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Once one of the hottest young prospects in the game, Chicago Cubs’ Starlin Castro has gone ice-cold through two and a half months of baseball. The career .290 hitter is now posting a .243 batting average, which isn’t even above the league average. His current wRC+ is a dismal 68, way off of his average of 100 per year.
Things have gotten so bad for him that he’s recently been dropped from second to seventh in the Cubs batting order. Considering the team the Cubs are fielding right now, that’s a very bad sign. Coupled with his below-average defense at short, Castro could be in serious danger of losing his job.
Castro has always been a fast starter, which makes this season a bit alarming. During his first three seasons in the big leagues, April and May have always been his best months. He slips a little in June but picks it back up again as summer draws to an end. From April through June last season, Castro was hitting .284 which is just one point higher than he finished the season at (a career low BA).
From 2010-2012, his BA for April (May for 2010 as that’s when he was brought up) has been .310 in ’10, .348 in ’11 and .333 in ’12. In 2013 his average in April was an acceptable .277, down to a .252 in May, and an embarrassing .071 so far in June.
You might think he’s hurt in some way and doesn’t want to reveal it, or perhaps he’s made some change to his approach at the plate. You’d like not to think that Castro simply isn’t the type of player fans though he was, but at this point you have to consider it.
Heck, maybe he’s losing motivation given the same song and dance every year in Chicago.
Though lets put assumption aside for a moment at take a look at his numbers.
For starters, his wOBA is at a much too low .275–especially for a number two hitter who averages a .323). His strikeout rate is up, but just slightly (~3%). His walks are down a tad and his BABIP is right in line with the league average. Speaking of BABIP, Castro’s average has shown decline every season–from .346 in 2012 to .286 in 2013. That decline could be a sign of a slower runner, weaker bat control, or a flat-out increase in bad luck.
It terms of his approach and the types of contact he’s producing, it’s relatively unchanged in respect to flyballs, grounders, and line drives:
Perplexity continues as Castro’s swing tendencies are in line with his career norms as well.
OK then, lets look at the types of swings he’s taking. Nothing too alarming here, though it would appear Castro is chasing low and outside a bit:
He’s not swinging any differently than he has in his previous seasons–almost all swings at pitches, as well as contact in and out of the zone do not deviate from the norm. The only real difference is his contact on pitches out of the zone are down around 3%, as is his contact in general–not enough to make a case for his sudden ineptitude.
Despite the mystery surrounding Castro, some clues–albeit slight, more of guess–of whats going on begin to come to light:
You want to see a distribution of contact as even as possible and this chart for Castro looks quite unbalanced. What I’m seeing above is the fact that Castro isn’t elevating pitches to his right–they are all grounding to the infielders with a handful of right field contact dropping for hits. When he is elevating the ball–line drive or fly ball–he’s swinging late either by design to go opposite field, or by accident. Even then, he’s hitting a number of grounders for outs.
What you can take from this is simply a player whose skills have already hit the high water mark and have begun to roll back. Castro is still a very young player and you have to be alarmed at this kind of decline, which you normally see occur as a player reaches his 30′s. Castro hasn’t even hit the ripe old age of 27–the year most players peak–so a watchful eye will need to be kept on how well he is (or perhaps isn’t) able to bounce back.
Realistically–and judging by what I’ve looked at–this is nothing more than a player on his way to a down year. It happens, and Cubs fans should be used to this type of thing by now. His intangibles are too good for him to drop off like this for good and considering there isn’t a glaring, irreparable deficiency, I’d say Castro will be fine in the long run.
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