On July 21, R.J. Anderson wrote an article for Fangraphs that ranked 20-year-old shortstops by OPS+ (OPS+ = OPS / league average OPS, i.e., 120 is 20% above lg avg).
At that point, Starlin Castro had yet to eclipse league average OPS. As of the 21st, The SDC had registered a .774, good for a 95 OPS+. That got him onto the leaderboard, but not exactly at the top.
In the 12 games since then, however, Castro has gone 21-for-51, with five doubles, a triple, and a homer, good for a 1.042 OPS. He now has an .823 OPS for the season.
Thus, for your viewing pleasure, an updated OPS+ leaderboard:
Alex Rodriguez (1996), 160
Arky Vaughan (1932), 113
Starlin Castro (right 'effin now), 112
Jim Fregosi (1962), 109
Jose Reyes (2003), 102
Travis Jackson (1924), 102
Whitey Witt (1916), 100
Garry Templeton (1976), 91
Finally, a quote from R.J.:
As they say: Nice.
Ladies and gentlemen, your new leader in batting average for the Chicago Cubs is Starlin Castro.
By going 4-for-5 in yesterday's game, Castro (.318) took the lead over from Marlon Byrd (.315, 1-for-4). Other Cubs with multiple hits yesterday included Derrek Lee, Geovany Soto, and newcomer Blake DeWitt.
DeWitt seems to enjoy playing for Chicago, having gone 6-for-16 with a double and a homer in his first four games with the new club. He obviously won't hit .375 for the rest of the season, but I doubt it's hurting his psyche to be doing well early on.
I don't have anything else to say about Derrek Lee, but I will point out for Soto that he leads the team in OPS this year by just about 70 points. His OBP is at .398, his slugging at .519... dude, what a year. He may well get to 20 home runs by the end of the year.
Another factoid for ya: since coming off the 15-day DL on June 25, Aramis Ramirez has posted a .302/.338/.627 slash.
Cubs pitchers did well yesterday. Ryan Dempster posted a quality start (3 R, 0 ER in 6 IP), and Sean Marshall, Mitch Atkins, and soon-to-be-starter Carlos Zambrano each pitched a scoreless inning of relief.
So that's nice!
Does ESPN not have access to the MLB standings? Despite being in fourth place, the Cubs found themselves in prime time the last three Sundays. They actually made ESPN's decision look good the last two weeks, beating Roy Halladay and then engaging in an exciting duel against Chris Carpenter and the Cardinals. Unfortunately they couldn't quite pull it out last night to finish off what would have been their first home sweep since a two-gamer against the Rockies back in May.
The 3-3 week went according to script with the Cubs playing down to a bad team and getting their act together against a good one; they're now 7-17 against the Astros, Pirates and Nationals but are 9-5 against the Cardinals, Phillies and Rockies.
Overall the offense fared well yet again, sparked by the solid play of the two sub-25-year-olds at the top of the order. The team is third in the majors in runs during the month of July (guess who's first, I dare you ... nope, it's the Giants) and second in home runs. If only the young guys in the bullpen were half as good as the Cubs' young hitters.
Ryno of the Week: Starlin Castro has been raking. He hit nearly .500 this week and is batting over .380 this month. He's over .300 for the season, in fact, and piled up stats this week like Nicolas Cage piles up painfully bad movies--six RBI, four runs, four doubles and two stolen bases over the last seven days.
Honorable mentions: Aramis Ramirez (who leads the majors in HR and RBI this month), Geovany Soto, Derrek Lee, Randy Wells
Goat of the Week: Oh, Carlos Silva. I haven't completely turned on you yet, but I'm definitely worried. In Silva's last two starts, his ERA has almost gone up more than his innings pitched (ERA up 0.9, innings pitched = 2.1). He'll get another shot against the Astros tonight after lasting just one inning against them last Monday.
The Cubs go for the sweep against the Cardinals. I hope the Cubs beat the Cardinals every time they play them this year but I have a personal animase towards the Reds based mostly on the personalities of the current team. Johnny Gomes, more than anyone else, just rubs me the wrong way. I don't want to see Dusty Baker win again either. For that reason, alone, I hope the Cardinals beat the Reds... but if the Reds do beat the Cardinals, I hope it's partly because the Cubs beat down the Cardinals every time they played them! Let's see the Cubs sweep today's series and turn a good home stand into a great one!
