It's been a rough couple of days for Cubs shortstop Starlin Castro on the base paths. In a game against the Reds on Wednesday he hit a long ball to center field with Javier Baez on second and the Cubs down 6-4. This is the play:
This shows Castro's reaction to the hit:
Castro was admiring his hit and not exactly speeding toward first, and by the time he realized it was staying in the park, he had to settle for what Cubs broadcaster Len Kasper called a "long single." In this case, as the potential game-tying run, a solid argument could be made Castro needed to hustle more.
This elicited this tweet from CSNChicago's David Kaplan:
I'm serious. That garbage can't be tolerated! Anyone who defends Castro on that play is nuts. Send a **** message BS won't be tolerated!— David Kaplan (@thekapman) August 28, 2014
Two days later this play occurred Friday's game against the Cardinals:
Kaplan chimed in again:
I'm shaking my head wondering where the heck Castro learned to run bases! Quit watching the ball and pick up your coach! #atleasthehustled— David Kaplan (@thekapman) August 30, 2014
These are the type of head-scratcher plays that drive fans insane, and we have a tendency to accentuate (or at least remember) the negative and forget the positive. My purpose isn't to defend Castro on either play but to place them in context and attempt to balance his base running mistakes with his base running accomplishments.
There's a section of Baseball-Reference which breaks down and quantifies a player's base running skills. I'll concentrate on three -- reaching base on an error (ROE), advancing a base on an out (BT) and advancing an extra base on a hit. Regarding ROE, these are the players with the highest percentage of reaching base on an error this year (minimum 400 PA):
|Dayan Viciedo||White Sox||476||8||1.7%|
|Jose Reyes||Blue Jays||536||9||1.7%|
|Melky Cabrera||Blue Jays||597||10||1.7%|
|Jose Abreu||White Sox||512||8||1.6%|
Naturally, faster players will tend toward the top of this list, but there are players not necessarily thought of as speed guys such as Derek Jeter, Dayan Viciedo and Jose Abreu. There are 164 players that meet the criteria, and Castro ranks . . . tied for 141st, reaching base on an error twice, or in .4 percent of his plate appearances. A solid argument can be made he should be able to do this more often.
B-R defines a base taken (BT) as advancing on a fly ball, passed ball, wild pitch, balk or defensive indifference. The leaders this year are:
|Melky Cabrera||Blue Jays||21|
|Jose Reyes||Blue Jays||20|
|Brock Holt||Red Sox||20|
Castro has advanced on an out eleven times, tied for 85th. This places him near the middle of the pack, but still, the players on this list are not necessarily thought of as the speed merchants. Advancing on outs is as much a function of getting a good jump, knowing the capabilities of the defender and being able to quickly assess the risk/reward ratio of attempting to move ahead. In short, advancing on outs happens as much between the ears as with the legs.
Taking an extra base on hits is also important, going from first to third on a single, scoring from first on a double and scoring from second on a single. It's not always in a base runner's control, since where and how far the ball is hit plays a large role in how far a runner can advance. This is how Castro has performed compared to the rest of the league:
On 1st, single hit
|Advance to 2nd||23||2908|
|Advance to 3rd||1 (4.2%)||1221 (29.6%)|
On 1st, double hit
|Advance to 3rd||4||686|
|Score||1 (20.0%)||485 (41.4%)|
On 2nd, single hit
|Advance to 3rd||6||962|
|Score||10 (62.5%)||1512 (61.1%)|
There are obviously sample size issues, but compared to the rest of the league as well as previous seasons, Castro isn't taking extra bases on hits like he used to.
It appears Castro isn't a dynamo on the base paths, but I've only emphasized the negative aspects without acknowledging the positive outcomes. B-R measures another facet, the number of times a player is thrown out on the bases, like Castro was in the Cardinals game -- including that one, he's been thrown out on the bases three times. A cynic could argue this is a marker of his lack of base running skill; he's not being thrown out because he's not even trying, and I won't dismiss that argument out of hand. Or, one can balance those three times being thrown out on base with the twenty-five instances (2 ROE, 11 BT, 12 extra bases taken) in which he took an extra base. In other words, Starlin Castro has had a positive impact on the base paths over eight times as often as a negative one.
Take a closer look at the play in which Castro was thrown out at third:
Leave aside the risk/reward of stretching a double to a triple (seen by reviewing the Tom Tango Run Expectancy Matrix) and consider that everything had to go right for the Cardinals to throw Castro out. In this case it did -- Matt Holliday recovered the ball that got by Jon Jay on a quirky bounce, made a good relay to Jhonny Peralta, who made an outstanding throw to Matt Carpenter, who applied the tag with what appears to be about .01 seconds to spare. If any of these four steps is off by even a minute fraction of a second, Castro is being applauded for showing hustle. It's a knife-edge line between success and failure sometimes.
I created a Mistake Index to measure gaffes that occur in each and every game. It's impossible to eliminate mistakes, but we don't have to focus attention on them and overlook the positive outcomes. For the most part, I share David Kaplan's feelings, especially regarding the event in the Reds game. It's important to look at both sides -- if we're going to accentuate the negative, we might as well acknowledge the positive as well.
Now, about Castro's pickoff in Saturday's game . . .
Scott Lindholm lives in Davenport, IA. Follow him on Twitter @ScottLindholm.