Starlin Castro and looking ahead to 2014

Starlin Castro and looking ahead to 2014

Precocious talent doesn't come the Cubs' way too often. It seems that every breakout performance by a young player who tempts the gods by teasing at elite production is summarily followed by a trail of tears leading down tragic paths like "Shoulder Injury" and "Impatient Hacking".

Following in the prospect footsteps of guys like Mark Prior and Corey Patterson Starlin Castro cratered after an impressive 3 year start to his career. We know the songs and the verses from last year, .347 SLG, 70 wRC+, big jump in K% -0.1 fWAR, all tied in with mental lapses on defense to create a depressing 2013 for Castro.

Here is a heat map showing where Castro hit the ball last year (all graphics courtesy of

Starlin Castro_HeatMap

That's not a pretty picture. By comparison let's look at Hanley Ramirez's heat map from 2013.

Hanley Ramirez_HeatMap

You'll notice a spray chart with more balls being hit into the outfield with authority for Hanley compared to the groundouts Castro generated. Perhaps Hanley isn't a fair comp. Let's compare Castro to Andrelton Simmons:

Andrelton Simmons_HeatMap

Again, we see a healthy spray of hits with good distribution that really makes Castro's heat map look anemic. There was a lot made of how the Cubs may have confused their young shortstop with a change in approach. Castro is a reactionary quick twitch hitter with pretty good plate coverage. The Cubs attempted to make him into a more patient player and it did not work out very well. I do believe that if Castro returns to his old approach he will regain some of the losses he sustained in 2013.

Hope is pretty hard to find among the shambles of this franchise. I don't like to peddle false hope around as I think doing so undercuts my purpose on this blog. I do feel an obligation to provide readers with an honest assessment of what's happening with the Cubs.

However, there is some optimism to be had from a few different sources regarding Starlin Castro. Let's start with Baseball Prospectus's projection for Castro.

  • 651 PAs
  • .280/.318/.411
  • 51 XBH
  • 4.76 BB%/15.05 K%
  • 2.7 WARP

Here's what ZIPS has for Castro across the same stats:

  • 683 PAs
  • .280/.319/.413
  • 52 XBH
  • 4.8 BB%/16.0 K%
  • 3.0 zWAR

And here's what Steamer has for Castro

  • 604 PAs
  • .277/.320/.411
  • 46 XBH
  • 4.3 BB%/18.3K%
  • 2.6 fWAR

Average that out and you have a player who slashes .279/.319/.412 with 50 XBH a 4.62 BB% against a 16.45 K% all while playing shortstop. The thing to remember (especially with PECOTA) is that these are the most likely outcomes with wiggle room either way. Given that valuation, the projections present a decent package. It's not the superstar level production we were all predicting at the start of the 2013 season by any means. It is, however, a marked improvement over the valley that Castro sunk to over that stretch. All projections have him taking a major step forward from last year and improving in virtually every statistical category.

I don't think either projection is made with rose colored glasses either. Those are very realistic and perhaps conservative estimates for the level of production Castro can return to without too many voices pulling him in too many different directions. I've long thought that he had .320/.360/.470 potential. That estimation took a hit last year and he'll have to work to earn it back but I'm pleased that the projection models think he can return to form. There's also room to grow with a young 24 year old player. Age is still on Castro's side and early career struggles are a fact of baseball life for many players. A lot of people forget how players like Robin Yount and Alan Trammell struggled in their age 23 seasons. I'm not saying it's an absolute certainty that Castro will improve, but writing him off this early was always folly.

Javier Baez is looming in the minors and this will be a key year for Starlin and the Cubs organization. If he struggles again all year it's all but certain that Javier Baez will get a crack at becoming the Cubs' long term solution at short. Castro has a pretty tradeable contract that will still entice teams willing to bet on the upside. PECOTA, ZIPS, Steamer and myself believe in the polarizing shortstop, but ultimately it'll be up to him to produce.


Filed under: Analysis

Tags: Baseball, Castro, Cubs, mlb


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  • Love the heat map. It really creates a great visual snapshot of how a guy hit in a given year.

  • I'd be curious to see last year's map for Castro in comparison to 2012 and 2011 rather than in comp to other players.

