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Tuesday

20

May 2014

93

COMMENTS

A Look at Starlin Castro's Turnaround

Written by , Posted in General

It feels good to be back. I’ve been in the middle of a big move, and I’m still in a sort of limbo, but you, dear reader, have remained in my heart.

There hasn’t been much to get excited about as far as team accomplishments this season, but there have been some individual performances from young players that allow me to have hope for the future. Anthony Rizzo has shown tremendous maturity and patience at the plate, Shark is pitching out of his mind, Mike Olt has shown RIDIC power, and some of the young bullpen arms look outstanding. Today, though, I’d like to focus on the player who had the most question marks surrounding him coming into this season: Starlin Castro.

We all know the story of Castro’s 2013: it was awful. Apparently, there were attempts by the management to get him to adjust his approach to become a more patient, “selectively aggressive” hitter that just didn’t work out. To recap, his 2013 numbers were .245/.284/.347/.631 which was good for a -0.6 WAR and 72 OPS+ (by far career lows). [as a quick review for those that need it: WAR is Wins Against Replacement (so Castro in 2013 actually performed worse than a AAA replacement shortstop) and OPS+ is a normalized On-base plus Slugging metric in which 100 is league average – so Castro was 28% worse than league average – this was the first year he didn’t have a 100 OPS+ or better].

It’s early in the season, but there’s no mistaking that Castro seems like a different player this year. Even without looking at the statistics, it’s obvious that Castro is driving the ball more, and he seems to be having more “fun” out there this year (does having fun lead to better production, or does better production lead to having more fun? I tend to think it’s more of the latter, but there’s probably a two-way relationship there). As for the numbers, they’re absolutely fantastic: .302/.341/.491/.832 with a 1.3 WAR (which is awesome – remember, WAR is cumulative, so to have that number in May is great – his career-high WAR for a season is 3.4, which he posted in 2012) and a 123 OPS+ (career high is 111 in 2011). Again, it’s early, but his slugging percentage is 60 points higher than his career high, as is his OPS. If this holds, this will be Castro’s best season by a significant margin. So far, Castro has been the second-best offensive shortstop in all of baseball (behind only Troy Tulowitzski, who is out of his mind).

The most striking difference is found in the power numbers. I’ve already referenced the career-high (so far) .491 slugging, but a look at Castro’s ISO can give us even more information [quick review: ISO (Isolated Power) is a measure of a player’s raw power and is calculated by subtracting batting average from slugging percentage, which gives us a metric for extra base hits per at bat]. Castro’s ISO this year is a very-excellent (and career high by far) .189 (his previous career high was .147). [side note: Mike Olt’s ISO is an insane .275 – dude basically either strikes out or hits a home run.] Castro already has 6 home runs and 12 doubles.

So, why is Castro playing so much better this season? Is it because he’s abandoned the “experiment” from last season and returned to his pure, “see-ball-hit-ball” instinctive approach? Or, is that “experiment” finally paying-off? After all, the point of that experiment was for Castro to wait for pitches that he can drive for extra-base power. Is it the positive influence of Rick Renteria? Is it the absence of the influence of Dale Sveum? Should we credit new hitting coach Bill Mueller? Is it simply a result of Castro’s natural maturation (after all, he’s still only 24)? Is he working harder now? Is his personal life in better shape? Is it due to the energy brought in by players like Bonofacio? Is it due to pressure from minor league players knocking at the door? Honestly, we’ll never really know, and I suspect that it’s a complex combination of all of the above. After all, human beings are messy, complicated creatures, and our behavior is rarely due to one factor. I’d love to hear your thoughts about Castro in the comments. Do you think he is going to sustain this over the course of the season and moving forward? If you wanted to trade Castro before, have you changed your mind?

Next time, I’ll have some thoughts on the upcoming – and very important – MLB Draft. Later!

  • PLCB3

    Nice photo at the top. I thought that the Cubs said at the end of last year that they were going to stop messing with Castro and let him do his thing.

  • AC0000000

    Nice photo at the top. I thought that the Cubs said at the end of last year that they were going to stop messing with Castro and let him do his thing.

  • Dork

    This is an artile that warms my heart to see, both because Casto is so much better but also all the statistical eveidence. There almost should be a spreadsheet attached.

    • PLCB3

      Why can’t you do it?

