First Pitch: A Good Shortstop is Extremely Hard to Find

Earlier today a rumor came out that the Chicago Cubs were shopping everyone on their roster, with the exception of Jeff Samardzija. That immediately led to every Pirates fan (and probably every fan of every other team) asking what it would take to get Starlin Castro. That’s all moot, as Theo Epstein mentioned that Castro won’t be traded. It did provide the second example I saw today of how people don’t appreciate the value of a good shortstop.

I was asked if I would deal Gerrit Cole and Starling Marte for Castro. I was also asked if I would deal James McDonald straight up. My answer was yes in each case, although I’m not sure that would get the same response from the Cubs.

My answers drew some shock on Twitter, with several people questioning dealing Cole. It was pointed out that Cole has number one upside, and that the Pirates can’t go out and get one of those through any other means than the draft. That’s true, but the same is true for a shortstop like Castro. In fact, I’d say it’s harder to get a top shortstop than it is to get an ace pitcher. To get an idea of how good Castro is, let’s take a look at the leaderboards this year.

This year Castro is hitting for a .773 OPS. Out of 25 qualified shortstops, only eight have an OPS over .750. Only four others have an OPS over .700. Half of the qualified shortstops in the league have an OPS under .700.

Last year the offensive numbers were similar. Out of 27 shortstops with 400 plate appearances or better, nine had an OPS of .750 or better. Six more were over .700.

Defensively, Castro has an 11.6 UZR/150 this year. I don’t like focusing on single season UZR totals that much, as I feel it’s like batting average. A guy can hit .300 one year, but that doesn’t make him a .300 hitter. He becomes a .300 hitter when he does that consistently throughout his career. Castro hasn’t had the best defense in the past, so there’s a chance this could be a fluke.

Only 11 of the qualified shortstops this year have a UZR/150 over 0.4. Only six are above 10.0. Last year there were only four qualified shortstops with a UZR/150 over 10.0, and only eight others who were 1.0 or better.

Castro is only 22, has put up consistently strong offensive numbers, and is putting up good defense this year, although it’s an area where he’s struggled in the past. That’s not a bad thing though. Jose Reyes has struggled with his fielding throughout his career. That’s not the only similarity they share, as Castro has a career .767 OPS, while Reyes is at .777 for his career.

It’s extremely rare to have a shortstop who is good defensively, and good at the plate. Looking at the combined numbers from 2010 through 2012, there are only five shortstops who have put up a .700+ OPS and a 1.0 UZR/150 or better. Those shortstops are Troy Tulowitzki, J.J. Hardy, Stephen Drew, Alexei Ramirez, and Yunel Escobar.

Lately I’ve noticed that people don’t really know the value of the shortstop position, or realize how difficult the position is to fill. We hear the negative talk about Deven Marrero, who profiles as a plus defender who doesn’t hit as much. Considering that most starting shortstops only do one or the other, that’s not bad. As I pointed out in my draft rankings, I’d rather go for a guy like Albert Almora if he fell to the Pirates, but Marrero wouldn’t be the worst pick in the world. Marrero isn’t going to be a Troy Tulowitzki or a J.J. Hardy, but that doesn’t mean he wouldn’t be a valuable shortstop in the majors.

Then there’s Castro. I highlighted him above, but to get to those trade discussions. They’re useless since Castro won’t be traded, but the discussion of value is important. I don’t want to say that Castro’s 2012 defensive numbers are legit, but he can handle the position to the point where he’s not an embarrassment defensively. He combines that with good offense for a shortstop. If his 2012 defense does end up being legit, he’ll be one of the top shortstops in the game.

People didn’t like my idea of dealing Cole and Marte for Castro. But you have to consider a few things. First, Cole and Marte have a lot of upside, but they’re unproven. Castro is established as a very good shortstop already, and is young enough that he could make the jump to elite status. If you want an impact player like that, you’ve got to give up a top prospect. Second, if you don’t give up a top prospect, some other team will. Castro is the type of guy who would draw attention from almost every team. That’s a situation where you either pay up, or you don’t get him.

