How I would "fix" Starlin Castro

How I would "fix" Starlin Castro

Disclaimer: I am not about to presume how to tell professional hitters or coaches what they should do.  In my prime years, I batted 6th on my company softball team, so there is no appeal to authority here.

But I do understand teaching and I do know enough to understand that the Cubs staff botched their efforts to "fix" Starlin Castro over the past couple of years.  After Mauricio's great piece earlier on Castro, the former teacher/training coordinator in me got to thinking about what I would do with Castro and his approach to hitting.

For what it's worth, here is what I think:  The Cubs were upside down, inside out and backwards in their efforts to change Castro's approach.  Instead of having him focus on what he should take, they should have him focus on what he should hit.  After all, that's what he likes to do.  That's what motivates him.  So why not appeal to that instead of getting him to think in a way that's completely unnatural to him?

If I were a hitting coach, I'd make it as simple as possible and let it develop from there.  Specifically, I'd have Castro focus on taking the ball back up the middle -- from gap to gap and everything in between. That's where he has done a lot of damage in the past, so he should have something of a history and comfort zone with that approach.

Instead of consciously getting him to take pitches for the sake of taking them -- which seemed like the case last year -- I'd have him focus on how he's going to hit the ball. It's a subtle difference but if Castro goes up with the mindset of shooting the gaps and taking it back up the middle, then he's naturally going to look for pitches that will help him do that.  He's going to look for balls  that are in the middle or closer to either side of the plate -- and hopefully take a pass on pitches that are too hard to drive back up the middle (i.e. pitches low and away).

And forget right field.  For now, anyway.

A mindset to take the ball to right field doesn't work because it makes him even more vulnerable to that pitch low and outside.  If I were pitching, I'd much rather have Castro dump singles into RF than have him take one right back up the box.  And as he continually settles for swinging at pitches off the plate to get opposite field hits, I would continue to expand that zone outward and exploit his eagerness to make contact.  Then, right when I have him looking away, I can get away with surprising him high and in with good velo.  It keeps him honest and keeps the pitcher in control of the at bat.  In a nutshell, that's how pitchers consistently set up Castro last year.   He was always one step behind.

Castro is an aggressive hitter. He wants to make hard contact and he's good at it, so tailor his approach to that strength. Get him to start thinking about where he wants to hit and what pitches will help him reach that goal. If he starts to have some success, I think discipline begins to take care of itself because the concept becomes less abstract to him.  It becomes more of a practical matter because the presumption is that he won't want to swing at pitches that take him away from that success.

As a bonus, I think his patience can grow organically this way. He's never going to walk at anything more than an average rate (at best), but if he's hitting pitches hard consistently between the inside and outside corners of the plate, then pitchers are going to start avoiding the plate altogether and hoping to get him to chase. As long as he understands that will get him away from what he wants to do -- which is drive the ball between the gaps, then logic dictates that he should wait for them to make that mistake in his zone.  Moreover, as pitchers are forced to work closer in, they won't be able to expand as far off the plate.  He'll still be able to occasionally poke that outside pitch to RF, but he won't depend on it as heavily as he did last year.  That should not be his bread and butter.  It should be his fallback, a skill he utilizes only when the opportunity and situation arises.

To put it in simplest terms, he needs to learn to set up pitchers better. As noted, so far it's been the other way around.

One of the many things I admired about Ryne Sandberg was his ability to dupe pitchers into throwing baseballs into his wheelhouse.  He frequently set them up swinging at and fouling off outside pitches knowing that eventually they would try to come back and bust him inside.  And when they did, he was ready. When he was in a groove, he was always one step ahead.

I  have no doubts that Castro has the physical skills needed to be a plus to plus-plus hitter with above average power.  It's the mental part of the game that he needs to develop.   But to do that, you cannot throw too much at him and force him to switch to an unfamiliar mindset.   If you do that, he'll always be playing catch-up.  You need to use his strengths and keep him motivated.  You need to keep him focused by setting simple goals that he can build on.

I think if he can do that, the rest can take care of itself.  Castro doesn't need to be fixed, he needs to be pointed in the right direction.  The rest is up to him.

 

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  • fb_avatar

    The KISS principle of usually the best way of doing things. Good article! They need to start with what he does do well and work backwards. The real key for him, or any hitter for that matter, is to be able to keep pitchers honest.

  • In reply to Michael Caldwell:

    Pitchers had their way with Castro last year. He's a good natural hitter, possibly a great one, but nobody is good enough to continuously succeed from a position of disadvantage.

  • I like this approach, John. Makes a lot of sense.

    Anyone have Bill Mueller's contact info?

