Starlin Castro and 200 hits in season

Starlin Castro sits at 192 hits entering today’s games. There are 13 games remaining this season and there seems a good chance he ends up with 200 hits. That’s a big number and one that is often talked about. If you get 200 hits, you supposedly are a great hitter. Certainly, at Castro’s age, doing it is quite impressive, but where does it rank in the history books?

If we look only at the Cubs for starters we find that Starlin Castro’s 192 hits currently ranks 3rd among players 23 and under. Only 2 players 23 or younger have had more hits in a season than Castro has at age 21. In 1932, 22 year old Billy Herman had 206 hits. 23 year old Augie Galen had 203 hits in 1935. Then there’s Castro and after him is 23 year old Ron Santo (187), 22 year old Hugh Duffy (182) and in 6th is the young 23 year old Rafael Palmeiro with 178 hits in 1988.

Plate appearances obviously matter and we find that Herman had 728 of them while Galen had 748. Both of those led the league. Castro has 656 plate appearances to date. He’ll likely finish just over 700.

As you can hopefully tell, no player Castro’s age or younger has had more hits in a single season. The closest to Castro is 21 year old Ron Santo with 164 hits (655 PA). Phil Cavaretta in 1935, at the age of 18, had 162 hits. Castro is far away the leader at his age and it’s not even close.

If Castro plays every game te rest of the way and gets about 4.5 plate appearance per game, he’ll finish the season with 715 plate appearances. Using his current 4.4% walk rate, that’s 56 at-bats the rest of the way. This means he’d have to hit only .143 to get to 200 hits. That’s possible of course, but more likely is that he gets more than 200 hits. In order to tie Herman for the most hits in a season by a Cubs player 23 or under, he’d have to hit only .250. That’s more than reasonable if he plays every game. If he bats his career average of .305 he’d end up with 209 hits. ZiPS projects .300 the rest of the way he’d also end the season with 209 hits.

But what exactly does 200 hits mean other than it being a milestone? Castro doesn’t walk much at all so much of his value is in his batting average. Remember that he was 3rd among 23 and under players in hits? Among players who qualified for a batting title in a Cubs uniform and were 23 and under, Castro’s 110 OPS+ ranks 32nd. Not that it isn’t impressive because it is. Reducing the age to 22 and under, Castro then ranks 12th so a lot of those ahead of him were 2 years older. For 21 and under players Castro’s 2011 ranks 5th andh is 2010 ranks 12th (out of 19).

That 19 is perhaps the most impressive number of all. Only 19 players 21 and under have qualified for a batting title in a Cubs uniform. That goes all the way back to 1876 and several of the player on the list are there more than once. Cavaretta is on it 4 times. Only 14 players in a Cubs uniform have ever qualified for a batting title (21 and under).

There have been 388 seasons since 1947 in which an MLB player has qualfied for the batting title when they were 21 or under. Castro is currently tied at 16th in hits with Orlando Cepeda and is one behind Ted Williams. If he finishes the season with the 209 hits we used above, he’d finish tied for 5th Denny Lyons. In 3rd is Ty Cobb with 212 hits so if Castro gets hot and plays every game he could end the season with that many hits. Above Cobb is 1996 Alex Rodriguez with 215 hits so that’s going to take a very hot Castro the rest of the way. Lloyd Waner’s 223 hits at the age of 21 in 1927 is tops for that age group. All Castro would have to do between now and the end of the season to tie Waner is bat .554. Unless he goes cold he’ll finish in the top 10.

Castro’s 110 OPS+ pales in comparison to the 167 that Cobb posted or the 160 that A-Rod posted. However, Lloyd Waner’s OPS+ was the same as Castro’s right now. Of those 388 seasons, Castro’s OPS+ this season ranks 144th. Oddly enough, he’s tied at 110 with Gary Templeton. For those who remember, Bryan Smith used Templeton as a comparable player prior to last season (two parts) to project what Castro would do at the MLB level.

What Castro has done at such a young age is really impressive. He’s likely to reach what is considered a huge milestone at the age of 21 (there’s hit number 193 right there!). However, when you incorporate other aspects of batting, he falls back a bit, but still well above average.