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Should Castro hit second in the order?

5/2/2013

CHICAGO -- For the second consecutive game, Chicago Cubs shortstop Starlin Castro is batting fifth against the San Diego Padres in their series finale at Wrigley Field on Thursday.

For almost all of the first 27 games this season Castro has batted second for manager Dale Sveum until Wednesday. Sveum said he needed to be "creative" the last couple of days with his lineup and wants to take advantage of Cody Ransom's hot bat against left-handing pitching, so Ransom is batting second against southpaw Eric Stults while Castro is batting fifth. For now it's just a short-term thing for the Cubs shortstop.

"In our normal lineup he's going to hit second," Sveum said.

But the bigger question is where does Castro fit in the lineup long term?

"On our team right now he's a 2-hole hitter," Sveum said. "He's a hand/eye coordination guy that's going to put the ball in play that doesn't walk much so he's maybe more apt to hit in the bottom of the order because he will hit into some double plays and things like that, but with the team we have right now, he's our second hitter."

That makes it sound like when the Cubs have some better hitters in the lineup Castro will indeed move down. But in the same press gathering Sveum seemed to contradict himself.

"I see him as a 2-hole hitter on prolific offensive teams," he said. "When everything is set correctly he's a 2-hole hitter."

Maybe the bottom line is it's yet to be determined where he should hit and maybe it also depends on what you expect out of your No. 2 hitter. ESPN.com's Keith Law makes the case that a team's best hitter should be batting second which might mean that's Castro's place. But that's a more modern way of thinking. Plus, is Castro the Cubs' best hitter? Can a team's best hitter get on base just 30 percent of the time and have three walks in 27 games as Castro has?

According to ESPN Stats and Information, Castro ranks 29th out of 32 teams in walk percentage for No. 2 hitters in baseball. He also swings outside the strike zone 34 percent of the time which is third-most among No. 2 hitters. Overall, he swings at pitches 51 percent of the time and that ranks fourth.

He's a free swinger. We knew that without the stats. That screams of batting in a spot where more runners can be on base.

"You hit more with men in scoring position," Castro said of hitting fifth. "Position for more RBI out there."

But it's not just to get more RBIs, it's to see better pitches. To take full advantage of Castro's style allowing him to potentially hit with runners on base more often seems like the way to go. Hitting with runners on base inherently means seeing better pitches as a pitcher simply can't nibble as much. Castro swings at those "nibbling" pitches.

So if you do believe in the more traditional sense of a No. 2 hitter then Castro doesn't belong anywhere near there. And if you buy into the best hitter on the team should be hitting No. 2 then Castro simply needs to become the best hitter. Maybe on this Cubs team he is, but if he doesn't take more walks then he won't be.

Sveum says with his temporary switch of Castro to the 5-hole he's not "assessing" anything long-term. Maybe he should.