There have been few bright spots this summer on the north side of Chicago for Cubs fans to get excited about, but in the year of Jeter 3K, they can see one bright ray of hope shining through in form of 21-year-old All-Star shortstop Starlin Castro.
Castro had a fantastic rookie campaign a year ago, batting .300 while playing day in and day out during the last three quarters of the season.
Not bad for the youngest player in the league.
While many players experience a swoon in their sophomore seasons, Castro has actually improved, hitting .309 to date.
Not only was Castro named to his first All-Star team during this, his second season, but he is also currently leading the National League in hits with 159 (in 120 games played), which is on pace for an astounding 211 hits this year.
Not even the great one, Derek Jeter, had a 200-hit or better campaign during his first two seasons.
I realize that comparing the second-year Castro to the future first-ballot Hall of Famer Jeter is going to be met with some warranted skepticism, but upon examining the numbers closely, you may be surprised at what you find.
In Jeter's rookie season, he played in 157 games, collecting 183 hits, good for a .314 average. Jeter's hits-per-game ratio was 1.17 as a rookie.
During Castro's rookie campaign, he played in just 125 games and collected 139 hits. Castro earned a 1.11 hits-per-game ratio while batting an even .300.
Statistically Jeter had a slightly better rookie season, much of the superior productivity due to the fact that Castro spent the first quarter of the 2010 season in the minor leagues, resulting in 32 fewer games played.
Extrapolating the numbers, assuming Castro would have just maintained his 1.11 hits/game ratio over the 32 games he was short of Jeter, you find Castro's hit total would have been 175—just eight fewer than Jeter.
Again, Jeter had the better rookie season.
But not by much.
Great players tend to improve their games on yearly basis; this holds true for Mr. November, Derek Jeter.
In Jeter's second season, the Yankees shortstop played in 159 games and tallied 190 hits, netting him a 1.20 hits/game ratio, an improvement upon his hits/game from his rookie season. Jeter's average dipped to a very respectable .291 during his second season due to an increase in overall at-bats.
Castro has also improved upon his inaugural season as a second-year pro.
This year the young shortstop has amassed a league-leading 159 hits in just 120 games, resulting in a 1.33 hits/game ratio. Additionally, Castro has improved his average to .309 at this point in the season.
With 39 games to play this year, Castro has a legitimate opportunity to lead the league in hits while putting together a 200-plus hit campaign, both of which are accomplishments that Jeter did not achieve in his first two seasons.
Should Castro maintain or improve his current hit pace, he would finish his first two seasons in the bigs with 350 hits in 284 games, a 1.23 hits/game ratio.
Conversely, Jeter ended his first two seasons with 373 hits in 316 games, a 1.18 hits/game ratio.
More than just the raw statistical comparisons, Castro has now become the face of the Cubs, much the way Jeter quickly became the heart and soul of the Yankees in the mid-to-late '90s.
Castro exhibits the grit and determination of Jeter on a daily basis, playing nearly everyday, battling and grinding in every at-bat, and never giving in to an opposing pitcher.
Castro has solidly claimed the leadoff spot in the Cubs lineup and will be the leader of this franchise for the foreseeable future while the Cubs try to build a winner around him.
Although many seasons must unfold before we will know if Castro will become a member of the 3000-hit club, through his first two years at least, it isn't a stretch to say that sometime in the early 2020s, we could be watching a Castro3K documentary on HBO.
Castro is the lone bright spot for long-suffering Cubs fans to look to, and through his first two seasons, his star may be shining even brighter than the great Derek Jeter's.