Many years ago, Bill James created what he called "The Favorite Toy," a method of calculating the chances of a particular player reaching a milestone. It's since been renamed "Career Targets." Pity, because "The Favorite Toy" is so much more evocative.
Cubs shortstop Starlin Castro has been a big-league regular since age 20, and a productive one, with three All-Star selections, a pair of .300 seasons and a 200-hit campaign. He's got 846 career hits going into his age-25 season in 2015. Here is a complete list of all players who have had that many or more hits through their age-24 season:
|8||Ken Griffey, Jr.||972||1989||1994||19-24|
Ten Hall of Famers, a couple more who will likely get in, and a lot of other very good players. Just four, though, got to 3,000 hits (Cobb, Kaline, Yount and Aaron), though it will be five if A-Rod gets 61 more hits. Several others got close (Pinson, Griffey, Ott, Alomar).
So what are the chances that Castro will join the illustrious group above? Here's how The Favorite Toy/Career Targets works, from the 2015 Bill James Handbook.First, calculate the number of hits needed for the milestone. In Castro's case that's 2,154.
Next, estimate the number of Years Remaining in his career. You use the player's age as of June 30 of the previous year -- 24 for Castro. The formula is (42 - age) divided by two. So for Castro, the system estimates nine remaining seasons. If that seems like too few, remember that the player continues to accumulate "remaining seasons" as he gets older. Nine years from now, when Castro is 33, presuming he's still playing he'd have 4½ estimated remaining seasons.
The next thing to calculate is the player's Established Hit Level. It's a weighted average of the player's hits over the last three seasons. To calculate this post-2014 you add his 2012 hits, two times his 2013 hits and three times his 2014 hits and divide by six.
If we do this for Castro given his actual hits in 2014, we'd have 183 (2012) plus 163 times two (2013) plus 154 times three (2014) divided by six. That would give a weighted average of 162. However, Castro missed the last month of 2014 with a sprained ankle, something that isn't likely to be repeated. He missed the Cubs' last 28 games. At the time of the injury, he was averaging 1.149 hits per game, so I'm going to "credit" him with that many more hits, or 32 hits. I don't think it's unreasonable to believe he'd have had 186 hits in 2014 without the injury. If Castro had done that, he'd rank 18th on the list above instead of 21st.
That increases Castro's Established Hit Level to 178 for the purpose of this exercise.
Next is to calculate the player's Projected Remaining Hits, which is Years Remaining times his Established Hit Level. Using the numbers calculated above, that's 1,602 hits. Clearly, this would put Castro short of the goal of 3,000, although given the number of Remaining Years calculated above, he'd have that by age 34.
So the next step is to calculate an estimated percentage as the player's "chance" of reaching the milestone. To do that, the system asks you to divide the Projected Remaining Hits by the number of Needed Hits (in Castro's case, 2,154), then subtract .5 from the result.
The system thus gives Castro a 24.4 percent chance of getting to 3,000 hits. That's a significant increase from a year ago. The James Handbook says Castro had an 18 percent chance of getting to 3,000 hits after the 2013 season, his worst in the major leagues. His good season in 2014 put him back on track to be at least a solid everyday regular for several years to come.
Cap Anson holds the Cubs' team record for hits with 3,012 (or maybe 3,011, depending on what source you believe). Ernie Banks is second with 2,583. With another good year in 2015, Castro will record his 1,000th career hit and if he can reach that Established Hit Level of 178, his career total would rank him 35th in team history -- at age 25.
Castro is under contract to the Cubs through at least 2019, with a team option for 2020. If he keeps up his current level of performance or maybe improves on it as he reaches his prime years, he'll have a shot at reaching that 3,000-hit level and becoming one of the best players in team history.
And even more important, if he does so that gives the Cubs a much better chance at being a perennial contender.