One thing that has puzzled me about Dale Sveum since the beginning of his tenure with the Chicago Cubs is that chip he seems to have on his shoulder for Starlin Castro. Specifically, the eagerness Sveum seems to have to toss Castro under the proverbial bus when he speaks about him to the media. What’s most puzzling about this is the lenghts to which Sveum has gone to defend the likes of Carlos Marmol and Anthony Rizzo, even when they’ve been as bad or worse than Castro.
First, let’s take a look at how each player has fared at the plate this season:
Castro: .240/ .276/ .340/ .615
Rizzo: .228/ .321 /.422 /.743
While Rizzo is getting on-base more and has a more pop, neither line is one you want to see from young players, both of whom have proven they’re capable of much more than their current numbers.
As I feared, the pressure, benchings, and general malaise on the North Side has started to get to Castro.
Castro’s declining status is the latest in a series of setbacks for the two-time National League All-Star shortstop, who was pulled in the middle of Saturday’s game for a lapse against the Cardinals before a national television audience.
“Keep working,” Castro, 23, said going hitless in four at-bats as his batting average sank to .240 “It’s the only thing I can find.
“That’s part of the game. I don’t like it there. We’ll see if I stay there for the end of the month. But I’ll keep working.”
Castro, who has one home run and three RBIs in the second half, missed an opportunity to improve his standing when he flied to right with Donnie Murphy at third for the final out of the second inning.
And what does Dale have to say about all this?
“We’re all in this together, but I don’t care who you are,” manager Dale Sveum said before the Cubs lost to the Nationals 4-2. “The bottom line is the player and the production coming from him. And the adjustments they have to make, whether they’re suggested from myself or (hitting coach) James Rowson or defensively from (coach) David Bell, whatever. It’s still up to the player to apply what you have to talk about.”
Take a second and Google “Dale Sveum” and “Starlin Castro.” The page is rife with stories, dating back the entire season, that talk about Sveum putting Castro “on notice” and threatening him with benchings if his play didn’t improve. And then this from yesterday:
“It’s just gotten to the point where [Donnie Murphy's] obviously doing his thing, [Darwin Barney], I really like the way he’s been handling the bat and doing things and put him in the two-hole. Right now, obviously, things aren’t going really well [for Castro] swinging the bat.
“[Welington Castillo's] been having great at-bats. Obviously getting [Brian Bogusevic's] left-handed bat in there, you don’t want to put that in the eight-hole. So it’s just one of those things right now, where it’s just the only fit.”
Castro is a career .285 hitter who’s batted just .242 this year in his least productive season since he debuted in 2010. In each of his previous three seasons, he hit at least .283.
Now let’s take a look at what Dale h as to say about Anthony Rizzo, who, by all accounts, has had a rotten August (OPSing just .522 with a .225 OBP this month).
Manager Dale Sveum said it was fair to say Rizzo’s season has been more of a “road bump” than a “setback” and that it’s something plenty of young players experience over the course of their early career.
“They’re all going to look back and want to throw one year out of their career and, unfortunately, it’ll probably be this one [for Rizzo],” Sveum said. “These guys, they’re young, and it’s their second time around in the big leagues, their second year sometimes and it just takes some adjustments and some confidence, too. Confidence is obviously the key factor. The confidence is always going to show up on the field.”
By the way, Anthony Rizzo is a year older than Starlin Castro.
Funny, during all of this, I haven’t heard Sveum criticize his hitting coaches even once. Considering the Cubs, as a team, are 28th in the majors in batting average and in on-base percentage, maybe that’s a good place to start. Gerald Perry got fired for a lot less than this.
Look, I know Castro can be maddening. I know that he makes boneheaded plays and makes fans want to put their fist through a wall. I know that he has failed to live up to the (probably unfair) expectations that fans have had for him. But let’s keep in mind that this is a 23-year old kid. I’ve been spending part of my morning thinking back to what I was like when I was 23-year old law clerk. I was unsure of myself and terrified of making a mistake. The more I worried about making mistakes, the more mistakes I made. It was a vicious cycle that had me living in fear of going to work until I was much older and much more sure of myself.
Imagine yourself at 23. You’re in your first job, and you’ve made some boneheaded mistakes. As a result, you have a boss who doesn’t quite trust you, is clearly annoyed with you most of time, and has no problem telling anyone who asks that you need to get your shit together and improve your performance, or you’ll find yourself out of job.
Now imagine that your job performance, each day, is written up all over the internet for the world to see. Oh, and on top of that, you keep hearing about how amazing this young kid is, who wants your job. Did I mention that this kid has the exact same job you do? To make matters worse, the only co-worker you looked up to, the one who calmed your fears, gave you advice, and took you under his wing, has been transferred to another branch of your company.
Now get in there and impress everyone.
Sure, you can say that Castro gets paid a ton of money and he needs to put on his big boy pants and play. But none of these guys play baseball in a vacuum. And frankly, if you’re one of those fans who felt sad for Kim DeJesus because she’s fun on Twitter yet rags on Starlin Castro every time he makes a mistake, you need to re-examine your priorities.
Despite some reports today, I’m told the Cubs have not given up on Starlin and still consider him a big part of their future. I really hope that’s true.