Let’s just be honest — last season was an absolute disaster for Chicago Cubs shortstop Starlin Castro. He looked lost at the plate all season long, finishing with a putrid slash line of .245/.284/.347. His WAR (Wins Above Replacement) was -0.6. This means that Castro suddenly became a player that is worse than replacement level. After back-to-back All-Star seasons in 2011 and 2012, his drop off in 2013 is almost unprecedented.
Now, there certainly could be many reasons why Castro had such a steep decline last season. While other factors certainly held their place, I personally believe that the Cubs tried to change Castro’s approach — it backfired and this was the result. Castro entered the big leagues as an aggressive free-swinging 20-year-old player with great raw talent. While he quickly burst on to the scene because of his athletic ability and elite contact skills, many questioned whether he could sustain his success without becoming a more patient hitter.
Castro hit over .300 his first two MLB seasons, including a impressive 2011 season where he hit .307 and led the National League with 207 hits. While his plate coverage and contact skills was impressive, he simply lacked necessary plate discipline. Sure, he hit .307 in 2011, which is great, but his on-base percentage was only .341. He had another All-Star season in 2012, but the lack of plate discipline makes one wonder whether the league would eventually catch up to him.
The Cubs’ front office, led by President Theo Epstein, strongly believes in patience at the plate, and I believe they tried to change Castro’s approach in 2013. Honestly, I cannot blame them for trying. Sure Castro is an incredible contact hitter with great potential. But if he can just learn to lay off of bad pitches and swing at strikes, the sky is the limit.
Obviously the move backfired, as Castro had an awful season, but he is still a talented player with huge upside. I think that new Cubs’ manager Rick Renteria will be huge for Castro this season. There always seemed to be a disconnect between old manager Dale Sveum and Castro, and it is fair to wonder whether the language barrier had something to do with it. Renteria is known as a “player’s manager” and he can speak fluent Spanish. It may seem trivial, but speaking his native language should help Castro connect with his new manager.
Renteria has already said that he plans on having Castro as his lead-off hitter this season, and he wants him to be aggressive at the plate. Castro hit third for much of last season. That always seemed like an odd fit as he is not a middle of the order type of hitter. Castro’s skill set is much more suited at the top of the order, and in the past he always seemed very comfortable batting first.
I am betting on Castro to bounce back in a big way this season. He is far too talented to have another year like 2013. The progression of Castro will obviously be a big story for the Cubs all season long, starting right now in Spring Training. Castro needs to get back to his aggressive ways, and let the plate discipline come to him. He still must improve in that area, but on Opening Day Castro will only be 24-years-old, and there is still plenty of time for him to grow.