      • Eddie Von White

        Leave Dork alone. He has his own spreadsheets to worry about.

  • Dork

    This is an article that warms my heart to see, both because Casto is so much better but also all the statistical evidence. There almost should be a spreadsheet attached.

    • AC0000000

      Why can’t you do it?

      • Eddie Von White

        Leave Dork alone. He has his own spreadsheets to worry about.

  • Dork

    Olt is our Dave Kingman – for those old enough to remember who he is.

    • Doc Raker

      Big Dave Kingman fan, I hope Olt doesn’t throw his back out picking up his luggage.

      • Eddie Von White

        Luggage seems to be a major league hazard. Didn’t Jonathan Lucroy go on the DL last year because his wife dropped a suitcase on his hand? Next thing you know they will be putting warning labels on suitcases.

    • Eddie Von White

      For those who don’t remember…he either struck out or hit a home run.

      • PLCB3

        What about walks? Like Thome and Dunn. Walk, K, or HR

      • Sean Powell

        Yep. That’s what we call a 3-true-outcome hitter. Bypassing the defense.

      • PLCB3

        I see nothing wrong with it. Lots of walks and HR means a high OBP guy. I’ll take the high Ks along with it. Because that also means seeing more pitches, which tires out pitchers quicker. Stack an offense with a lot of 3 true outcome hitters, and I bet you’ll see a team with a lot of Ws, because they’re getting into that pen quicker.

    • Sean Powell

      I was just telling someone the other day that Olt is playing like Dave Kingman. I’m not old enough to remember seeing him play, but I know the history.

  • Dork

    Olt is our Dave Kingman – for those old enough to remember who he is.

    • Doc Raker

      Big Dave Kingman fan, I hope Olt doesn’t throw his back out picking up his luggage.

      • Eddie Von White

        Luggage seems to be a major league hazard. Didn’t Jonathan Lucroy go on the DL last year because his wife dropped a suitcase on his hand? Next thing you know they will be putting warning labels on suitcases.

    • Eddie Von White

      For those who don’t remember…he either struck out or hit a home run.

      • AC0000000

        What about walks? Like Thome and Dunn. Walk, K, or HR

      • Sean Powell

        Yep. That’s what we call a 3-true-outcome hitter. Bypassing the defense.

      • AC0000000

        I see nothing wrong with it. Lots of walks and HR means a high OBP guy. I’ll take the high Ks along with it. Because that also means seeing more pitches, which tires out pitchers quicker. Stack an offense with a lot of 3 true outcome hitters, and I bet you’ll see a team with a lot of Ws, because they’re getting into that pen quicker.

      • Sean Powell

        Walks and home runs are good. Ks are never good – ever. Not worth running up a pitch count if you are giving away outs without making the defense make a play or having any chance to at least advance runners.

      • AC0000000

        You have a choice between a .350 OBP, low K player, or a .425 OBP, high K player. The .425 OBP player also has a higher slugging and ISO than the .350 OBP. Which player are you taking? I’m taking the high K player.

      • Sean Powell

        Find me one of those…

      • AC0000000

        Juan Pierre.

      • AC0000000

        Making a productive out means that there have to be runners on base for the batter to advance the runners on an out. Not something he can control. I want a high walk/OBP player, because his discipline extends the at bat to the point where he can get a good pitch to reach base, whereas a wild swinger is out and doesn’t get that pitch.

      • Sean Powell

        Yes, you want a high walk/OPB player, you don’t want a high K player

      • AC0000000

        I’ll live with the high K totals if he is a high walk/OBP player. Such as Thome. Would you take Thome for his high walks/OBP or pass on him because of his high K rates? We already know one idiot who passed on him because of the latter, and it cost him a playoff spot.

      • Sean Powell

        You can live with somewhat high K rates if the walk rate and power numbers are good, but Thome would have been even BETTER had he struck out less. Ks are bad, period.

      • AC0000000

        You and Ozzie would get along great. Thome was the reason the Twins won the division in 2010 and the White Sox didn’t. If the trash had brought him back, the results would have been different.

      • AC0000000

        This sounds a lot like the reasons Ozzie gave for not wanting to bring back Thome in 2010 and replacing him with Juan Pierre, Andrew Jones, and Mark Kotsay.