Today's Matchup: Chris Carpenter (141.2IP, 3.05ERA, 3.72xFIP) vs Ryan Dempster (133.2IP, 3.70ERA, 3.85xFIP)
One of the reasons why the Cardinals have not fallen from grace is the relative health of Chris Carpenter over the last two years. Carpenter seems to have gotten a little more wild this year than he has been in the past. That being said, he is still very good and with Wainwright and Jaime Garcia doing their part, the Cardinals have a nice 1-3. Still, Ryan Dempster has been almost as good as Carpenter this year. His great gift is the ability to strike people out, but he is more wild than Carpenter even.
Given the relative closeness of the two starting pitchers, this will turn into a question of who has the better offense, bullpen and luck. Here's hoping the Cubs win those factors.
Who's Hot: Starlin Castro is now sporting a snazzy .343 wOBA as a 20 year old shortstop. Not half bad. To put into context, Aramis Ramirez has a career wOBA of .357. Castro, as a 20 year old, is performing not that far below an average Aram season. His season is mildly BABIP influenced, as Castro has a BABIP of .348 but as a guy with decent speed who hits a ton of line drives and ground balls, he likely to maintain a BABIP well over .320 for his career, making his .348 BABIP this year only slightly above his eventual average. I'd have been happy with him if he were hitting .270 with an SLG of .360 or so but this .308/.358/.449 stuff is exciting beyond belief.
Who's Not: Well, speaking of Aramis, ever since his 3 HR game, he has gone 3 for 12 with 2 walks and no Xtra base hits. I know that would count as a good stretch throughout most of the season, but after Tuesday's performance, I figured we'd see him keep it up. He has a five game hitting streak so I guess I shouldn't be complaining but hey, come on Aramis! You spoiled us the last couple of weeks!
Conclusion: Dempster pitched in that same game where Aram hit his 3 jacks and he wasn't great. I hope he can limit the Cardinals and especially Albert Pujols tonight. Including the last game against the Phillies, Pujols has gone 0 for 10 with 2 walks in his last 3 games. Let's keep him off the scoreboard again tonight, enjoy the sweep and move on to Houston.
The current state of the Cubs:
All you really need to know is that Aramis Ramirez is hitting mistakes again.
At the beginning of the year, he wasn't. He wasn't hitting anything. Neither was Derrek Lee. And outside of the couple of times our bullpen blew leads early in the season, and the other night with Marmol, this was pretty much the story of the year. Guys would get on base and Lee and Ramirez would strand them. Over and over again.
Now Ramirez has healed, and is hitting like he always has, and a few days after that, so has Lee and Soto. The word is that Lee is the clubhouse leader on the Cubs, and that is unfortunate because not only does he not have the personality to truly lead, he is also largely irrelevant offensively.
He has had two monster years with us, 2005 and 2009. The Cubs finished below .500 both years. Ramirez has had big years in 2004, 2007 and 2008, all winning years. As Ramirez goes, so does the Cubs offense. There is a greater statistical correlation as well as a practical correlation between what Ramirez contributes and what Lee contributes in terms of offense-to-wins. This is what makes teammates sit up and listen, and only if Aramis could back up his practical relevance with words.
But he chooses to defer, like he did after each of the playoff sweeps, and this is why I went bat feces when he did. Ramirez SHOULD lead the Chicago Cubs. When he hits, we win. As long as he keeps it up, we should have a winning second half, even though the decent starting pitching is beginning to falter.
Lou's retirement announcement, and why we are yawning
This was the biggest non-announcement ever. Of course Lou is retiring. Some say he retired 2 years ago. He did it so people will quit asking him. Some say he has earned the right to finish this year on his terms, and he will. I'm not one of them, but there is the sentimental side of me who will give the man his respect.
Besides, Crane Kenney and Jim Hendry aren't going anywhere, so even if they got to choose a new man this afternoon, he would be no better than the last two guys they hired.
There seems to be no accountability in this organization. Lou has the freedom to do one wild, crazy move after another, and when he is asked to explain himself, he either stutters and/or gets testy. Jim has developed a decent drafting mechanism, and he is the king of the desperation trade and the fire-sale steals, but he has never made a good value-for-value straight trade in his whole tenure. Not to mention, of course, his poor free-agent record, as well as his aversion to conflict, which has resulted in avoidance of arbitration - and overpaying players.
But, neither one of these guys can say they have done their job as badly as the Tribune holdover, Crane Kenney. What exactly DOES he do? How is the Triangle building doing? How about the Great Wrigley Field reclamation? What great marketing angles have we exploited lately? When can we expect to watch the Cubs Network? When Jim Hendry sucks, who calls him on it? And if Hendry were to get fired, who would pick the next guy?
