Starlin Castro burst into the hearts of Chicago Cubs fans on May 7, 2010 against the Cincinnati Reds, hitting a three-run bomb in his first at bat and later tripling, leading to six RBI in his MLB debut. During a typically terrible season for the Cubs, 20-year-old Castro gave fans a reason to pay attention in 2010. After hitting .300 in his rookie season, Castro followed that performance up with a .307 average in 2011 while hitting 10 home runs and stealing 22 bases. It seemed that a star was born in Chicago and fans could not be more excited about the future possibilities for Castro.
Castro’s batting average dropped in 2012, but his offensive output continued to improve with an increased walk rate, improved raw power, and career highs in home runs (14) and stolen bases (25). Then, 2013 happened. Castro’s numbers plummeted and it was plain to see that he was not the same hitter at the plate that he had been in previous seasons. Strikeouts hit an all-time high at 18.3 percent and walks were at an all-time low at 4.3 percent. Castro’s power (.102 ISO) and batting average (.245) followed suit. According to FanGraphs, Starlin Castro was worth -0.1 Wins Above Replacement in 2013 after being worth over three WAR the previous two seasons.
Castro’s problems seemed to stem from changing his approach at the plate. Instead of looking to attack early in the count, he tried to be more patient at the behest of the Cubs’ front office. By changing Castro’s natural hitting approach, the Cubs killed all of Castro’s offensive value. Without his attacking nature, Castro’s contact percentage suffered across the board in 2013. On pitches in the strike zone, Castro had a contact rate of 89.2 percent, the first time in his career that he had been below 92 percent. This led to a career low contact rate of 81.7 percent and a career low zone-contact percentage of 49.2 percent. Additionally, Castro saw a career low percentage of first pitch strikes (49 percent), as well as overall pitches in the strike zone (45.2 percent).
Castro’s new approach led to a National League high for shortstops in pitches per plate appearance at 3.85, however, this number amazingly translated to a career low walk rate. Whether he was out thinking himself or just plain lost, Castro was simply not himself at the plate in 2013 and I believe last season will be seen as an extreme outlier in his career. The first fact to take into account is that Castro is still only 23 years old. Most players his age are lucky to be in Triple A. Castro won’t reach his prime for another few years and should continue to grow overall as a hitter.
In an interview on the McNeil and Spiegel show on 670 The Score, GM Jed Hoyer made comments about Castro being out of shape when he showed up at spring training last year. Hoyer went on to say that Castro’s frame can support more power and speed, so the Cubs sent their strength and conditioning coordinator Tim Buss out to the Dominican Republic this winter to train with Castro. Along with his physical abilities, Castro clearly needs to mature as a player and last year may have been the wake up call he needed. A stronger, more focused Castro should be better equipped to handle adversity in 2014.
This past season was the first time in Castro’s career that he has struggled. Castro coasted through the minor leagues, with a total of 57 games played at Double A and none at Triple A. He has never had to make adjustments and had never experienced failure until this past season. I believe Cubs fans will see a refocused Castro in 2014, who will resume his position as an impact player for the Chicago Cubs moving forward.
(All statistics courtesy of FanGraphs)