        Among the reasons:
        He strikes out too much
        He can’t play the field
        He clogs the bases
        Because Jones, Pierre, and Kotsay can play the field I can move players around more to play the match-up game better instead of Thome locked into the DH spot.

        Instead Thome went to the Twins, where he delivered the death sentence on August 17, 2010. And Thome was a part-time player with the Twins. Ozzie could have kept Thome and still had the flexibility he wanted.

      • Sean Powell

        You’re going off the rails here.

      • AC0000000

        Not really. Because those are the reasons Ozzie gave for not bringing Thome back. And not bringing Thome back cost the trash in 2010.

      • Eddie Von White

        What about if you strike out, its a passed ball, you make it to first, and the runner on third scores the walk off run? Does that count as never ever?

      • AC0000000

        Only if there are 2 outs. Because otherwise the K would have no bearing on the wild pitch/passed ball.

      • Sean Powell

        You still did nothing positive. If you would have just taken the pitch, the passed ball would have still scored the run. Your scenario is pure chance/luck, which does actually exist.

      • AC0000000

        98% of the time the defense makes the out when a routine ball is hit to them. A strikeout requires a minimum of 3 pitches. A ball in play could be an out on the first pitch.

      • Sean Powell

        League-wide BABIP is historically around .300, so no…

      • AC0000000

        I meant routine playable balls. Such as a ground ball hit to an infielder, a can of corn hit to the outfield, etc. That’s what you implied when you said make the defense make a play.

      • Sean Powell

        You don’t understand BABIP. You can’t control where a ball goes after it is hit. Some smash line-drives go for outs, some weakly-hit tappers off the end of the bat drop for hits. It equals out to around .300 (a little lower in the last couple of years due to shifting, probably). Line-drives are more likely to be hits, and bloops a little less likely, but it all evens out to be around .300. A strike-three pitch has exactly 0% chance of dropping for a hit 100% of the time. You are the only person on earth that thinks strikeouts could ever be positive, and you are wrong…and I’m done arguing with you about it. You’re shirtless right now, aren’t you?

      • AC0000000

        I’ll live with a high K player if he has a good OBP, sees a lot of pitches per plate appearance, goes into a lot of deep counts, and is a disciplined hitter such as Thome or Dunn. I don’t want a player who has a high K total because he’s a wild swinger like Sosa. I don’t like BABIP, because to begin with batting average excludes walks, and now BABIP further excludes K and HR.

      • AC0000000

        As for the shirt, I am wearing a shirt. I have been in Chicago for job training the entire week.

    • Sean Powell

      I was just telling someone the other day that Olt is playing like Dave Kingman. I’m not old enough to remember seeing him play, but I know the history.

  • Chuck

    It is great to see Castro mashing again. I don’t believe in messing with players too much (aside from an obvious flaw) once they hit the MLB level. You need to get them much younger. Once you hit MLB you are who you are. Castro is a see-ball-hit-ball player.

    All that being said, I still think he is the 2B of the future. He is not a good SS.

    • Dork

      I tend to think there was a tweek in approach. I do think that Casto is now looking for pitches that he can drive. Certainly not patient, but not quite as agressive either. Especially with less than 2 strikes. With 2 strikes he is still very aggressive. I think you might see this in his O-swing and Z-swing numbers with less than 2 strikes. I might have to look at that when I get a chance.

  • Chuck

    It is great to see Castro mashing again. I don’t believe in messing with players too much (aside from an obvious flaw) once they hit the MLB level. You need to get them much younger. Once you hit MLB you are who you are. Castro is a see-ball-hit-ball player.

    All that being said, I still think he is the 2B of the future. He is not a good SS.

    • Dork

      I tend to think there was a tweek in approach. I do think that Casto is now looking for pitches that he can drive. Certainly not patient, but not quite as agressive either. Especially with less than 2 strikes. With 2 strikes he is still very aggressive. I think you might see this in his O-swing and Z-swing numbers with less than 2 strikes. I might have to look at that when I get a chance.

  • Honestly, how about this bullpen? I feel uneasy about feeling uneasy… so confused.

    • Dork

      Well said, that is what being a cubs fan is all about

  • Honestly, how about this bullpen? I feel uneasy about feeling uneasy… so confused.

    • Dork

      Well said, that is what being a cubs fan is all about

  • Awesome post by the way, SP. You knocked it out of the park…don’t be a stranger.