  • In reply to Matt Mosconi:

    Thanks Matt. I can't give Mueller advice as a hitter, but from teacher to teacher, I would ask him to keep it simple and focus on the things that motivate Castro.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Keeping it simple is always the way to go when trying to learn the basics of a 'new' skill,.... or to get back one's groove on a skill that one already mostly had, but has let lapse.

  • In reply to drkazmd65:

    Agreed on both counts.

  • We all know that the mental aspect of the game is very important.
    Can's stress the importance of having a manger that speaks
    his language.

  • In reply to emartinezjr:

    Agreed and I think that is the area of the game that Castro needs to develop to take his game to another level.

  • This is really, really good stuff. I can only assume the Cub's staff is thinking in a similar way.

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    Thanks for the article John!! Hopefully Renteria can use Castro's aggressiveness as a positive attribute and help lead him in a step in the right direction

  • In reply to rynofan74:

    You're welcome. I like Renteria's potential to do exactly that.

  • If the Cubs had Vlad Guerrero or Manny Sanguillen would they mess with 'em?
    I wouldn't. Some guys are just "see ball hit ball" kind of guys.

    If Castro just gets back to where he was a couple of years ago, I'd be good with it.

  • In reply to hoffpauir6:

    Good post. Leave the guy alone & let him do his thing. If he struggles, then go over the film with him & point out what's different, work on it & go from there. This changing for the sake of change is nonsense.

  • In reply to hoffpauir6:

    Crazy thing about Vlad is that he was considered a free swinger, yet he took a good number of walks through his career. First, he had insane hand eye coordination and was so strong that he could do damage on pitches you wouldn't expect him to swing at.

    I think this goes a bit to John's thought on approach. Starlin may want to focus on looking for pitches he can hit. I think he has good enough coverage of the plate that this approach would quickly get him back to his previous state. He will never get to Vlad's level, but a path back to perennial All Star would be just fine by me.

  • I hit CLEANUP for my company softball team.

    Yup. Sure did.

  • In reply to Rob Letterly:

    Can you still hit? We'll call you up when we start the Cubs Den softball team.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Hitting's fun.
    The whole fielding, throwing & running thing... not so much.

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    There's a simple way to turn Castro into a Hall of Famer: trade him to the Cardinals.

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    Uggg,.... a sad statement,.... but probably would end up true.

    Let's NOT do that,..... MmmmmmmK?

    :D

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    Yep.

  • John, you make a heck of a lot of sense. Let's see if it plays out that way this year.

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    how about a basic question: which part of this:
    .307 .341 .432
    needed fixing?

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    In reply to SKMD:

    With all due respect, I think that's a little bit of hindsight. Those numbers are obviously good and especially so compared to 2013 Castro. But I think we should remember how most of us felt about Castro until 2012: he was already an all-star SS, but it was so obvious he could still be so much better if only he improved his approach at the plate (not to mention his defense). For all of the good results he was getting with the bat, he was still wasting lots of at-bats by unexplicably chasing bad pitches. So I think it was pretty understandable that the new regime tried to push him to the elite level they thought he was capable of reaching. It didn't work out, evidently, but I believe it was still worth it. It's not like now Castro is broken forever and too old to go back to his earlier approach. And I still hope that eventually he ends up internalizing some of the patience they tried to "force" into him, even if he decides to just ignore the coaching instructions like he indicated he would do late last season.

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    In reply to João Lucas:

    I mean, "inexplicably". That's a tough one for me...

  • In reply to SKMD:

    I think we're on the same page -- which is get him back to what he does best and things will start falling into place from there.

  • Good piece. Solid reasoning. We'll see if it is justified but I am hopeful about Mueller.

    Along with a better approach at the plate I hope Castro will be more focused all round.

    Personally, I was a good high school bunter and as a soft baller could use my speed to turn triples into doubles.

  • John, Good article. Completely agree that the cubs should build from the things he did well. But will he listen to even this sensible approach? I hope so.

  • In reply to pricewriter:

    Thanks. I hope so. I think he's coachable but I think it was confusing to him last year and it eventually frustrated him.

  • I get the impression that Castro isn't a rocket scientist. He's a kid from the sticks in the Dominican with little education who is overwhelmed by big bucks and the big city. But he's a natural athlete.

    Yogi Berra supposedly said, "I can't think and hit at the same time." Let Starlin be Starlin.

  • In reply to clarkaddison:

    in my experience people have different types of intelligence and at a quick glance along with bits and pieces I've been able to glean -- plus my instincts as a teacher/trainer for most of my adult life, he strikes me as an intuitive learner. I think he learns from the inside out and getting him to learn from a step-by-step mechanical way is working from the outside in. What seems right for some people, I suspect seems awkward to him. This is all just my opinion on limited information, but I've worked with so many students in my life that it becomes somewhat instinctual to me.

