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This has nothing to do with talent, as Castro has as much of it as anyone in baseball. This comes down too mind frame and plate approach. In my mind, Starlin Castro is as good a 2 hitter around. He’s going to make solid contact, can drive a ball into the gaps, will hit a few homers, and is the perfect hit and run candidate because he doesn’t strike out much. There’s a mindframe and specific approach for a 2 hitter and it’s just that. When you move from that spot to 5, you’re now a run producer. Your swing is going to be longer, bigger, and more powerful, making you prone to strike outs, pop outs, and weak ground balls. It also can make you prone to opening up the strike zone more. Obviously, you have to be a certain kind of hitter to hit 3-4-5 in the big leagues, but can you honestly say Starlin Castro is a 5 hitter? I can’t. — Random article I saw on the Yardbarket widget
Ignoring the fact that hitters don't change their approach with different lineup spots, is Starlin Castro really a good number 2 hitter? It obviously depends on the team's offensive players, but is Castro "as good a 2 hitter around"? What is a 2 hitter? To this guy it's some old school shit that Dusty Baker would be proud of.
Let's consult The Book.
Leadoff: OBP is the most important part of leading off and they bat more than anyone else on the team.. They come to plate with runners on base less frequently (by a wide margin) than any other lineup spot. As a result, home runs tend to be wasted in this spot. Speed isn't as important in this spot as many think. Speed is most valuable in front of batters who hit a lot of singles. Stealing 2nd in front of a singles hitter can result in a run. Stealing 2nd in front of a power hitter doesn't really help as much. A runner on 1st in front of a power hitter is in scoring position. The leadoff hitter is also among the top 3 hitters.
Starlin Castro doesn't have great power, but he does have some. He has a .302 OBP this season and a projected .327 OBP the rest of the way. Since OBP is king in this spot, we can safely eliminate Castro from leading off.
Keep in mind that I'm talking about an average team, which the 2012 Cubs are not. We'll look at Castro's lineup spot with regards to his current team later on, but for now we're talking about an average lineup.
2nd hitter: The number 2 hitter should be better than the number 3 hitter because he comes to bat in situations as important as the number 3 hitter and as a result of batting 2nd he has more plate appearances. Because he'll bat with the bases empty frequently, OBP is still very important in this spot.
Since OBP is so important in this spot it also doesn't feel like it's the right one for Castro.
3rd hitter: Teams typically put their best hitter in the 3rd spot even though he has more plate appearances with fewer runners on base than either of the two spots after him. This guy bats with 2 outs and nobody on base often enough that the number 3 hitter is overrated. You fill this spot in the lineup after you fill the other spots in the top 5 are taken.
4th hitter: The cleanup hitter bats in the most important situations in the lineup. Since the number 2 hitters has more plate appearances the overall importance of the two spots is equal. OBP was more important in the 2nd spot since he bats more frequently and power is more important in the 4 spot since there are more runners on base.
This is not Castro.
5th hitter: The number 5 hitter isn't as important as the 1, 2 and 4 spots in the lineup, but is more important than the number 3 spot. He bats with runners on base more often and can provide more value becasue of it.
If we're using The Book to set up our optimized lineup, this is the 4th spot we fill and then we come back to the 3rd spot. Because the 5 hitter can provide more value on most events other than home runs compared to the 3 hitter, this seems like an ideal spot for Castro. He doesn't have the power to hit 3rd, doesn't have the OBP skills to bat 1st or 2nd and isn't going to be the best hitter on too many teams. He will likely be among the 5 best on most teams so this is where we'd put him.
The 6 through 8 hitters should be slotted with the best remaining hitter 6th, next best 7th, and so on. On a great offense it's entirely possible Castro would be batting in one of these 3 spots if the lineup was optimized.
If we're talking about the 2008 Cubs, it's probable that Castro would be hitting lower than 5th. That team had Derrek Lee, Aramis Ramirez, Alfonso Soriano, Geovany Soto and Jim Edmonds that would have filled out the top 5 spots. Then they had Mark DeRosa. The final two spots in 2008 went to Kosuke Fukudome and Ryan Theriot, but we're replacing Theriot with Castro in our imaginary 2008 Cubs lineup. Castro and Fukudome probably would have platooned at the 7th and 8th spots in our optimized imaginary lineup. Castro would have batted 7th against lefties with Fukudome 8th. Against righties it would have been the opposite.
That team was loaded in offensive talent and the 2012 Cubs are not. The 2008 Cubs had offensive talent to share while the 2012 Cubs offense takes to the streets on off days begging for help. The 3 best hitters on this team are Anthony Rizzo, Alfonso Soriano and then you'd have either David DeJesus, Bryan LaHair or Starlin Castro. Those would be the top 5 hitters ignoring any platoons.
DeJesus has no power, but gets on base so he's the obvious leadoff guy. The 2nd and 4th hitters are your two best hitters, but power is more important in the cleanup spot than it is the 2nd spot. The two best hitters are probably Soriano and Rizzo and both have power. Soriano isn't that good at getting on base so I'd put Rizzo 2nd and Soriano 4th. Out of the 3rd and 5th spots, which are roughly equal in value, you'd want the guy with more home runs in the 3rd spot and the guy who hits more singles, doubles and triples batting 5th. LaHair bats 3rd and Castro 5th.
Castro has been misused at the top of the order for some time now and it's nice that he's finally been slotted down where it's more appropriate for him to hit. If the offense gets better he should be moved down further, but for now the 5th spot is about as ideal a spot in the lineup for him on this team as there is.