A corporate lawyer with no baseball background?
I want a baseball man put in Kenney's place. Someone who can evaluate Hendry fairly, and determine if he is the man or not. A new manager needs to be found. Do we do the popular thing and stick Ryno in there? Is Joe Girardi the guy? How about Bob Brenly or Alan Trammel? I heard Joe Torre mentioned? Who do you choose? They all have their own qualities.
There needs to be a organizational direction, which is developed and regulated by the President (the Kenney position), communicated throughout the competitive organization by the GM, and implemented on the field by the manager. Depending on that direction, it could be Brenly, Torre, Ryno, Girardi, the frozen head of Ted Williams...but we need a direction first, and Kenney is not the guy to set it.
The President needs to see the middling-to-slightly above average health of the farm system, as well as the capabilities of what I am calling the Core of the 2011 Cubs, the guys who will definitely be here.
Soriano, Byrd, Marmol, Dempster, Soto, Ramirez, Castro. Everyone else, even Zambrano, I could see a scenario where they may not be here next year. These seven individuals will be, and the direction starts with what we are going to surround these seven guys with.
I don't know if Hendry is or isn't that guy. I'd really like a real baseball man to evaluate what he has done. I don't like his results, myself, but then again, he hasn't had much to work with from above. That's the biggest question going forward for us.
FOR THE SEASON, Geovany Soto has the 12th-highest OPS in ALL of major league baseball, with a .293/.412/.516 line.
In 21 games since coming off the DL in late June, Aramis Ramirez is hitting.354/.393/.817. Yes, that's an .817 SLUGGING percentage.
In the month of July, Starlin Castro is hitting .362/.413/.552. He's sporting a .295 average on the season. How many 20-year olds have hit .300 in the history of MLB?
In the six games since the All-Star Break, Derrek Lee is hitting .423/.444/.692. It's one thing to get to face Phillies and Astros pitching; it's another to make something of the opportunity.
These four were the offensive stars in last night's game. Obviously, the headlines go to Aramis Ramirez, who hit three home runs and drove in seven runs. Just like that, Ramirez has 15 HR on the season, good for a .452 slugging percentage (only Soriano, Soto, Colvin and Byrd have better SLGs on the year). But Soto's game-tying home run, Castro's 3-for-5 with 2 R, 1 RBI, and an SB, Lee's 3 R and 3 RBI on a 2-for-4 night -- this is exciting stuff! I actually like playing the Astros again!
On the other side of the ball, Ryan Dempster did not pitch well last night, although allowing four earned runs in five innings pitched doesn't exactly constitute a meltdown. At the same time, he was extremely hittable (eight allowed), and couldn't strike anyone out (1 K, 4 BB).
Fortunately, our bullpen came through, pitching four shutout innings. Andrew Cashner took the 6th and 7th, Marshall handled the 8th, and Marmol pitched the 9th despite the team's seven-run lead. Marmol only got one K, but my favorite bullpen stat of the night: of 23 pitches thrown in the 6th, 7th, and 8th innings, 20 went for strikes.
I much prefer an Aramis Ramirez with two good thumbs to one with just one. One thumb bad, two thumbs good! For the record, we still oughta be sellers (and it does sound like Lilly and Theriot will be moved in the next seven days, while Fukudome, Nady and Lee are looking like longer shots). But maybe it'll be fun in the meantime!
Reader Blog: Week 15 awards: Cancel that shipment of new bats--these actually seem to be working now
It was a short week in the baseball world (and therefore a long week for fans). The Cubs were one Marmol-implosion away from a four-game sweep to begin the second half, and they've been a lot more fun to watch lately--they've scored 67 runs in their last 11 games. Even Roy Halladay had to bow down to the offensive juggernaut that is the Chicago Cubs. You are no match for our muscles and legendary hitting prowess, Roy.
Marlon Byrd may have had the best week of any Cub given the impact he had in the NL's first All-Star Game win in 14 years. And Joey Votto can freakin' suck it. Since when are the Cubs and Reds arch rivals? And it's the All-Star Game, Joey! I understand that fans have a tough time rooting for players they normally root against, but you really can't set that aside for a night and get into the spirit of things? Your team is in the playoff hunt and may need that home field advantage Byrd just earned you, you jackass. Your goal in the All-Star Game is to win the All-Star Game, and if Byrd helps you do that, you should feel free to congratulate him.