    I think you have to start with the basics and let his instincts/intuition guide him back to the things he did well. Once it starts to click, you can add on to it then -- but I'd start simple and work outward.

  • Also, Castro should see and study the way pitchers pitch to him. If he'd do that, it might sink in more about the wisdom behind your words.

  • I think of myself as a young man and where I'm at today and I'm sure we all wish we had the benefit of hindsight.

    Good analysis John. I think if Castro is going to go the other way, it should be purely situational. If you got a hit and run going, and the pitcher is going to bust you outside, you have a good feeling it's going to happen, and there is a hole on the right side, go for it.

    But, I would rather see Castro square the ball up. This isn't Theriot or Barney we are talking about. You would like to see all hitters square it up, but some hitters need to play more to their strengths.

    If Sandberg can hit the number of homers he did, so can Castro, but the mental tools are just as important as the physical ones.

    He needs to read articles like this, take in as much info as possible, and then do the garbage in, garbage out process all of us do on a daily basis to be the best at what we do.

  • In reply to givejonadollar:

    Thanks Jon. Agree -- Castro is at it's best when he's squaring up and making hard contact from gap to gap. Would like to see him get back to that and see where it goes from there.

  • In reply to givejonadollar:

    Sandberg didn't hit double digit HR's until 24 yrs. old. Didn't hit 30 hr's until 29. There's still time for maturity, power-wise, after 2 wasted years of Sveum/Deere

  • Great analysis. Hope someone from the Cubs coaching staff is reading this.

  • In reply to toboyle9:

    Thanks. I can only offer my expertise/experience as a teacher, but I'm sure they have their ideas on things from a baseball standpoint.

  • A lot of times, a student needs to fail first in order to succeed later. It teaches them what doesn't work and to John's point allows them to work on what does. I think Starlin knows what isn't working for him. My hope is that sting not living up to expectations allows him to have a better understanding of where his strengths are and his overall capabilities. I hope Renteria provides him a calm, supportive environment that allows Castro to play to his strengths. I worry about the spectre of Baez/Alcantara being something that makes him force it a little too much. As much as I didn't like the drama of Ozzie Guillen, it did take the pressure off of his players since he was the focus of attention. I am not saying Renteria needs to do the same but creative PR to help ease the tensions. I say lets talk about Samardzija some more!!!!

  • In reply to Gator:

    That's a great point Gator. We've all probably had a time as students when we struggled. The key is to figure out what works best for us. I remember when I first went to college and saw everyone furiously taking notes at lectures. I followed suit -- and I struggled. Eventually realized that I did better by listening closely, jotting down a few key points and then going back over it later.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    What a great, great example that is. I was in the exact same situation throughout college until, like you, I realized my time was better served just watching and listening to the teacher.

  • Good stuff John. Nothing is more frustrating than watching a hitter take a fastball right down the middle and then swing at a slider two feet outside. That happened way too often last year to Starlin. Maybe it was because the coaches insisted he take more pitches, or maybe he wasn't seeing the ball well. Whatever the reason, let's get back to the Castro we all enjoyed his first two years with the Cubs.

  • While I think there's some obvious things, none of us were there during BP or instruction so we're really just speculating about what/how they told him to focus on.

    The troubling part for us fans was that Castro looked lost, intimidated at times even. He would approach an AB with a sort of a confused or general malaise on his face... Not good. Opposing pitchers smelled blood and easily had their way with him.

    The biggest issues for him are mental. If he can get comfortable and get off to a good start to the season, I can see him back to a .750+ OPS SS.

  • fb_avatar

    Very good thought process, John. If I may add to that a bit, as you know, my son and I do teach hitting and the one thing I would change physically is that leg kick. A short, simple trigger and stride would allow Starlin to wait longer on a pitch before deciding whether or not to swing, just as using a lighter bat did for Soriano. The longer a hitter can wait, the better decisions he can make. As Ted Williams was fond of saying, "Wait, wait, wait. Quick, quick, quick."

  • fb_avatar

    John, have there been any updates on De La Rosa? I am curious how he is healing and to what extent he was injured in the car accident. Any info would be great! Thanks!

  • In reply to Jordan Dutcher:

    Haven't heard anything lately. All I know is that he didn't have any major injuries and that he will be ready for spring training.

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    In reply to John Arguello:

    Great - Thanks!

  • Just leave the man alone. Everyone thinks they can be a baseball coach. He's a great natural hitter and he proved that his first few years, even after pitchers tried to adapt to him. Let him hit without any distractions in SP and if it works, leave him alone the rest of the year. I don't care if he draws walks by accident, as long as he can hit .310 - .330. If it doesn't work during SP, give him some more time. He'll hit eventually.

    The only thing I'd do is check his vision, there could be a problem that hampers his pitch recognition.