Again, that’s all useless discussion since Castro isn’t actually on the block. But the Castro discussion today, plus the constant Marrero discussion, reminded me of how out of touch people are when it comes to shortstops. The Pirates haven’t had a good shortstop for a while, and don’t have a standout prospect in the minors (unless you think Alen Hanson can stay at the position). That’s viewed harshly in Pittsburgh, but then when there is talk of pursuing a shortstop (drafting Marrero, big trade return for Castro), people balk at the high price.

The reality of the shortstop position is that it’s the hardest position to fill, and it’s extremely hard to get a player at the position who can hit AND play defense. And based on the reactions to potentially drafting Marrero, giving a big return for Castro, or just the overall reactions to the shortstop depth in the system, it seems that Pirates fans are missing that reality.

Links and Notes

**The Pirates were off today.

**Prospect Watch: Tony Sanchez is on a hot streak.

**My tiered rankings of the top 100 draft prospects.

**Jonathan Mayo has Max Fried going to the Pirates in his latest mock draft.

**Draft notes on Deven Marrero, Mike Zunino, and Joe DeCarlo.

**The Pirates released Nate McLouth.

**Clint Barmes is disappointed in his early season struggles.

About Tim Williams

Tim is the owner and editor in chief of Pirates Prospects. He is a credentialed media member with every team in the Pirates’ system, including the Pirates themselves. He’s a regular guest on Extra Innings on 104.7, and makes regular appearances on ESPN 970, 93.7 The Fan, and TribLIVE Radio in Pittsburgh, as well as ESPN 1430 in Altoona and ESPN 1450 in State College.
  • Anonymous

    Even if he’s good the rest of this year doesn’t mean he will do it next year too, as we have seen in the past. Being a Pirate fan we have to knock on wood or cross our fingers every time we think we have a winner. Just think if McDonald is the real deal and we trade for a good pitcher in the off-season. We could start out next year with the makings of a decent rotation and BP………..Knock ……..Knock……..Knock.

  • Anonymous

    Yes, we all remember Duke lighting it up in his rookie season or Karstens almost throwing a no-no in his debut. The nice thing thought is that McDonald has better stuff than either of them, which at least gives me hope he can sustain it over the long haul.

  • Anonymous

    Its funny how everyone remembers something that did not happen. Not to pick on you Scott but you are one of many people who have said about Karstens near no-no debut. Funny thing his debut wasn’t really that close to a no-no.

    On August 1, 2008 Karstens started his first game as a Pirates, his line:

    6 IP, 5 H, 4 BB, 2 SO, 0 R, 0 ER

    6 shutout innings is a good start but no where near a no hitter. By the way he lost his no hit bid to the first batter of the third inning.

    • Anonymous

      i think it was Kartstens 2nd or 3rd start that he took the No Hitter into the 7th or 8th?

    • Anonymous

      Burgh fan, no offense and do not feel picked on.

      Indeed, I stand corrected. It was his second start with the Bucs when he went into the 8th inning with a perfect game bid and finished with a two hitter. – http://sports.yahoo.com/mlb/boxscore;_ylt=As3Rk5.7LTiG6LMy9Y6jRMKFCLcF?gid=280806129

      That being said, the overall point was about early impressions: How they stir and excitement, yet also bring out the skeptics who have seen positive early impressions before from Pirates pitchers.

      BTW, color me an optomist when its comes to McDonald.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Steve-Dimmick/100000318490900 Steve Dimmick

    no way i would deal both cole and marte…perhaps cole and another higher prospect, but he’s really the only hitter they have until bell shows up that will impact the club very much….they got a bunch of good guys in WV, cole and one of them could do it, of course, maybe Presley would do it too?

  • CWPCWP

    Tim,

    Nice write-up, but I disagree. I’d much rather have the service years of control in a season where the Pirates are likely to compete, as opposed to trading for Castro now and having the years of control during 2012 (in which they are not competing) and 2013 (in which they may or may not compete). I’ll trade 2017/2018 for 2012/2013 every time, especially knowing what we know about the 2012 and 2013 teams.

    I also think there is 0 chance Castro would resign with us after his service time is up. His walk rate also scares me.

  • RAS TN

    Tim, Question in your opinion how does Marrero compare to Machado from a few years back….?

    • http://www.piratesprospects.com Tim Williams

      Machado has a much better bat, but seems like a pretty good bet to eventually move to third base.