Ryno of the Week: This is hard, in a good way. (That's what she said.) Aramis Ramirez had five hits in the series and five RBI. Trevor Sierra, Brian Brennan and I were debating less than two weeks ago what Ramirez's average will be at season's end. He was in the .170s at the time, and we settled on .212 as the over/under. Eleven games later, he's up to .213.
Geovany Soto hit a home run to each side of the park in the series and had four hits overall. Soriano had a couple dingers and five hits. All four Cub starters posted a quality start.
But I'm going with Starlin Castro. He batted .600 in the series with two doubles, a triple and three runs scored, and also stole home.
Honorable mention: Randy Wells hasn't been the beneficiary of the Cubs' recent offensive improvement--they've scored just 11 runs in his last six starts. His last four have all been quality starts and his ERA has dropped nearly a point since late June.
Goat of the Week: Again, not easy. Even Ryan Theriot had three hits, but he was still just 3-for-17. Plus his overall .311 OBP just angers me.
Dishonorable mention: Carlos Marmol (though in Friday's appearance he was absolutely nasty in striking out Jayson Werth, Ryan Howard and Ben Francisco)
I agree with Goat Reader George's comment in the Shout Box: This is getting VERY interesting.
Last night, Tyler Colvin and Starlin Castro were slotted into the first two spots of the lineup, and responded by going 6-for-9 with three runs scored. In the second inning, they collaborated on an almost-double steal, bringing Colvin home from third after Castro's attempt at stealing second.
Indeed, their repeated ability to put the ball in play, and then run really fast towards first base, sparked the offense last night, as did Marlon Byrd's ability to get hit by a pitch -- Phillie starter Halladay plunked him twice, and both times he came around to score.
Speaking of pitching, kudos to Cub pitcher Tom Gorzelanny for posting another decent outing. Two earned runs, five hits, and five strikeouts in 6.2 innings counts for a good effort. The five walks given up aren't exactly helpful, but Tom managed to pitch around his mistakes and keep the team in the game.
Back to the Killer C's for another minute. Even the great Joe Morgan acknowledged these twerps' importance to the future of the franchise -- although, the only skill he could identify for either player was his speed. And it's true, Colvin and Castro are both fast. But I'll go ahead and help Joe out by pointing out the other superior skills had by these two that suggest they deserve more regular responsibility in this line-up. In both cases, it comes down to power.
Tyler Colvin is strong. He doesn't walk a lot, and he strikes out often. But when he does manage to make solid contact, the ball goes far. In fact, Colvin is among the Top 10 in the National League in isolated slugging (ISO), which essentially measures how often a player's base hits go for extras. Colvin's ISO is .255 for the season; for comparison, Alfonso Soriano's team-leading ISO is .272, Geovany Soto's is .212, and Ryan Theriot's is .034.
Starlin Castro's power is not his best skill (yet). It's not top three, really (glove, contact hitting, speed). But even at 20, he's shown line drive ability, with 12 doubles, four triples, and two home runs hit in 211 at-bats. He's not quite walking enough to be considered the ideal leadoff option yet, but on this team, he may already have shown himself to be the best one on the roster. (Corollary: Colvin is not the best leadoff option. He strikes out too often to lead off, and his power is wasted at the top of the order.)
As for tonight's game, the lineup I'd like to see would be: Castro, Soto, Byrd, Aramis, Colvin, Soriano, Lee, Theriot, Pitcher. Call me crazy.
In the meantime, go Cubs!
If you hear anyone suggest that anyone other than Roy Halladay is the best pitcher in the NL right now, don't believe them. The Cubs have a tough task tonight. Halladay does with his does by keeping the ball down and in the strike zone. Think of him as a much better version of Carlos Silva. He doesn't blaze fastballs at 98 MPH through the top half of the zone. He just doesn't walk anyone and he allows a ton of grounders when he's not racking up his 7.5 or so K's per nine. Plus he is extremely durable and likes to complete his games.
Tonight's Matchup: Roy Halladay (148IP, 2.19ERA, 2.95xFIP) vs Tom Gorzelanny (74IP, 3.19ERA, 3.93xFIP)
Halladay is leading the NL in xFIP and is second in the all of baseball in that category (There's an AL pitcher in first in that category, but he's extremely underrated so without looking up, I don't think you can guess who it is). Gorzelanny is no pushover, however, and given that he is basically the Cubs' 3rd or 4th starter (depending on your opinon of Carlos Silva), it says nice things about the Cubs' pitching staff. I've said it before, watch how many walks Gorz issues. If he can limit himself to 1 walk max per 3 IP, this is going to be a nice pitcher's duel. Otherwise, it will be another long Sunday night.
