Antonio Losada | June 30th, 2019
We’re entering July. Up to 162 hitters would, as of this writing, qualify for the batting title with at least 3.1 PA per game. Do you know how many of those 162 players have currently a negative WAR? Ten of them. Do you know how many of those ten have under a minus-one WAR? Two of them. One of them (Yonder Alonso) is no longer part of an MLB roster. The other one, well, he is Starlin Castro and he should supposedly be one of Miami’s best players. Ugh.
Castro’s season is being terrible at best, horrid at worst. The only thing kind of helping him maintain his roster spot is probably his good-but-not-great defensive contribution.
On offense, though, things have looked impossibly bad for him.
Per Fangraphs “Pitch Type Linear Weights”, which aim to tell how a batter has performed against a certain pitch, only one player this season has negative values all across the board for each type of thrown ball he has seen: Yonder Alonso. The White Sox, as was expected, cut ties with him.
While not the worst among all qualified Major Leaguers, Castro ranks second by the standardized runs by pitch (they’re corrected and standardized on a “per 100 pitch” basis so batters can be better compared). The only pitch Starlin Castro is more or less having success with are curveballs (yet he’s only the 72nd-best run-producer while facing that pitch).
In a time when fastballs are less and less thrown on average, Castro is making pitchers reverse trends.
For the 2017 and 2018 seasons, Starlin Castro faced a similar profile of pitches thrown at him. Around 33% were fastballs and about 11% were curveballs. This year, though, the fastballs have raised to make up over 35% of the pitches he’s been thrown while curveballs have dropped to 7%.
This is not surprising considering Castro’s results at the plate. Pitchers are in for the kill, and poor Starlin is paying big time. They have discovered a terrible flaw in Castro’s game and they are exploiting it.
Here is how his batting average map looks for hard pitches this season:
And this is how he’s batting on average against breaking balls:
Yes, the sample size of a season (half of it, actually) may lead to wrong deductions, but the difference in performance is clear and explains why pitchers are keeping curveballs off him, minimizing the risks he brings to the plate.
The worst news for Castro is that the approach pitchers are putting in practice against him is only growing stronger each passing week. It shows in his monthly splits. Here are the walk and strike percentages of Castro since the start of the season, month to month, and for the first half of the year:
Strikeouts are pilling. Walks are sinking. The BB/K ratio for June is at a staggering 0.08. That is the worst mark among the 32 batters that have logged at least 100 PA in the month.
Castro has never been considered a great pitch recognizer (he’s only had two 6+ BB% seasons), and while his strikeout percentages floated around the 19% during the past three seasons he’s been able to keep it two points under that mark this year.
The problem for Starlin Castro, though, is that his flaws are showing in such a glaring way that they have been hard not to notice, making them easily exploitable.
Part of the Stanton deal back in 2017, Castro is only guaranteed a check for this season, as the 2020 season of his current contract is a club option that will be up to Miami to execute in order to keep him on budget. Even with his negative production, a comeback can’t be ruled out if Miami wants to keep some recognizable face around.
Of course, Starlin is by no means a franchise icon. He’s been in Florida just a year and a half now since the trade, he’s not developed any strong bond with the organization in that time and although he might be considered one of the best players (at least based on career accolades) on the roster, he’s nothing close to worth the $16 million he’d be owed next season.
A lucky streak (to be fair he’s holding a career-low .260 BABIP now) can make his season look much better, but things are not looking good so far for him. If he can’t correct his flaws and improve overall, Castro will be staring at free agency without a contract in place come December.
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Main Credit Image: Embed from Getty Images