I’m sitting at Wrigley Field and it’s freezing.
It’s the opener of a three-game set against the defending World Series champions and the teams are about to take the field. I have a hot dog in one hand, in the other an icy beer. Both hands are numb. I’m still recovering from an episode on the way into the stadium where a giant gust of wind knocked my Yankees hat off and sent it flying down the road. I chased it about 100 feet and was met with ridicule. A cop stopped it with his foot, handed it to me, and responded, “Welcome to the Windy City, pal.”
Then, a little warmth from Chicago.
This game marked the much anticipated return of Starlin Castro to Wrigley Field, and the Cubs didn’t disappoint. On the big screen appeared a fun and heartfelt tribute to Castro from his former team and fanbase. I couldn’t help feeling bad for him. He left a city where he was beloved and missed out on the historic World Series victory. Plus, he now plays a different position in a town that spends more time drooling over the prospects that will one day replace him than appreciating his contributions.
Starlin gets a warm welcome back with his signature round of applause. #ThatsCub pic.twitter.com/fbvC2ED78B— Chicago Cubs (@Cubs) May 5, 2017
That’s the curious case of Castro: is he a star or just a placeholder? When he came up with the Cubs in 2010, he was the guy. Here came a homegrown talent with a vibrant personality and two All-Star appearances in his first three years. A dud year in 2013 was quickly followed by the strongest offensive season of his young career and a return the All-Star Game. That’s when things started to fizzle. In 2015, another sluggish performance, and a move from short to second in favor Addison Russell, led to Castro’s trade to the Yankees.
Things didn’t start off on the right foot in New York, either. Castro didn’t exactly have a banner year, but his 2016 was nothing to scoff at. He batted .270/.300/.433 with a 94 wRC+. Those numbers won’t blow you away, but for a fan base coming off a 2015 that saw Stephen Drew hit 201/.271/.381 with a 76 wRC+, this was a major improvement. The brightest spot for Castro in 2016 was his power output, having launched a career-high 21 home runs.
Castro in 2017, however, is a different beast. Through 68 games, he is batting .322/.359/.507 with a 130 wRC+. All of these stats are career bests. He is also on pace to eclipse his career-high in home runs, as he currently sits at 12. Among second baseman this year, he ranks 3rd in batting average, 6th in on-base percentage, 4th in slugging, 3rd in wRC+, and 2nd in home runs. That’s good enough to earn him the second most All-Star votes in the American League at the keystone position, according to the latest poll.
Despite the major uptick in offensive production, Castro is plagued by some of the issues he’s dealt with his whole career:
He has always had some issues with the leather. During his eight seasons, including 2017, only three have produced a positive UZR. His 2011 was especially bad, ending the season at -7.5. In 2016, he was slightly above the league average at 0.2 UZR, but 2017’s -3.1 ranks 24th among second basemen. That’s not great.
Let’s call it what it is, he makes some boneheaded decisions on the basepaths. He has never ended a season with a positive BsR. So far in 2017, his -0.1 ranks 12th among second basemen. That is also not great.
Castro doesn’t walk often. He’s remained well below the league average with a career walk rate of 4.8%. That is wildly low. In 2017, his 5.1% ranks 17th among second basemen. This is another example of something that’s not great.
Castro has turned it around in 2017, but Yankees fans have yet to embrace him. There is definite appreciation for his contributions, but not the same admiration that Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez, or Didi Gregorius receive. Even Greg Bird, who’s basically been out since 2015, is more widely beloved by Yankees fans.
Based on WAR alone, we should be ecstatic with his performance this year. His 1.9 ranks 4th in the league among second basemen and he has been a constant force at the plate. But, something still holds him back in the eyes of fans. Maybe it’s the poor defense, the walks, or the baserunning. Maybe it’s the threat of inconsistency. Or maybe it’s just the allure of prospects at the ready.
Whatever the reason, Castro has yet to feel the warmth in New York City that he felt in Chicago. But, that fact notwithstanding, he has been one of the best second basemen in the league this year. Coming into the halfway point, he’s given the Yankees an All-Star performance. If he can keep this up in the second half and helps to push the team into the playoffs, those cold hearts are destined to warm up. One thing wins above all else in the Bronx: winning.