Stats Speak: Castro's impressive WAR report

Stats Speak: Castro's impressive WAR report

Over the past 50 years (since 1961), 12 players with at least 1,000 games at shortstop have accumulated at least a career WAR (Wins Above Replacement, or the number of wins the players added to the team above what a replacement player would have added) of at lest 40. Those 12 are listed below, ranked by WAR, with the last column showing their rank in WAR among shortstops since 1901.

Repeat performances
Name Career WAR Rank
Alex Rodriguez 101.9 2nd
Cal Ripken, Jr. 89.9 3rd
Robin Yount 76.9 4th
Derek Jeter 70.1 6th
Barry Larkin 68.9 8th
Alan Trammell 66.9 9th
Ozzie Smith 64.6 11th
Jim Fregosi 46.1 20th
Bert Campaneris 45.3 21st
Omar Vizquel 43.1 24th
Nomar Garciaparra 42.6 26th
Miguel Tejada 42.0 27th
*Note: Ernie Banks is missing because 1961 represents Banks' final year at shortstop; in 1962 he would move to first base. Banks' career WAR is 64.4, which would place him right at the level of Ozzie Smith.

It's interesting to note that of the 12 most valuable shortstops over the last half-century, only three made significant contributions (played in more than half his team's games) in their first seasons. About half of the 12 had the dictionary definition of a cup of coffee, and only two had positive WAR values. Of the three who did have a real contribution, two were relatively old, at least for this list. Ozzie Smith was in his age-23 season when he debuted, and Omar Vizquel was in his age-22 season. So, among the 12 most valuable shortstops over the last half-century, only one made a positive and significant contribution his first year and was notably young: Robin Yount.

All of this information above simply serves as the appetizer, of sorts, for a look at Cubs shortstop Starlin Castro and his rookie season in 2010. Castro, after a ridiculously brilliant debut (more on that debut below), seemed to have gotten lost in the shuffle, relegated to a bit of an afterthought by the narratives connected to fellow rookies Jason Heyward and Buster Posey. And while Castro's final season numbers are not extraordinary, one should remember that in his first year, Castro managed to qualify for the batting title, was in his age-20 season and finished with a positive WAR (0.4). Of the 12 most valuable shortstops over the last half-century, only one (Yount) qualified for the batting title in his first year and produced a positive WAR and was as young (or younger) as Castro.

WAR in first season
Because of Bautista's out-of-nowhere ascendancy into the 50-home run club, it's difficult to imagine what his final 2011 numbers may resemble. The list below offers the names of the 25 players to hit at least 54 in a season, and provides that player's age that season and the home run total in the following year.
Player Age Games WAR
Alex Rodriguez 18 17 -0.4
Cal Ripken, Jr. 20 20 -0.7
Robin Yount 18 107 1.1
Derek Jeter 21 15 -0.4
Barry Larkin 22 41 1.5
Alan Trammell 19 19 -0.6
Ozzie Smith 23 159 2.3
Jim Fregosi 19 11 0.0
Bert Campaneris 22 67 -0.3
Omar Vizquel 22 143 -0.1
Nomar Garciaparra 22 24 0.0
Miguel Tejada 23 26 -0.4

On May 7 this season, the scoreboard at Great American Ballpark in Cincinnati listed 20-year-old shortstop Starlin Castro in the No. 8 spot in the lineup. And in his first Major League plate appearance that night, facing Homer Bailey in the second inning, with runners on first and third and no outs, Starlin Castro homered. After lining out to center in the fourth, Castro tripled in three runs in the fifth, giving him six RBIs for the game. His final numbers for that debut game included the six RBIs, seven total bases, a run scored and one assist in the field. And with that supernova of a beginning, the baseball world was up and running, trying to cover all of the firsts and historic contexts for such a start.

• Castro was the 107th player in history to homer in his first Major League at-bat and the third player to do it in 2010, joining Heyward and Luke Hughes. Castro was the sixth Cubs player to accomplish the feat.

• Castro (20 years, 44 days) became the youngest player to homer since Justin Upton (20 years, 15 days) in 2007, and the youngest shortstop to homer since B.J. Upton (20 years, 19 days) in '04. Castro was the youngest Cubs player to homer since Oscar Gamble (19 years, 270 days) on Sept. 16, 1969.

• Castro became the first player to collect six RBIs in his Major League debut in the modern era (since 1901).

