This year has been a lot of the same old-same old for Starlin Castro and Cubs fans are quick to defend him with a plethora of excuses; while many are justifiable, he’s now accumulated nearly 2100 plate appearances and logged over 4200 innings at shortstop. At this point there should be some substantial improvements on the field but is he developing the way we all hope?
In this article I am going to re-evaluate Castro’s tools and potential using the standard 20-80 scouting scale alongside Castro’s previous potential.
Hit for Contact
Castro’s best tool has been his ability to make contact with nearly any pitch. A career .295 hitter, he’s always been able to carry a high batting average. His quick hands and short swing allow him to put the bat on the ball at an extremely proficient clip… and he uses that swing often.
For his career, Castro swings at nearly half the pitches he sees and he makes contact at a whopping 84.1% of the pitches he does swing at. He’s always hacked too much at pitches outside of the zone, but a scary trend has developed over his career – he’s starting to swing more and more at pitches out of the zone while making less contact overall at the pitches he’s seeing. As this trend developed his batting average has fallen and is currently sitting in the low .270s but his K% has remained relatively the same around the 14% area.
Castro showing his sweet swing on a 2-1 count to blast a walk off double.
This trend is especially worrisome with a hitter like Castro who’s success at the plate has been completely dependent on his batting average. Right now he’s still an above average contact hitter, but if this trend continues, his offensive ceiling would take a huge hit if his contact skills cannot carry him to a high batting average due to his complete lack of plate discipline.
I used to peg Castro as a .300-.330 hitter over his career, depending on the year, but now I’ve downgraded him to a .280-.310 hitter, a notch below where I originally projected him. Right now I’m definitely worried about these trends but I’m still leaning toward the optimistic side that a player with that much ability will figure it out.
Hit for Power
This is the one area that Castro has developed at a nice pace. His Isolated Power (ISO%) per year has increased along with his HR totals. While his doubles did drop last year compared to the previous season, I think that was an outlier more than anything substantial, and this season he already has 10 doubles only a fourth of the way through the season. It’s too early right now to worry about the dip in SLG & ISO you can chalk that up to a number of uncontrollable factors, like the bad weather all of baseball has had to contend with.
As long as Castro’s contact abilities do not decline, there’s no reason not to think Castro is going to be a 20-homer guy every year, possibly starting this year.
Obviously, this is Starlin’s biggest weakness and he has made zero progress in this regard. You could make a legitimate argument that he’s actually regressed in this department. This season it has looked like he’s making a conscious to take pitches (and that shows in his pitches per plate appearance) but in that effort, Castro goes up to the plate and just takes a pitch to take a pitch. I never expect him to be an on-base machine, but he does need to lay off pitches that will almost certainly will produce an easy out.
At this point, he still has little-to-no idea how to work the count in his favor and his ability to make contact on nearly any pitch has led to his over-aggressiveness at the plate increasing his K% to a career high while dropping his BB% and OBP% to a career lows.
An all too familiar sight recently, Starlin Castro going well out of the zone to get himself out.
You can live with a guy who only walks 5% of the time if he’s hitting around .300, but if he’s hitting in the .270s and only walking 5%, that’s a below .320 OBP over the course of a season- a serious problem for any starter.
Castro, like all homegrown Cubs talent in recent years, lacks the basic baserunning knowledge that most teams instill in their young players. At the moment, he has enough speed to swipe 25-30 stolen bases a year, but he’s also caught stealing nearly 40% of the time negating most of that benefit. His poor decisions and mind lapses on the bases also outweigh his above average speed.
Two new metrics I included are Stolen Bases and Caught Stealing runs above average (wSB) which compares him to an average runner (0.0) and Ultimate Base Running (UBR) in runs above average which only monitors his baserunning in non-steal situations against average runners. Both stats back up what my eye test tells me, he’s an average at best baserunner and a below average base stealer. I expect as he continues to fill out he’ll lose some of those stolen bases, but hopefully with better coaching and more experience he will cut down on the blunders as well.
Defensively, Castro is improving even though you can’t tell by the error numbers. He still has above average range, a solid glove and a strong arm, plus all the work on his throwing mechanics seems to be paying off with his throwing errors being cut in half last year (working with another excellent defensive first baseman in Anthony Rizzo helps too). Like his baserunning, where Castro gets in trouble is when he loses focus or tries to do too much.
Castro flashing his amazing range and hand eye coordination to snare a would-be bloop single. Plays like this show Castro’s potential at Shortstop, his range is matched by only a handful of players in all of baseball right now.
While his excellent range, makes up for a lot of the errors, he’s still a fringy fielder right now, and if he slows down and doesn’t keep his head in the game, he could be moving to 2B in the future. I’m still willing to bet experience and maturity will help him defensively but the Cubs are going to need to make a decision on his position in the next year or two so they know where their holes are going to be in the free agent and trade markets.
I think we have a good idea what Castro is going to be in the future, and that’s not the superstar we all hoped for and even expected. The alarming trends with his plate discipline, cause his offensive potential to be downgraded from his previous ceiling when he was coming up as a prospect. I never expect him to lead the league in walks but working the count into his favor, and laying off pitcher’s pitches , are two skills he still hasn’t developed. He’s been labeled a bad ball hitter, and while that is a nice skill to have, he’s not going to realize his potential without developing a strike zone and adhering to it. He’s still going to be a valuable position player at a premium position who will have a couple of great years due to his raw talent but without a significant overhaul in his approach at the plate he’s going to be more average than superstar.