  • In reply to mjvz:

    I was thinking the same thing. But I'd also throw in his first yr. as well. Compare him to himself when he was more successful in those 1st 3 years to get a good read on what's changed for him last year, his 4th. I really think he'll bounce back with a better year in 2014,

  • Awesome website, excellent article, thank you, Mauricio!

  • I think that chart clearly explains Castro stopped pulling the ball and got too happy with going the other way, which resulted in him hitting a lot of lazy pop ups to shallow RF and trying to inside out too many pitches and eventually having problems turning fastballs around.

    I think that RF approach is also the result of trying to wait back as long as possible before swinging in order to take more pitches (and walks).

  • In reply to Caps:

    Yep, that was my first impression as well.

  • Starlin Castro hitting in the ballpark of 0.280/0.320/0.420, along with some further cutting down of his error rate would be a more than acceptable line for SS.

    Although I personally think he'll do a bit better than that,... and if he can pull 12-15 HR to go with it, then he just might be able to fend off Beaz for a year or two.

  • So basically, Castro at his best offers less upside offense than either Baez or Alcantara at their projected best ceilings. Yes, I understand we're not there yet, but still.....

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    In reply to notcarlosdanger:

    I could be wrong, but I think saying Alcantara's ceiling is Castro's 2011 might be a bit of a stretch. He may very well be a speedy, top of the order guy, but he may also end up as a useful utility man. I like him, but I think we're too quick to dismiss Castro.

  • In reply to Mike Partipilo:

    Castro is not competing with Alcantara. He will be competing with Baez for SS and eventually he will lose. I think within a year or two Castro will be surplus and traded. He is young and very talented so he should bring a lot of talent in return.

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    In reply to John57:

    I love how Castro sucks until it comes to the topic of trading him, then he's SUPER valuable.

    Not my intent to call you out specifically, John, but this seems more and more common.

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    In reply to Giffmo:


  • In reply to Giffmo:

    I don't remember saying he sucked probably because I never said it. I said he is young and talented. But I still see him losing out going head to head with Baez.

  • In reply to Giffmo:

    Agreed Giffmo. He's either valuable, or he isn't.

    I argue he is valuable,..... a big league SS capable of being able to get 200 hits, play 160 games, and hit 10-15 HR is always valuble. Many teams would love to have the 2011 or 2012 Castro on their roster.

    I don't get why it is that some Cubs fans dismiss that so easily. Baez may indeed push him out in a year or two - but he hasn't proven himself yet.

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    In reply to John57:

    I never said that Castro was competing with Alcantara. I don't think he's really competing with Baez either. I don't see AA or Baez playing a major league SS. I see Baez at either 2B (if Olt locks down 3B) or 3B. Baez at 2B might force AA to CF, at least until the other AA arrives about a year later.

  • In reply to Mike Partipilo:

    I can see Baez playing a major league SS. I think our FO thinks that too because they keep on saying it.

    I don't really know how all our players are going to "fit" together. But one thing for sure, some are going to get traded because we have more good players than positions for them to play. I see our good players capable to be ML starters or better as Alcantara, Castro, Baez, Bryant, Olt, Villanueva, and Candelario. That is seven players that are now currently playing just 3 positions: 3B, SS and 2B. I could see Bryant moving to RF but that still leaves 6 players for 3 positions. A nice problem to have.

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    In reply to notcarlosdanger:

    You're aware Castro is 23, yes?
    Most players his age are playing their first year in the show, and this was his fourth.

    We have NO IDEA what Castro at his best could be.

    In all honesty, 2013 was probably the first year he received any instruction of any kind.

    You'd think this guy PERSONALLY slashed the tires of every Cub fan, the hate he gets.

  • In reply to Giffmo:

    correction, darwin slashed the tires while starlin sugared their tanks.

  • In reply to cantstandja:

    And Samardzija keyed their car.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    And EJax put a banana in their tailpipe

  • In reply to mjvz:

    Dang I am not parking my car any where near the park.

  • In reply to notcarlosdanger:

    That's just a recovery stat line from last year, by no means is that the ceiling.

  • Mauricio, I remember hanley ramirez having a horrible year after having good years. So your right bad years do happen to good players, I think also getting a offseason training plan could help with his strength.

