rate will decline considerably, and then we'll be left with the same old .650ish OPS player, who should only play at second base.

  • Well, so far it has been pretty ugly. But, on the optimistic side, it isn't even May 1 yet, so the season is still young. I suspect there will be some changes that will make things look better.

  • And we had the majority of our early games away and in cold weather. Lets not panic about the lack of production by a platooned outfielder playing in cold weather to boot. Let's see what the BP can really do when it warms up as well. As long as we take baby steps in the right direction I'm OK with the slow start, .

  • I dont get the FO love for Schierholtz? He plays everyday bats 4th or 5th is in a serious slump and is only a lifetime .260 hitter. I like Sweeney as a bench guy he is a career .275 hitter with .330 OBP but why not play Kalish & Lake everyday or send them down. Lake and Kalish may end up being no better than bench guys like Sweeney but they could be something more, I guess we may never know. Same goes for Valbuena he is a career .220 hitter with a .310 OBP, thats worse than Sweeney's career numbers maybe a nice bench guy but that is it. He is taking AB's from Olt.

  • In reply to bleachercreature:

    Valbuena has been playing 2B, not 3B recently, he's not taking at bats from Olt... If he plays 3B on any given day, it's probably because Olt was going to sit regardless of who played 3B... I think they do know what Lake, Kalish, Olt, Scheirholtz, Sweeney and Valbuena can do... That's why they're finding spots for all of them.

  • In reply to bleachercreature:

    Valbuena is one of the few productive players on the roster right now, and you just don't sit players who are producing. Period. And he has not been taking ABs from anyone, as Caps said. Career numbers mean much less than current numbers. Sure, he's not an exciting player to have to put in your lineup everyday, but do you really want this offense to be even worse than it is?

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    In reply to nmu’catsbball:

    Heck of a fine play he made tonight at 2B as well. He came a long way to catch that ball down the line. Nice turn and throw. Good job by Castillo on the other end too

  • Alex I can't comment above, but I never said he was back after two weeks. I agree with you that it would be best to just let him play,but with comparing shark and castro is not apples and oranges.Both of them are still learning, being 24 and in your fifth year does not mean you stop learning and stop developing, like RR said castro is just learning how to play the position.

  • In reply to seankl:

    Sorry, I missed this reply.

    How can you say it's not apples and oranges. Shark was a guy who never solely focused on baseball until after he graduated from Notre Dame. Whereas Castro has been playing only baseball for years.

    By the time Shark made it to Wrigley, he was brought up as a reliever. They took their time with him. He wasn't thrown in to be the "face of the franchise" like Castro was. If Shark still hasn't reached his ceiling, it's because his path to be a starting pitcher was brought about slowly and he doesn't have the same wear and tear that other 29 year old pitchers have.

    Apples and Oranges

  • In reply to Alex:

    No matter how you want to spin it shark is still given the time to reach his ceiling. Shark could still reach his ceiling but my point is he is still figuring it out as a 29 going on 30 year old pitcher.

  • In reply to seankl:

    What spin? You're making my point FOR me.

    Shark was given time to develop by being a reliever for the first several years of his career. It's taken him much longer to get to where he is today, a decent number 2 starter. He doesn't have a typical 29 year old arm.

    Whereas Castro was thrown into being an everyday major leaguer when he was 20. I appreciate you agreeing with me.

    Once again, Apples and Oranges.

  • Not to worry as neither Castro nor Rizzo know what obfuscate means.

  • big picture. I am hoping Shark, Boni, Hammels, Schierholtz and Barney all get flipped. I am guessing we try our best to keep shark. Doubt any of our relievers bring back anything.. but we still have some time to turn em around and possibly get something for em.. here is to another top 5 pick in next years draft. its all about the future baby!!

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    Who are the top 3 players for the 2015 MLB Draft?

  • In reply to Ironman McGinnity:

    There is plenty time to think about that later. I am more interested in who are the top 4 players this year.

  • I just noticed that Brad Zimmer, who may be the best college bat in this year's draft, was drafted by the Cubs in 2011 in the 23rd round. Of course he didn't sign. Too bad. We should have drafted him in the 7th round instead of Gretzky and given him Gretzky's overslot bonus.

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