  • In reply to SFToby:

    I think he's beyond being just left alone. He's gone too far in the wrong direction and it's not fair to ask him to find his way back on his own. They dont' need to be overbearing but they can guide him back or point him in the right direction.

    I'm not being a hitting coach here because I made no suggestions from a mechanical aspect. This was about how I would go about teaching Castro. And I was a teacher and/or training coordinator for many years, so I know something about that.

  • John, you may not be a hitting instructor, I'm not one either, but I agree with this... He needs to forget about RF for now.

    One thing very important is that Castro is an instinctual player, he's not a great student or mechanic-based player like Barney is... Most of the things Castro does is instincts... Brenly always said Castro swung at pitches just because he could make contact... It is a clear indicator that he didn't really have a plan, he was just going by instincts... Which is why you can't just tell Castro to take more pitches and take more walks... These are things he will learn with time and instincts.

    Even his defense, with coaching, he just didn't show up one day and became a great defensive SS, like Barney did from 2011 to 2012... But Castro has slowly and instinctively improved on his defense every season.

    I agree with your theory about just simplifying things, know where you want to hit the ball so you can look for pitches that will help you do that... But mostly, let him follow those instincts that made him a .300 hitter and don't take away his aggressiveness because that was his strength.

    I like what Mueller said, which is probably similar to what you said... Bill Mueller said he has talked to some players and while he has only worked with Barney so far, he wants players to be the same in every at bat.... And Barney also said Mueller and Brumley want to simplify things and not make things too complicated... That works for me.

  • In reply to Caps:

    Thanks Caps. I think he's a very instinctual hitter and sometimes i do wonder if the Cubs interfered with it a bit. I think eventually he needs to go on more than just instincts, but I think he'll get there. Even if he doesn't, I think he can be a solid average SS but if the rest of his mental game develops than he could be much more.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    I agree, I also think those instincts can lead to learning... When he got to the bigs, in 2010, he would dump a ball for a soft single on a 3-1 count, but the very next year, thanks to those instincts, he started taking good hacks on hitter's counts... I think that for instinctual players (and I'm not saying you're wrong, he needs to go on more than just instincts, that's for sure) repetition and experience is the best learning tool, use his instincts as a strength...

  • Excellent advice on how to get Castro back to being Castro, if you know what I mean.

    Do you, or any of our other knowledgeable Cubs Denizens, think that maybe he suffered from a case of 'Looking in the Rearview Mirror' last year? Baez was a monster last year on the diamond, and there has been heaps of talk about him possibly being the future SS for the Cubs.

    Castro is still a young kid, part of me wonders if the Baez talk has been bothering him.

  • In reply to HefCA:

    That is simple competition. Usually competition brings out the best in the players involved. That is the beauty of what this FO is doing. They are setting up competition for most of the positions.

  • In reply to John57:

    What competition? There is no competition between them now, only speculation and talk in the media. I'm talking solely about competition between Castro and Baez for the SS job. That won't happen until probably ST 2015.

    Maybe the speculation about the "heir apparent" to the SS job is a little bothersome to someone who currently owns the starting position, and hasn't even competed with the other guy yet.

    But I understand what you mean. If/when the true competition occurs, that's what baseball is all about. Best player for the position wins.

  • In reply to HefCA:

    Thanks HefCA

    Castro did have a lot of things going on. There were the sexual assault allegations, the new coaching staff, learning a new approach, finding himself with a whole lot of money all of the sudden, and the pressure of Baez maybe didn't help. I think if that was the problem then he needs to learn to get past all of that. And Baez isn't going away anytime soon.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    The bounce back scenario does look good for him. We know he can be a star in this league because he's already performed at that level. 2014 will answer more than a few questions about this team, and its future. Starlin's future will be one of them. I'll be rooting for him.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Didn't he also have a problem with money being removed from his account in the Dominican Republic?

  • In reply to Richard Beckman:

    That's right. Add another issue he had to deal with. I'm sure few players are as happy to leave 2013 behind as Castro.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Castro is going have a lot of pressure in a couple years when they are on the verge of the world series. He needs to find that cocky attitude that Baez uses against the opposing pitcher. Is he gonna crack this year because of the legal problem right now, maybe?

    If he is not that guy, then Theo and Jed need to book him a ticket out of town and bring someone else in.

    That's the one thing that worries about all these young core players is not having an veteran present to light a fire under them. Tell them about the big games and dealing with slumps. Rentaria is not gonna have the same kind of relationship. Even though he's probably not a great player anymore i really thought a guy like granderson would have been a good impact on the young guys.

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    Makes a ton of sense John. I once heard Peanut Tillman asked what makes him so good at creating turnovers. I was waiting for a lengthy scientific football answer but he just said "I don't know, see ball - get ball." My favorite answer in interview history. Some guys just need to do their thing. Hey, company softball 6th is nothing to turn your nose up at. I think Sarlin will thrive under his new skipper.