    • Sean Powell

      Thanks man, I appreciate that. I’m in the middle of a move from Georgia to Texas (I’m actually hanging with family in Tennessee right now in between), so I haven’t had a free second over the past few weeks – I definitely plan to get back to regular posts once I get settled.

      • Keep an eye open for our missing Johnsons on your travels.

  • Awesome post by the way, SP. You knocked it out of the park…don’t be a stranger.

    • Sean Powell

      Thanks man, I appreciate that. I’m in the middle of a move from Georgia to Texas (I’m actually hanging with family in Tennessee right now in between), so I haven’t had a free second over the past few weeks – I definitely plan to get back to regular posts once I get settled.

      • Keep an eye open for our missing Johnsons on your travels.

  • Eddie Von White

    To sum up: Castro is getting better with age.

  • Eddie Von White

    To sum up: Castro is getting better with age.

  • Doc Raker

    Dave Kingman hit the ball as hard and as far as any big leaguer I have seen, pre steroids to boot.

  • Doc Raker

    Dave Kingman hit the ball as hard and as far as any big leaguer I have seen, pre steroids to boot.

  • Doc Raker

    What a winnable game flushed down the crapper. The Cubs had men on 3rd base with less than 2 outs twice and failed to score them , one of them was a leadoff triple. They laid down a safety squeeze for their second run but had another chance to bunt again for a 3rd run and failed to do that. Then our gold glove second baseman who can’t hit a lick throws a 9th inning double play ball away to literally throw the game away along with that poor bastards Smarja’s first win of the year. Then Veras comes in the 13th and gives up his usual 2 runs per inning to seal the Cubs fate.

    Tuesday’s game was a bookmakers nightmare. The Yankee’s starting pitcher was riding a 34-0 record and pitching against the team with the worst record in all of the MLB. So does he go to 35-0 as expected, no the worst team in the MLB beats him. That’s baseball, just when you think you figured it out, bam, the baseball Gods slap you upside your head.

    • PLCB3

      You win 60, you lose 60. It’s how you play the other 42.

      • Doc Raker

        This was one of the 42 and we flushed it down the crapper.

    • PLCB3

      Why are the runs given up in the 13th earned runs? They should be unearned runs because the game should never have gone to extras.

  • Doc Raker

    What a winnable game flushed down the crapper. The Cubs had men on 3rd base with less than 2 outs twice and failed to score them , one of them was a leadoff triple. They laid down a safety squeeze for their second run but had another chance to bunt again for a 3rd run and failed to do that. Then our gold glove second baseman who can’t hit a lick throws a 9th inning double play ball away to literally throw the game away along with that poor bastards Smarja’s first win of the year. Then Veras comes in the 13th and gives up his usual 2 runs per inning to seal the Cubs fate.

    Tuesday’s game was a bookmakers nightmare. The Yankee’s starting pitcher was riding a 34-0 record and pitching against the team with the worst record in all of the MLB. So does he go to 35-0 as expected, no the worst team in the MLB beats him. That’s baseball, just when you think you figured it out, bam, the baseball Gods slap you upside your head.

    • AC0000000

      You win 60, you lose 60. It’s how you play the other 42.

      • Doc Raker

        This was one of the 42 and we flushed it down the crapper.

    • AC0000000

      Why are the runs given up in the 13th earned runs? They should be unearned runs because the game should never have gone to extras.

  • PLCB3

    You have a choice between a .350 OBP, low K player, or a .425 OBP, high K player. The .425 OBP player also has a higher slugging and ISO than the .350 OBP. Which player are you taking? I’m taking the high K player.

    • Sean Powell

      Find me one of those…

      • PLCB3

        Juan Pierre.

  • PLCB3

    Making a productive out means that there have to be runners on base for the batter to advance the runners on an out. Not something he can control. I want a high walk/OBP player, because his discipline extends the at bat to the point where he can get a good pitch to reach base, whereas a wild swinger is out and doesn’t get that pitch.

    • Sean Powell

      Yes, you want a high walk/OPB player, you don’t want a high K player

      • PLCB3

        I’ll live with the high K totals if he is a high walk/OBP player. Such as Thome. Would you take Thome for his high walks/OBP or pass on him because of his high K rates? We already know one idiot who passed on him because of the latter, and it cost him a playoff spot.

