We’ve got some Chicago bias going on in this week’s Tale of the Tape. It’s North Side vs. South Side, youth vs. age, Cubs vs. White Sox. It’s shortstops week, and we’re pitting Starlin Castro against Alexei Ramirez.
The battle here a year ago wasn’t all that close, with Castro coming out ahead by 20 points, .293-.273. The Cubs shortstop has been a high-AVG player throughout his time in the majors, topping the .300 mark twice and finishing below .280 just once in his five year career. While Ramirez isn’t a dud in this category by any means, he hasn’t matched Castro’s heights, settling in as more of a .275-level player. This gap has come despite the better strikeout rate between the two. Castro keeps this edge with consistently high BABIPs, coming together for a career mark of .325. I wouldn’t expect as big of a gap as we saw in 2014, but Castro should still hold a slight edge. I’d expect an average around .285 for him, and .275 for Ramirez.
Winner: Castro, slightly
Last season, Castro once again came out ahead by a fair margin, finishing with a .339 OBP to Ramirez’s .305 mark. What’s become increasingly evident over the years is that both of these guys are better plays in standard leagues than ones that use OBP. Ramirez has been particularly bad in this area. He’s failed to crack the four percent mark in walk rate in each of the last three years, and finished with a 3.7 percent rate in 2014. Castro has also been below average on a yearly basis, although not quite as bad, settling in as a 6-7 percent walker. Neither player is going to excel in this category, but with a higher walk-rate and a slight advantage in AVG, Castro is the lesser of two evils.
Although neither of these guys are exactly Giancarlo Stanton, they put up respectable power numbers at a position that is not known for it. A year ago, Ramirez squeaked by for the lead, finishing with a 15-14 edge. In the past, he has also had better peak periods, but Castro has been a more consistent producer, putting up double-digit dingers in each of the last four years. Ramirez, on the other hand, had just 15 in 2012 and 2013 combined before putting up that same total in 2014. Castro has had the advantage in batted ball distance on a yearly basis, but Ramirez has the home field advantage. Although Wrigley isn’t anything like Petco, not many parks are better for power than U.S. Cellular. Everything points to this being an extremely close battle, and even PECOTA projects a tie. Given his superior consistency and batted ball totals, I give Castro the slightest of edges.
Winner: Castro, very, very slightly
Chances are, you’re not counting on RBI from your shortstop. In the context of the position, though, both of these guys finished with respectable totals. Ramirez’s 74 were good for second among shortstops, while Castro’s 65 finished seventh. Obviously, lineup contraction is huge for this stat, and Castro is at a slight disadvantage in this respect. Pegged for the two-spot at the moment, he gets to hit behind Dexter Fowler, but also the pitcher spot and guys like Tommy La Stella, Mike Olt and Javier Baez’s risk-filled on-base abilities. Ramirez, on the other hand, should bat towards the bottom of the lineup, and will have Conor Gillaspie, Avisail Garcia, Adam LaRoche, and Jose Abreu ahead of him. Castro may knock a few more extra-base hits, but it’s not enough to overcome the lineup disadvantage.
This was not a close battle in 2014, with Ramirez destroying Castro to the tune of an 82-58 drubbing. However, with some lineup changes on the South Side, the battle should be much closer this year. Though he moved around in the order a bit last year, Ramirez spent the most time in the second slot. The addition of Melky Cabrera likely means that will change in 2015. This means he’ll no longer have Abreu knocking him in on a consistent basis. Now, he’s relying on guys like Tyler Flowers, Carlos Sanchez, Gordon Beckham and Adam Eaton. Castro, on the other hand, still sits near the top of the lineup and will hit ahead of Anthony Rizzo, Jorge Soler and Miguel Montero. There’s also the booming potential of Kris Bryant and Baez that could push his run total up even more. Though Ramirez has a base-running edge, Castro’s superior OBP and supporting cast gives him the category.
This is one of the easiest calls in this week’s matchup. Ramirez stole 21 bases to Castro’s four a year ago, and the margin was even larger the year before. Prior to 2013, Castro had some nice SB totals, but even then his percentages were subpar. New manager Joe Maddon may give him a few more chances, but I’d be surprised if Ramirez didn’t take this category by a significant margin.
Both of Chicago’s shortstops have had an excellent track record of staying healthy over their careers. Over the last four years, Ramirez has played in 632 of the 648 possible games, while Castro has played in 615. The latter missed a little bit of time last season due to an ankle sprain, and also dealt with a nagging thigh injury during spring training. He’s never spent any time on the disabled list, though. Ramirez hasn’t either, and he hasn’t missed more than seven games to injury. The one knock on him is that he is going to be 33 in 2014, but it’s not as if he’s an old man at this point. Neither player has much injury risk, but Ramirez’s ridiculous durability gets a slight edge here, despite the age difference.
Winner: Ramirez, slightly
There’s really no reason to believe either of these players won’t be everyday players in 2015. For one thing, neither one has extreme enough splits to be a platoon candidate. Ramirez doesn’t have any youth pushing him out of the way, either. Tim Anderson could be a very good player, but he's not anything of a threat for 2015. Castro is in an interesting situation, though. Baez is obviously already in the majors, but with a hole at second base he shouldn’t affect Castro’s playing time. Addison Russell isn’t too far off from the bigs, though. There’s a decent chance the Cubs’ top middle infield prospect is in the bigs by 2015. However, even with that possibility, it’s hard to see Castro losing much, if any playing time to him. If anything, they’ll make a trade to prevent wasting one of them on the bench. Still, the presence of Russell gives Ramirez a slight advantage here, even if I don’t see it affecting Castro’s playing time all that much.
Winner: Ramirez, slightly
Both of these players have been in the league long enough to pretty much know what they are all about. Ramirez could bump his BABIP up in 2015, and could get his AVG up to the elusive .300 mark. Maybe he continues the power surge he underwent last year and gets back near the 20 homer mark that he’s missed since his rookie year. Beyond that, though, it’s hard to see much more from that out of him. Castro, though, has an intriguing ceiling. If he can get his strikeout rate back to where it was in his first few seasons (around 14 percent) and combine it with some BABIP luck, a .320-plus AVG isn't at all out of the question. Combine that with a league-average walk rate and baby we got a stew goin’. He also makes good enough contact to reasonably think that we haven’t seen everything he has to offer in the power department. It may not be wise to expect a season like this from Castro, but it’s a reachable ceiling, and a lot more intriguing than that of Ramirez.
So, at the end of all this, we have the North Side’s participant coming out ahead 5-4. Both sides had some very close wins, with Castro scraping by in home runs, and Ramirez barely holding an edge in injury risk. Each of them are solid midrange options at the shortstop position, but if you’re stuck deciding between the two, Castro is the way to go.
And the winner is… Starlin Castro.