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Starlin Castro’s chase for 3,000’re saying there’s a chance?

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Miami Marlins v Milwaukee Brewers Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images

It’s difficult to envision Starlin Castro in the Baseball Hall of Fame someday. Just visiting? Sure! But he would never be inducted as one of the game’s immortals...right?

Castro has earned four MLB All-Star selections already, and is emerging as a darkhorse candidate for inclusion yet again this season. The 28-year-old enters Monday batting .315/.364/.395 (113 wRC+), a participant in every Marlins game thus far. He ranks sixth among NL second basemen with 0.7 fWAR, on pace for what would be a career-best 3.4 fWAR.

And therein lies the problem: Castro has never been an elite player. Way back in 2011, the Dominican middle infielder received one 10th-place vote in the NL MVP balloting (tied for 23rd in total points). He has not earned any end-of-year recognition since then. Perhaps even more damning, two talented, deep-pocketed franchises on the verge of World Series contention—the Cubs and Yankees—both traded him away. They determined that he was expendable.

At an earlier point in history, Castro would be greatly admired for his durability and consistent hit totals. In 2018, though, there are only a limited number of suitors who would feel comfortable with him in an everyday job. Much of the value produced by his bat-to-ball skills is offset by nondescript power, a lack of defensive versatility and poor situational awareness.

All that being said, if the second half of Castro’s career is similar to the first, he could wind up as a revered figure in the baseball community with a landmark Cooperstown case. By continuing to avoid severe injuries and landing in situations where his place in the starting lineup is secure, he has the potential to compile 3,000 career hits.

It’s an arbitrary milestone, but one that continues to hold great significance to players, fan and even MLB teams themselves. The Marlins signed Ichiro Suzuki three seasons ago, primarily with the hope that he would reach it in their uniform. On August 7, 2016, he tripled off the right-field wall in Coors Field to become the 30th member of that hallowed fraternity.

MLB: Miami Marlins at Colorado Rockies Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Since then, two other no-doubt future Hall of Famers have topped 3,000—Adrián Beltré with the Rangers last season, and Albert Pujols with the Angels on Friday night.

Getting 3,000 hits mean the most as far as individual numbers,’’ Pujols told Bob Nightengale of USA Today Sports. “More than the home runs, more than anything.’’ That’s coming from somebody who used to dominate in all aspects of the game, but still views this as the ultimate validation of his career production.

The Pujols news inspired ESPN’s Dan Szymborski to use his ZiPS projection system (Insider subscription required) to identify who could be next to “climb the mountain.” That, in turn, has inspired my article, because consider this:

  • Second baseman José Altuve (age 28)—1,296 MLB hits, 48 percent chance at 3,000
  • Second baseman Starlin Castro (age 28)—1,319 MLB hits, ?? percent chance at 3,000*
*Castro’s projection was not featured by Szymborski despite the similarities to Altuve
MLB: ALCS-New York Yankees at Houston Astros Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Altuve has nearly matched Castro’s career production despite Castro getting a significant head start (May 2010 debut vs. Altuve’s July 2011 debut). The reigning AL MVP is also trending in the right direction, racking up at least 200 hits in each of the past four seasons. Meanwhile, Castro has averaged only 147 over that same period.

Although Castro has a tendency to pull his ground balls to the left side (making him more predictable to defend against), he also demonstrates the ability to disperse line drives to all fields. One factor in his strong start to 2018 is hitting line drives more frequently—his current 21.4 percent rate would be the second-highest figure of his career. So by maintaining that, there’s reason to believe he could be more effective than he’s shown in recent years.

Baseball Savant spray chart of Castro’s MLB hits (2010-2018)

Totaling 3,000 major league hits usually ensures a Hall of Fame induction. The only eligible player who has been an exception to that is Rafael Palmeiro. He tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs late in his career, raising serious doubts among BBWAA voters as to the legitimacy of his earlier accomplishments.

When projecting Castro’s chances, it is irresponsible to assume perfect health. He missed action in both 2014 (ankle) and 2017 (hamstring) due to lower-body injuries. Figuring that he’ll be due for a few more lengthy stints on the disabled list in the future, it would require consistency throughout the 2020’s to join the club.

All things considered, we’re looking at a very unlikely outcome (somewhere below 10 percent probability). Still, it’s fun to imagine the debate surrounding Castro’s career if he were to arrive at this particular mark without any of the other characteristics of an iconic player.