Who's Hot: It was suggested by one of my colleagues here at Goat Riders that Starlin Castro be sent back to Iowa on one of his patented "Do Something" posts. I for one think he will never see the minor leagues (except on an occasional injury rehab assignment) again in his career. Castro is hitting .333/.400/.556 in July and making a case for some rookie of the year votes. On top of that, he has shown all of us Cub fans what a real shortstop looks like and even has a steal of home. He's only 20 and his existence, if nothing else, on this team makes me very excited for the future.
Who's Not: I don't really have a problem playing Tyler Colvin over Kosuke Fukudome if the Cubs want to do that but I do think it's debateable whether or not Colvin is actually a better player than Kosuke right now. Colvin is hitting a pitiful .213/.275/.404 in the month of July and needs to, at the very least, be removed from the top of the order.
Conclusion: Tonight would be a big win for the Cubs, one of the biggest of the year. Beating Roy Halladay and winning the first series of the second half would be huge. I am still a believer that the Cubs can and should try to give a good showing in the second half. I acknowledge that losing will mean some good things also, like a draft pick, but I just can't root for my Cubs to lose and refuse to do that. Let's beat the Phillies tonight and remove the taste of Marmol's blowup yesterday.
the Cubs are set at shortstop pretty much through 2015 or so with Starlin Castro and they have a couple of other decent prospects coming up through the farm also. Essentially, there are four shorstops in the organization. They are Castro, Darwin Barney, Hak-Ju Lee and Junior Lake.
Major League Level: Starlin Castro (age 20): Yeah, he's the best prospect to come up for the Cubs since Mark Prior. Contact making shorstop with a decent glove. I expect him to hit something like .320 with 12 HR and come close to winning a gold glove in 2012 which is the beginning of what I think will be a very happy time for all Cub fans.
AAA: Darwin Barney (age 24): Not great at anything with the bat but not terrible either. Has enough glove to play shortstop. At 25 in 2011, I see him as a perfect choice to replace Ryan Theriot and be the utility man on the team. He's playing for Sandberg right now and I bet Ryno likes him. Should never be a starter in the majors (except for a short term period) but he'd be fine as a bench player.
AA: Marwin Gonzalez (age 21): Well, he's young but he really can't hit and I'm not thrilled with his defensive numbers at shorstop in the minors. I think his upside is, well, Double A shortstop.
High A: Junior Lake (age 20): Lake is 20 so he also is young like Gonzalez. I don't know, even though Lake also has middling offensive numbers, he just seems like more of a prospect than Marwin Gonzalez. I see Lake is being an Alex Gonzalez (of the Blue Jays currently) type shortstop with OK power and very low batting average and OBP. He also could figure in the second base sweepstakes.
A: Hak-Ju Lee (age 19): Lee has tons of potential. He has a very flashy glove and a solid left handed bat. He makes ok contact and draws a decent number of walks. He is going start giving the Cubs a very difficult problem after the 2012 season. I think he has two more years in the minors before he starts knocking on the door of Wrigley Field.
SS: Arismendy Alcantara (age 18): I touched on him briefly in the 3b section. Alcantara has a great name but we really don't know much more about him. He's young, very small, a switch hitter and fast. That is all I know about him right now. I guess we'll have to wait until we see more from him in Peoria next year.
SS: Wes Darvil (age 18): Playing both shortstop and second base at Boise. He was a 5th round draft pick in 2009 and he has had just 196 plate appearances as a pro. I'm interested to see whom among Darvil and Alcantara, the Cubs feel is going to be the shortstop both this year in Boise and moving forward. Darvil is a left handed hitter. He's 6'2" and he has only one extra base hit as a pro. Kind of like D.J. LeMahieu, the Cubs appear to be hoping he will grow into his frame and start hitting for power.
Rookie: Elliot Soto (age 20): He's 20 years old and was a 15th round draft pick in this year's draft out of Carpentersville, IL and then Creighton. Given his age, which is old for rookie league, he is going to have to dominate and move fast if he wants to be a factor with the Cubs someday. He's also a candidate to be the starting shortstop at Peoria next year.
Conclusion: The Cubs are in very good shape at this position. Not only do they have Castro in the big leagues, but they have a ready made utility player in Barney along with another potential star in Lee. Add to that Lake, who I think could also make a decent player someday and the Cubs will not have to worry about adding a player at this positon for at least the next six (Castro) to potentially nine (Lee) years.