  • john great write up !!! I also think that castro has underrated power as well, people around the team say he is a strong kid. I have seen him hit some homeruns in parks that is not easy to hit out of, and he has some opposite field pop as well. Like you said if he just concentrate on going up the middle and the gaps you will start to see the untapped power.

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    Just musing with no evidence to back it up, but does anyone else think that maybe Latin. Players who make it to the bigs do so based on natural talent honed on the unstructured sandlots in the DR and Cuba and Venezuela, whereas elite American kids have been instructed to death since pony league? In which case Latin players who are already "good enough" might be better served just being left alone to do their thing?

  • In reply to SKMD:

    I'm not sure if it's that defined. There are some cultural differences but definitely a lot of crossover too. Arismendy Alcantara, Jorge Soler, Jeimer Candelario, Kevin Encarnacion, and others in the Cubs system have very good plate discipline. Alcantara in particular learned it relatively late in his minor league career.

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    In reply to John Arguello:

    Sure, but I'm just talking about learning styles - do Latin players learn more by feel, or trial and error because that's all they had as kids and that's how they got where they are, while American players need/expect instruction because that's how they got where they are.

  • In reply to SKMD:

    I would think the kids that make it into the acadamies down there end up getting as much instruction or more than American players, who often times play multiple sports throughout the year (although apparently that is becoming less frequent as even some young kids are choosing or being forced to specialize nowadays)..

  • Personally, I put most of the blame on Starlin before the coaching staff. His personal life was not good. He has a slider speed bat which fails to produce a lot of usable game power. He was in swing mode way too often last year...

    I think Bill Mueller is a great fit. I bet we'd be near unanimous in that poll. But let's be honest, every hitting coach in the world preaches "think up the middle, stay within yourself, hit the ball where it's pitched...". Similar to how all pitching coaches preach, "work down in the strike zone, get ahead in the count, trust your stuff, etc.". Hopefully Mueller and company just allows him to be himself which is what I think you were alluding to overall.

    Last year couldn't have been that fun as far as seasons go especially if you were dealing with lawsuits and what not. You nailed it when you said he needs to set up pitchers more often. To me, he's an ambush hitter. At his best he's hitting line drives into the cone, first or second pitch. I'm hoping he looks to do a little more damage when he's behind in the count. We saw a lot of weak groundballs on 0-1 and 1-2 pitches last year. He really should be a 40 doubles guy.

    Soriano's presence did a lot to shape Starlin as a hitter. I wonder where he'd be if it had been Miguel Cabrera or David Ortiz?? I know there's a .313/.346/.477 (42 2B/9 3B/22 HR/112 R/ 26 SB/88 RBI/ 212 H) season in there somewhere.

    It's been awesome reading all you guys' stuff.

  • In reply to Ben20:

    A cluttered mind will cause a slider speed bat. He has more than enough bat speed, and I think theo and company seen something in the coaching staff to fire them. I think its up to castro and the coaching to fix it.

  • In reply to seankl:

    You're right, seankl. It can indeed. And why not fire the staff? I'm good with all of that. Ultimately, he failed to execute the plan they had in mind for him. Whether it was a good idea or not, he didn't get it done. Like you said its up to him first, as well as the staff.

  • In reply to Ben20:

    The plan they had for him was not a good plan. You can't ask someone to execute a bad plan and then ask why didn't you get it done ? I didn't mean it was up to him first, you can't teach every player the same.

  • In reply to seankl:

    If you're in charge, you actually can ask him to execute a plan that they clearly thought at the time was a good plan. Right? They didn't say pre-2013, "Ok, Starlin here's your plan. We don't think it will work out but we want you to implement it anyway." After the season is over, and your SS puts up an absolute stinker, you can't fire him. He didn't execute, man. I think the change of his approach is slightly over blown. That being said, I'm happy with the new coaching staff and Castro's prospects overall.

    Think about it this way. What if he had executed their plan which was to see more pitches, get on base at a higher clip, use his speed a little bit more, hit for a little more power, play better defense....we'd all have been thrilled with that. He just showed that he's not that kind of hitter. Which is fine. I like the fact that the FO is disappointed that he didn't take it up a notch.

  • In reply to Ben20:

    I know they thought it was a good plan thats why they wanted him to execute it. Its not just castro, why didn't rizzo or barney step up ? Barney is not a great hitter but he is not as bad as he was last year. It's ok if the front office wants them to get on base more but you can't have the teachers(coaches and manager) teaching something else or teaching it wrong. Thats why they are no longer here.