  • Matt Beam

    Jed Lowrie, like most of the Astros, is supposedly available. He’s eligible for free agency after 2014. What might it take for the pirates to acquire him (assuming prospects) and would it make sense to you if a reasonable trade could be arranged?

    • Kevin_Creagh

      Right now, we’re working on an update of sorts to the Prospect Trade Surplus work of Victor Wang (should be out mid-June).

      If you believe Lowrie is a true 2.5 WAR (I’m a little skeptical), let’s put him at 7 WAR from now until the end of 2014. He’s arb eligible in 2013-14 and will probably make $3.5M and $5.5M in salaries those two years. $35M of WAR – $9M of contract = $26M

      In terms of a hitter, that’s one #11-25 hitter by BA’s Top 100. Or a Top 10 pitcher plus a #76-100. In that combination, that’s Cole and Marte. Or Taillon and Marte.

      As much as the Pirates need a quality SS, I wouldn’t give those two guys up for Lowrie. That shows you how valuable it is to develop your own SS.

      • Matt Beam

        Wow, was hoping it might be more like Marte and Owens so agree with you about not giving that up for 2.5 years

  • http://www.facebook.com/paul.housley.7 Paul Housley

    Dejan Kovacevic reports – there’s no chance that the team will take Deven Marrero.

    http://www.bucsdugout.com/2012/5/31/3055043/i-dont-have-a-firm-name-yet-the-only-thing-i-can-share-that-ive-heard#comments

    Mayo – #13

    BA – #13

    Law – #7

    “On the flip side, if Marrero can’t hit, then he doesn’t have much value,
    as no-bat, strong defensive shortstops can be found much cheaper than
    the cost of a first round pick.”

    http://www.piratesprospects.com/deven-marrero

  • Lee Young

    I am not a fan of Marrero, but if he can become another Jack Wilson, I would take him in a heartbeat. I miss Jack Flash.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Richard-YaZhynka/100000448392567 Richard Ya’Zhynka

    If I were starting an expansion team and I were given the right to draft one major league player, it would be SS Troy Tulowitzki. Excellent defense and a .900 OPS at a position where most teams are lucky to get .700.

  • leadoff

    I think the SS position is a little down right now in Pittsburgh, but not critical enough to give away the farm for Castro, it is still a very strong position defensively on the major league level. They tried to get Alonso from the Reds over the winter, but had nothing to offer the Reds that would get him, that includes one of the best they have in the minor leagues right now. Barmes is the answer, he will hit enough for this team and if the Pirates are in contention in August or Sept. they will need a strong SS.
    As far as Castro is concerned, I am not sold on him yet, the Cubs seem to bring guys up and they go crazy for a while then they go away, guys like Soto, Barmol. IMO, Castro gets a lot of lucky hits, but he is very athletic.

  • john.alcorn

    I’m with you Tim, I think its more a case of overrating your own guys rather than any knock on Castro. An almost sure thing 4-5 win (or better, he’s just 22) SS for 4 1/2 years for almost any prospects would be a great deal for any team. Putting an elite player at the toughest position to fill is more than worth an extra two years of any pitching prospect. Cole and Taillon could be aces, the also could be shoulder surgeries, or control plagued mid rotation guys. Castro is already a top 5 SS in MLB and could get even better as he matures.

  • http://twitter.com/pskell02 Patrick Kelly

    Tim, I’m a bit shocked that you write this and not even mention Castro’s high BABIP (which with his speed I’m not as concerned with) and the fact that he walks about as much as Josh Harrison. His K rate is rising, his walk rate has gone from bad to horrible, and his BABIP is at a career high in the bigs. I also do not believe for a moment that he has been legitimately raise his UZR 20.3 points in the span of 1 season.

    Add in all of the question marks and there is no way I am giving up Cole and Marte for him. If you were to say Cole and a guy like Grossman, I would be more inclined to pull the trigger.

  • http://www.piratesprospects.com Tim Williams

    Castro’s BABIP by year:

    2010: .346
    2011: .344
    2012: .355

    Seems like a normal range. I’m not totally sold on his defense, as I’ve pointed out. But it’s rare to have his offense with strong defense. You usually either get one or the other. And his strikeout rate is at 15.7%, up from 13-14%. Hardly a concern. He doesn’t walk a lot, but he makes up for that by hitting for a high average.