How Castro Stacks Up
To finish, again, is the list of the 12 most valuable shortstops over the past 50 years, ranked by WAR in their first big leage season, now with Castro's included.
Player Age Games WAR
Ozzie Smith 23 159 2.3
Barry Larkin 22 41 1.5
Robin Yount 18 107 1.1
Starlin Castro 20 125 0.4
Jim Fregosi 19 11 0.0
Nomar Garciaparra 22 24 0.0
Omar Vizquel 22 143 -0.1
Bert Campaneris 22 67 -0.3
Alex Rodriguez 18 17 -0.4
Derek Jeter 21 15 -0.4
Miguel Tejada 23 26 -0.4
Alan Trammell 19 19 -0.6
Cal Ripken, Jr. 20 20 -0.7

• Castro was the first player to collect a home run and triple in his Major League debut since Ken Caminiti on July 16, 1987. Ernaga (referenced above as one of the Cubs to homer in his first ML at-bat) also had a triple in his Major League debut.

• Castro surpassed Marty Shay as the youngest Cubs shortstop to make his big league debut. Shay played his first game for the Cubs on Sept. 16, 1916, at the age of 20 years, 144 days.

In 125 games in 2010, Castro hit .300, put together a .755 OPS (97 OPS+), scored 53 runs, collected 139 hits (with 31 doubles) and had 189 total bases. Since 1893, only 25 players have, in their debut season, qualified for the batting title and been in their age-20 season or younger.

Since 1901, for Players in 1st season at 20 years of age or younger
• Castro's 139 hits are eighth most (and second most for a shortstop -- Arky Vaughan had 158 in 1932).

• Castro's .300 batting average was fourth highest (and second highest for any shortstop -- Vaughan hit .318 in 1932).

• Castro's 189 total bases is 13th best (third most for a shortstop; Vaughan had 205 in 1932).

• Castro's .755 OPS is ninth best (second among shortstops, to Vaughan's .787 in 1932).

• Castro's 97 OPS+ is tied for 17th (third among shortstops, behind Vaughan and Whitey Witt in 1916).

* * *

Since 2007 - Lowest Hits/9, Minimum 200 Innings
Hits per 9
Carlos Marmol4.79 308.1
Rafael Soriano5.75224.0
Billy Wagner5.98200.1
Joe Nathan 6.01208.0
Joakim Soria6.42255.0
Hong-Chih Kuo6.51200.1
Mariano Rivera6.57268.1
Takashi Saito6.68221.0
Jose Valverde6.71235.1
Heath Bell 6.82 311.1
Jonathan Papelbon6.82 262.2

Cubs' right-handed closer Carlos Marmol has made 303 relief appearances in his career. In 182 of those relief appearances (or 60 percent), Marmol finished the appearance without allowing a hit. Observers often use the term "unhittable" when referencing a particular pitcher on any given afternoon or evening, but over the course of the past four seasons, Marmol has been closer to unhittable than any other relief pitcher in the game.

Most Seasons with 50+ IP and Less than 6 Hits/9
Number of seasons
Joe Nathan6 (incl. every season from 2003-2006)
Billy Wagner5
Don McMahon4
Hoyt Wilhelm4
Mariano Rivera 4
Carlos Marmol4
Bryan Harvey3
Trevor Hoffman 3
Armando Benitez3
Rafael Soriano 3

In 2007, Marmol allowed 5.32 hits per nine innings. In '08, that number dropped to 4.12. In '09 his H/9 went up to 5.23 and then last year dropped back down to 4.64. Among any pitcher in history to throw at least 50 innings in a season, Marmol's 4.12 hits per nine innings in '08 is the second-lowest (bested only by Eric Gagne and his 4.04 hits per nine in 2003). His four seasons with at least 50 innings and fewer than six hits allowed per nine innings are tied for the third most among relief pitchers, and he and Joe Nathan are the only two relievers to do it four years in a row.

50+ IP, Less Than Five Hits Per 9, 13+ K/9, Ordered by Lowest OPS+ Against
OPS+ Against
Eric Gagne20034.0414.984
Billy Wagner19994.2214.9510
Armando Benitez 1999 4.62 14.7732
Carlos Marmol20104.6415.9938
Billy Wagner20104.9313.5038

In 2010, in addition to allowing 4.64 hits per nine, Marmol also struck out 15.99 batters per nine innings -- the highest ratio in baseball history for a pitcher with at least 50 innings. Marmol's season marked the fifth time in history a relief pitcher allowed less than five hits per nine innings and struck out at least 13 batters per nine innings. The list of the five is below, ordered by lowest OPS+ against.

Roger Schlueter is a senior researcher for MLB Productions. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.