  • In reply to Ben20:

    I agree with most but I would disagree he has a slider speed bat. Bat speed is plenty. Didn't seem that way because of how he was so easily set up at times. It made him look slow, but he's got bat speed, not Baez level, but more than enough.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    other than Gary Sheffield, who does have "Baez" level?...

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    In reply to HoosierDaddy:

    I don't know, but perhaps Soler. I've seen him live a couple of times and the bat speed is just wicked. The ball absolutely explodes off the bat like it did for few others. Dawson and Rice come to mind.

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    In reply to John Arguello:

    I can't imagine what it would be like to be told the approach that got you here needs changed then be shuffled all around the lineup while trying to implement the change. So many times he was behind in the count 0-1, 0-2 because he took pitches that in the past he crushed... trying to fit what the staff was pushing.

  • In reply to Ben20:

    Some of this goes on Sveum & Co too. He had way too many people in his earhole. Maybe he is a mental midget as some have painted him out to be, IDK... but even if he was, then the staff should have recognized what they were doing was counter-productive.

    Like others, I disagree on the bat speed... I saw him turn on many 96mph FB's and pull them foul. You don't do that without bat speed. Clearly there's other moving parts. last year, he was late on a lot of FB's, but that was mental indecision, pitch recognition that caused that tardiness... not his fast twitch muscles.

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    In reply to HoosierDaddy:

    agreed.

  • In reply to HoosierDaddy:

    I agree with you, Hoosier that there's culpability on their part. Ultimately though, he failed to execute the approach they had in mind for him. Way too many cooks in the kitchen. Agreed. Mental midget? No. High character guy? No. Solid above average player? Absolutely.

    Having a slider speed bat at the big league level is nothing to sneeze at. There are a lot of guys making a lot of money with slider speed bats. I'm not saying "he doesn't have enough bat speed" or "he lacks bat speed". Clearly he's shown he has the bat speed to be a successful major leguer. I'm saying that he does not possess top shelf bat speed at that level. He just has a slider speed bat which means he's not a guy that's likely to beat you consistently on fastballs in the upper part of the zone. He'll beat you on some of them. He's very adept at beating you on breaking balls up (like most guys). It doesn't mean he can't turn around a heater. Every major leaguer can turn on a 96mph heater and yank it foul. Even pitchers. Its over the course of a couple times through the league how many of those belt high 96 pieces are you going to do damage on? How many of those are going to beat you with a lazy fly ball or a foul ball? Whether agreed upon or not, its an idea that is in scouting reports around the league when it comes to how teams are going to work him.

    With utmost respect, Hoosier, I don't think he's as fast twitch as you do. I think that term is somewhat over used.

    Overall, I love the guy. I'm on board with him. He's just apparently not the kind of hitter who can afford to take a lot of pitches. I think the reason that is the case is that he's more 'beatable' than the average top of the order hitter at that level. His bat speed solid. But how solid is it when you take the 1,2, and 3 hole hitter from every team in the league and lump him into that group??

    Hitting him first or second really accentuates his aggressiveness in a negative light. I think when we're at our zenith, he'll be hitting fifth, sixth, or seventh.

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    Twain has this wonderful short story called "My Watch" in which the narrator takes his perfect new watch in to be wound, and the jeweler breaks it. This sets off a series of trips to experts who only break it further.

    Seems appropriate to mention that on this article.

  • I think most everyone can agree on what a two strike approach for hitters should be. Its the zero and one strike approach that some hitters struggle with. And I know when I played and coached I found the simplest approach worked best for basically everyone. For me that broke down to the following approach: keyhole, area, protect

    Ask yourself what you feel most comfortable hitting, the pitch you feel like you can drive most frequently, that should be the only pitch you look for with no strikes. Keyhole. For me it was a fastball inner half from kneecap waist. This means the hitter is aggressive, but focused and less likely to chase bad pitches.

    Once you get a strike you have to expand a little but you are still looking to drive the ball whether it is 0-1 or 3-1 so you still want to focus on the area of the plate you feel most comfortable but it has to be a little larger and you can't be as picky about only swinging at fastballs. So for me that translated to anything inner half or up in the middle of the plate.

    Situations can dictate different approaches at different times and at the MLB level I am sure there are certain pitchers with plus command that can dictate it as well in some scenarios. But the basic thought process translates at pretty much any level I would think. The outside corner, especially low and away, is the area a hitter is going to do the least damage and where a pitcher wants to induce a swing. So why do them a favor and swing at that pitch earlier than you have to.

  • In reply to mjvz:

    That works for me. Good stuff.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    The couple of years I worked with kids in little league I saw immediate improvements with every kid I taught this to that wasn't just overwhelmingly afraid of the ball. Before I worried about any mechanical flaws, teaching them this simple mental approach helped all of them both take more walks and hit the ball harder when they made contact. Helps build confidence before diving into anything more overwhelming that may need to be corrected.

