|Tuesday, June 18
Updated: June 20, 6:25 PM ET
Cover your eyes: Castillo streaking
By Jonah Keri
Special to ESPN.com
Imagine joining a club with Joe DiMaggio and Ty Cobb as members. You're playing tennis with Rogers Hornsby, having a cold one with Stan Musial ... life is good.
But, wait a minute. Why is Ron LeFlore lying by the pool? And for the love of one-year wonders, is that Jerome Walton hogging the steam room?!
By beating out a weak dribbler to shortstop Saturday, Luis Castillo extended his hitting streak to 30 games. That marked the 39th time a player had hit in 30 straight games, putting Castillo in a class with both legends and Landreaux-come-latelys.
It's fitting that Castillo would need a squibber to break into the 30-game club. Why? Because hitting streaks don't always reflect greatness. They're the province of players with very specific skill sets, hitting in optimal conditions.
(DiMaggio fans, please put down the rotten tomatoes.)
Hitting streaks do take a certain level of natural ability, endurance and focus. But they're not as impressive as, say, 60 home runs in a season or a .450 on-base percentage. Those things help a team a lot more than a string of singles over a month or so do. Long hitting streaks reflect a skill set that matches DiMaggio's to a T:
Rany Jazayerli covered those and other traits that make a great streaker in his take on Ichiro Suzuki's long hitting streak early last season. Ichiro's speed, low strikeout rate, lack of walks and lineup spot -- leadoff -- mixed with his AL-leading groundball/flyball ratio of 3.42 (at the time), made him a great pick to reel off a long hitting streak. Next to Jazayerli's mention of Ichiro was an interesting tidbit about another speedy contact hitter:
"Luis Castillo, previously the undisputed king of the groundball -- the lowest G/F ratio of his career is 4.54 -- has a ratio of only 2.38 this season, and all those flyballs may explain why Castillo is hitting just .215."
Castillo is back up to 3.51 this year, a shade behind Juan Pierre for the highest G/F rate in baseball. Throw in a few lucky dinks and dunks and a no-name Marlins second baseman can lead off SportsCenter.
Yet while Castillo shouldn't even enter a conversation about DiMaggio or Cobb, he's not the worst player on the list of 39 either. Looking back on the pedestrian careers of some of these players, their hitting streaks stick out like Shawn Estes in a home-run derby. Even cutting the list to the 27 streaks of 31 games or longer (including Castillo's), we still get a healthy mix of superstars, players with good streaking skills, and flat-out head scratchers. Counting the other 26, from shortest streak to longest:
26. Vladimir Guerrero, Expos, 1999, 31 games. He might be as close as you get to DiMaggio in terms of modern skill sets. He rarely strikes out, he doesn't walk much, and he hits everything that moves, hard.
25. Ken Landreaux, Twins, 1980, 31 games. A 25-year-old outfielder at the time, Landreaux's streak may be the weirdest of all. He hit just .281 that year, and .268 for his career.
24. Rico Carty, Braves, 1970, 31 games. A good player who had a career year, finishing 10th in NL MVP voting with a line of .366/.454/.584.
23. Willie Davis, Dodgers, 1969, 31 games. He walked just once for every 21.9 at-bats in his career.
22. Sam Rice, Senators, 1924, 31 games. His .334 average that year was only the fifth-best full-season average of his career.
21. Nap Lajoie, Cleveland, 1906, 31 games. According to the Similarity Scores at baseballreference.com, the 10th-most similar batter to Lajoie is Rice.
20. Ed Dalahanty, Phillies, 1899, 31 games. The Hall of Famer hit .410 that year, one of three seasons in which he hit .400 or better.
19. Heinie Manush, Senators, 1933, 33 games. It was not a great season for Manush, who slugged above .500 six times in his career, but just .459 in '33.
18. Rogers Hornsby, Cardinals, 1922, 33 games. The best second baseman of all-time put up an obscene 1181 OPS that year, well before the bloated hitting numbers of the early 1930s kicked in.
17. Hal Chase, Yankees, 1907, 33 games. Chase played much of his career in the dead-ball era, and walked just once for every 26.9 at-bats.
16. George Davis, Giants, 1893, 33 games. Davis is one of two switch-hitters with a streak of 30 or more games.
15. Benito Santiago, Padres, 1987, 34 games. He's posted some brutally low walk rates, but when Santiago came up as a throw-from-his-knees, .300-hitting catcher as a 22-year-old rookie in '87, who cared? He went on to become a useful, but far from great, player. Players with the hand-eye coordination to achieve stardom with low walk rates remain rare. You wonder what a little plate discipline might have done for Santiago's career.
14. Dom DiMaggio, Red Sox 1949, 34 games. Singles and doubles hitter who lacked his older brother's size and strength. The Little Professor earns a spot among the all-time best nicknames, though.
13. George McQuinn, Browns, 1938, 34 games. Another rookie streaker, he celebrated his 28th birthday that year. McQuinn was one of the better St. Louis Browns of all-time, which is kind of like calling Steve Cox one of the better Devil Rays of all time.
12. George Sisler, Browns, 1925, 34 games. One of a pair of two-time 30-game streakers on the list, Sisler hit .345 the year of his 34-gamer and .420 the year he reeled off 41.
11. Ty Cobb, Tigers, 1917, 35 games. He was pretty good; hit .383 in '17.
10. Fred Clarke, Louisville, 1895, 35 games. His streak came during the Louisville Colonels' awful 35-96 season. Two years later, he grew sick of losing and became player-manager at age 24.
9. Billy Hamilton, Phillies, 1894, 36 games. His .404 average and 126 walks that year netted him a ridiculous .523 OBP. Of course, it was 1894, the highest-scoring season in baseball history.
8. Tommy Holmes, Braves, 1945, 37 games. It was an extreme career year. Holmes hit .352/.420/.577 with 28 home runs, finishing second in MVP voting in the last season of World War II. His next-best year? .309/.372/.456, 13 home runs.
7. Paul Molitor, Brewers, 1987, 39 games. Molitor had 12 seasons of .300 or better, including .305 at age 40.
6. Ty Cobb, Tigers, 1911, 40 games.
5. George Sisler, Browns, 1922, 41 games. He hit .420 that year.
4. Bill Dahlen, Cubs, 1894, 42 games. Dahlen hit .357/.444/.566 that year, just .272/.358/.382 for his career as the dead-ball era and hanging around too long whacked his numbers. 1894 and 1987 are the only two seasons in which the game saw multiple 31-game streaks.
3. Pete Rose, Reds, 1978, 44 games. Rose rarely struck out, played every game, and was a great singles hitter. He could have had three more 30-gamers and no one should have been surprised.
2. Willie Keeler, Baltimore (NL) 1897, 44 games. Keeler "hit 'em where they ain't" for 13-straight .300-plus seasons.
1. Joe DiMaggio, Yankees, 1941, 56 games. DiMaggio also holds the Pacific Coast League record, with a 61-game streak as an 18-year-old in 1933. Castillo needs to double his current streak to beat that one.
You can check out more work from the team of writers of the Baseball Prospectus (tm) at their web site at baseballprospectus.com. Jonah Keri can be reached at email@example.com.