      • Sean Powell

        You can live with somewhat high K rates if the walk rate and power numbers are good, but Thome would have been even BETTER had he struck out less. Ks are bad, period.

      • PLCB3

        You and Ozzie would get along great. Thome was the reason the Twins won the division in 2010 and the White Sox didn’t. If the trash had brought him back, the results would have been different.

      • PLCB3

        This sounds a lot like the reasons Ozzie gave for not wanting to bring back Thome in 2010 and replacing him with Juan Pierre, Andrew Jones, and Mark Kotsay.

        Among the reasons:
        He strikes out too much
        He can’t play the field
        He clogs the bases
        Because Jones, Pierre, and Kotsay can play the field I can move players around more to play the match-up game better instead of Thome locked into the DH spot.

        Instead Thome went to the Twins, where he delivered the death sentence on August 17, 2010. And Thome was a part-time player with the Twins. Ozzie could have kept Thome and still had the flexibility he wanted.

      • Sean Powell

        You’re going off the rails here.

      • PLCB3

        Not really. Because those are the reasons Ozzie gave for not bringing Thome back. And not bringing Thome back cost the trash in 2010.

  • Eddie Von White

    What about if you strike out, its a passed ball, you make it to first, and the runner on third scores the walk off run? Does that count as never ever?

    • PLCB3

      Only if there are 2 outs. Because otherwise the K would have no bearing on the wild pitch/passed ball.

    • Sean Powell

      You still did nothing positive. If you would have just taken the pitch, the passed ball would have still scored the run. Your scenario is pure chance/luck, which does actually exist.

  • PLCB3

    98% of the time the defense makes the out when a routine ball is hit to them. A strikeout requires a minimum of 3 pitches. A ball in play could be an out on the first pitch.

    • Sean Powell

      League-wide BABIP is historically around .300, so no…

      • PLCB3

        I meant routine playable balls. Such as a ground ball hit to an infielder, a can of corn hit to the outfield, etc. That’s what you implied when you said make the defense make a play.

      • Sean Powell

        You don’t understand BABIP. You can’t control where a ball goes after it is hit. Some smash line-drives go for outs, some weakly-hit tappers off the end of the bat drop for hits. It equals out to around .300 (a little lower in the last couple of years due to shifting, probably). Line-drives are more likely to be hits, and bloops a little less likely, but it all evens out to be around .300. A strike-three pitch has exactly 0% chance of dropping for a hit 100% of the time. You are the only person on earth that thinks strikeouts could ever be positive, and you are wrong…and I’m done arguing with you about it. You’re shirtless right now, aren’t you?

      • PLCB3

        I’ll live with a high K player if he has a good OBP, sees a lot of pitches per plate appearance, and is a disciplined hitter such as Thome or Dunn. I don’t want a player who has a high K total because he’s a wild swinger like Sosa. I don’t like BABIP, because to begin with batting average excludes walks, and now BABIP further excludes K and HR.

      • PLCB3

        As for the shirt, I am wearing a shirt. I have been in Chicago for job training the entire week.

  • PLCB3

    Random thought: The Sac Fly is not counted as a turn at-bat because the intention is to avoid penalizing hitters for a successful maneuver. But the hitter’s OBP still drops because the sac fly is not considered a tactical maneuver (players don’t try to hit a fly ball to advance a runner.) But now, the RBI groundout IS counted as a turn at-bat and the batter’s average and OBP will drop, because the player isn’t trying to hit a ground ball to advance a runner. Both the flyout and groundout that advance a runner but don’t score a runner are counted as a turn at-bat and a lowered on-base percentage. So why does a flyout that scores a run not count as a turn AB but a groundout that scores a run does?

  • AC0000000

    Random thought: The Sac Fly is not counted as a turn at-bat because the intention is to avoid penalizing hitters for a successful maneuver. But the hitter’s OBP still drops because the sac fly is not considered a tactical maneuver (players don’t try to hit a fly ball to advance a runner.) But now, the RBI groundout IS counted as a turn at-bat and the batter’s average and OBP will drop, because the player isn’t trying to hit a ground ball to advance a runner. Both the flyout and groundout that advance a runner but don’t score a runner are counted as a turn at-bat and a lowered on-base percentage. So why does a flyout that scores a run not count as a turn AB but a groundout that scores a run does?