    It is a mental approach that translates beyond baseball because it essentially breaks down to concentrate first on the thing that you are best at performing because that generally provides the most return on investment, then slowly build from there to try and cover all situations. It isn't a universal tool, but it its a good starting point.

  • In reply to mjvz:

    Great post, mjvz.

  • Also, I am not sold on Ruggiano playing a significant role. Historically he has had power but rather unproductive years. I am hoping for Vitters to also find himself as a left fielder and match his potential after struggling and let Lake platoon in both LF and CF.

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    In reply to Gator:

    You can make a case that for our 5th OF opening, we should be taking Vitters northward to Wrigley.

    Of all the 5th OF candidates, he is the only one on the 40-man for starters (I don't think B-Jax or Szczur are viable at this time)

    He's also in his last option year; time to establish himself at ML level, or not. He also, at this time, would be taking playing time from Lake or Ruggiano; not exactly Soler or Bryant. There isn't risk.

    Defensively, he stinks, but it doesn't matter, since the other 4 OF can all play pretty well. Vitters can also back-up 1B and 3B, areas of need. As a RH, he can spell Rizzo vs. tough lefties.

  • In reply to Zonk:

    Agreed - in a lot of ways - Vitters as 5th OF and occasional or emergency 3B/1B makes some sense roster-wise. There is an opportunity there for him.

    But he's got to kick in that door himself at this stage. Nobody's going to hand a job to him.

  • Aramis Ramirez is still making a living hitting first pitch fastballs. It seemed for awhile that Sveum/Rowson/Deer, pick your idiot, were trying to make Castro take that first pitch, no matter what it was. Don't take a strike away from Castro. Take one away from him, and he is so much easier to set up. He's a hitter, let him be a hitter. A batter only gets 3 strikes, and he needs all 3 of them. If someone tried to do that to Ramirez, he'd use the guy's head for a baseball and park it in the left field bleachers.

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    OT: Bryan LaHair signs with Indians, minor league deal with NRI to ST. While LaHair is not a starter or all-star, I think he's good enough to be on somebody's bench, particularly in the AL. Good signing for the Tribe, IMO.

  • In reply to Zonk:

    I'm rooting for LaHair.

  • In reply to Zonk:

    Good for him. And to echo HoosierDaddy,.... I'm rooting for the guy. He did everything the Cubs asked of him two seasons ago, and generally did it well until they made him into a part-time 1B and marginal part-time OF.

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    In reply to drkazmd65:

    That's not exactly true. laHair had more at bats in July than he did in April. The trouble is, he caught Darwin Barney-itis and forgot how to hit after mid-May.
    2012
    April 23/59 .390
    May 22/87 .253
    June 15/65 .231
    July 12/62 .194
    Aug 8/39 .205
    Sep 8/28 .286

    I think the biggest problem was moving from 3rd in the order to 5th. With Soriano behind him he got better pitches to hit. With the utterly useless "Handsome" Steve Clevenger behind him, he failed miserably. Even Darwin Barney would have offered better protection than Clevenger that year.
    Combine that with the fact that he was exhausted from playing a full winter season plus playoff and a switch to an uncomfortable defensive position, and that explains why he flailed (and failed) his way out of the line up.
    That all being said, I have maintained that he has the ability to be no worse than a Garret Jones type player and I am glad he's getting another shot at the major leagues.

  • @ Dan Schmidt: My favorite interview answer was when A writer asked Seve Ballesteros to descibe what happened on a four-putt he took that day. Seve said "I miss, I miss, I miss, I make".

    Rogers Hornsby descibed the secret to good hitting as simply "Get a good pitch to hit". Ted Williams turned this into an obsession, and eventually the best book on hitting ever written. The Hornsby approach is the way to start; then, gradually get into counts and situations.

  • Great article John! I seem to remember buzz early on in the Theo Boston years about trying to "fix" Manny, before the FO and Tito backed off a bit in favor of letting "Manny be Manny." I think it takes a mindset change and clearly tight linkage between the FO and the Manager. Hope that with the departure of Sveum (and not trying to imply that the Castro regression is all his fault) everyone can get on the same page and perhaps trust "Starlin to be Starlin?"

  • John - with all due respect to you, I hate these types of posts.

    First off, no one here has any clue as to what Castro was coached on last year or how he was coached. We can make inferences here and there, but we have absolutely no clue. To think that any of us do have knowledge is beyond ridiculous. All we know is that it didn't work.

    Second, who is to say your approach is correct? We don't know Castro at all or his personality. What works for one guy isn't going to work for another. Because you or someone else thinks that this sounds like a good idea doesn't mean it would work and for all we know it could make him worse.

    Many people here have had some level of experience in teaching certain aspects of the game and understand that it is very very difficult to do. And to think a bunch of morons like us has a solution to all that ails Castro or any other player is downright comical.

    Again John, don't mean to come down on you or anyone else, but the internet and message boards has fueled these kinds of discussion.

  • In reply to IrwinFletcher:

    "Disclaimer: I am not about to presume how to tell professional hitters or coaches what they should do. In my prime years, I batted 6th on my company softball team, so there is no appeal to authority here."

    That's how he started the article, I think John was very humble... And some here to have an eye for coaching, maybe not as professionals and maybe John is wrong, but maybe he is right... You have no way to prove otherwise... I've heard about players who are coached by their parents, who are no different than you and eye, but they have observed their kids.

    If you hate these kind of posts, it is your opinion and you're entitled to it... But you think is comical that us morons think we have the answer, but you can't really prove that we don't... What happens if 5 months from now Castro is hitting .290 and he and Renteria say the problem was exactly what John explained? I wouldn't be too quick with that judgement, naturally, everybody will try to chip in to analyze what they think is wrong.

  • In reply to Caps:

    Sorry, my phone's auto-correct changed some words... Especially the "you and eye" part... Which was supposed to say you and me...

  • In reply to Caps:

    For the record "morons like us" included myself. When it comes to the level of baseball knowledge required at that level, we are morons.

  • In reply to IrwinFletcher:

    Don't worry, I got your point, in know you didn't mean disrespect... And I sure know I'd screw Castro in a minute if I was to coach him lol.

  • In reply to IrwinFletcher:

    That's fair enough. You are entitled to your opinion, but if you are going to make assumptions about what "we" know, please leave me out of that equation. Everyone here has their unique set of knowledge and insights to the game. I, for one, prefer to speak for myself.

  • In reply to IrwinFletcher:

    I think your point has some legitimacy. But to say that 'none of us have a clue' or whatever is a little strong. I have a clue. Lots of clues on here, man.

  • In reply to IrwinFletcher:

    But what we DO know is that Castro went haywire big time last year. There has to be a reason for that. All John was doing is relating his teaching/training experience and telling us what he has learned about that type of "coaching" - working with students. I am a retired teacher as well, and I know that the more a student struggles, the more simple approach is needed (that is unless the student just isn't interested in learning). I think that's what John was getting at, not some grandiose, "here's what needs to be done, because I say so" approach.

  • In reply to cubs1969:

    Thank you. This pretty much nails the intention of the article to a tee.

  • I'm hoping fixing Castro is as simple as him not showing up fat.

  • The problem last year is that Dale lost the team. When that happens, the young people, in particular, can look really bad.

  • Thank you John and commentators for an informative and interesting read. I'm thinking Mueller and Renteria will be what the doctor ordered..

  • In reply to 44slug:

    You're welcome and thank you.

    From what I've heard and read about Renteria and Mueller, I think they're going to be great fits. I know that Mueller keeps things pretty simple.

  • This happens to be brilliant for one simple reason. If you are focusing on what to take, you make mistakes taking. If you focus on what to hit, you trim down the bad choices. You never teach from the negative!

  • OT from this discussion, but I'm planning on catching a few Boise Hawks games this season. Which players should I be keeping an eye out for in June/July?

    I appreciate all the hard work and time that you all put into this site. This is a daily (many times a day) read, for me.

  • Football and basketball coaching are my background, so I'll never pretend to know much, if anything, about coaching baseball skills. So, just from this thread alone, I have learned quite a bit from you baseball coaches. I do know that baseball skills are very difficult when you become an all-star and only succeed at the plate 30-some % of the time.

  • One thing that the Cubs are historically best at is spoiling young talent. Castro is an aggressive hitter. I think that this tendency is catered to in baseball. I agree with the article in that he should be encouraged in a positive way rather than in what not to do. He should be encouraged to focus on his strengths rather than his weaknesses. Up the middle is the path to success in MLB.

  • You fix Castro by trading him. Ex-cubs with talent have careers when they leave the Cubs organization. It has never been the curse of the billy goat but the curse of bad management. Having been a Cub fan for over 50 years I have seen countless Cub teams snatch defeat out of the jaws of victory. Jack Brickhouse could never say a bad word about the Cubs as they found ways to lose but people like Steve Stone had to move on because Dusty Baker cried to management when he felt his managerial moves or lack there of were being criticized. Case in point, the Cubs collapsed once again when Baker failed to replace Sosa in right field when he could not hit is weight the entire last month of the season. When Sosa left the club house early on the last day of the season the other players destroyed his boom box when they found him gone. Unfortunately the Cubs are like the car Christine, just when you think it is dead it comes back to life again and get our hopes up only to disappoint us countless mindless followers of Cub baseball.

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