  • Lets hope Baez & AA make that bridge a real hard one to cross. With Bryant right behind them. Great problem to have. Not to mention Olt in that mix. But I'm seeing them getting very right handed very quick once these top tier of guys start cracking the lineup & pushing that Luis Mendoza platoon out. Somehow, though, I don't think we'll need to worry about that this year until at least after the deadline & then they're just a short month from the roster expansions anyway. Because you know those guys aren't going to ride the pines if called up before then.

  • In reply to Milk Stout:

    Does Trea Turner bat LH?

  • In reply to notcarlosdanger:

    Google says no.

  • In reply to notcarlosdanger:

    No, he's RH.

  • in your assessment, where is Starlin most effective in the batting order?

  • In reply to DropThePuck:

    Numbers say "when he leads off" but there isn't enough of a sample to say either way.

  • In reply to DropThePuck:

    In the long run - with his current approach (not really a take a pitch kind of guy) he's probably best at #6 or #7. He gets to the point where he does hit >0.300 and with an OBP north of 0.340, he might just be a #2 hitter.

    He fits better as a #6 guy though if he were to get his HR numbers up closer to 20 / year.

  • Mauricio, this is a great, sober evaluation of where " Star" stands at this point in his career.

    I've given up hope of him ever being a .340+OBP guy but I think your pre-'13 projection/hope of him being ~.470 SLG guy is still in play. He really showed some consistent pop in the 2nd half of '12.

  • I've been big on Starlin all along and so last years performance was surely a disappointment while also feeling kind of bad for him, knowing that in my mind he's just a much better ballplayer than that, and he was clearly in unchartered waters for him personally as far as the struggling at the plate went. As mentioned in other comments, he has virtually done all his learning/growing playing with "the big boys" as a really young guy, he's still a young guy with a boat load of natural talent. It did kind of riled me, all the coaching makeover they wanted to do with him last season, the kid could hit a ton, that's what got him to Wrigley when it did, so lets bring in Rob Deer to teach him how to hit, that's almost a slap in the face. Happily that has been rectified, the jettisoning of Deer, Rowson, hopefully he can forget all of that and listen to Mueller and get his mind right so to speak and do what has come naturally for him as a hitter. He no doubt has to make adjustments playing in the "bigs", just maybe not so drastic as to be a hitter he has never been. Really do believe this season won't be a re-run of last year for him,fresh start, new and improved coaching IMO anyway, another year of experience ( as painful as it may have been ) could pay off this season. I've been of the belief Castro was going to be a career .300 guy, got some work to do for sure but, he's 23 and has the right people in place to get him back on track. He'll be alright and with the "new guys" coming, should be alot of fun to watch, it's our turn and it;s coming.

  • I think Castro is going to have his best season yet. He will be in shape and will be past the recent distractions of his personal life. He will have a manager supporting him. And I think he wants it.

    I think Olt does well, gets traded and Baez ends up at third (or Olt does not do well and Baez ends up at third).

  • In reply to Richard Beckman:

    Agreed. 2014 seems like great timing for a breakthrough season.

  • In reply to Richard Beckman:

    I hope you are right and Castro has his best year so far.

  • In reply to Richard Beckman:

    I do hope he is in better shape this year. He wasn't fat or anything last year, but he just seemed lethargic. Hopefully a winter without all the distractions will help him come back in top form.

  • Mauricio,

    I'd really appreciate some words on PECOTA's projections for Samardzija.

  • In reply to Eddie:

    I have about 1500 of them that I'll publish next week.

  • For what it's worth, one scout I know think Castro has incredible ability as a ballplayer. He doesn't see the same limitations we do as far as offensive numbers, but he does think it's all about getting the mental side to catch up with the physical side for him. Perhaps that's just a matter of time, he's still young and has plenty of time to reach that enormous potential. Certainly too early to start giving up on him. At the same time, you want to see growth in his game from a maturity standpoint. The focus has to be there consistently and he has to learn to adapt better when he struggles. It's that mental part of the game that will determine whether Castro becomes an average starter or a consistent all-star level performer.

  • I just don't get how Castro's struggles since the departure of Jaramillo can be due to anything but a change in approach. It's been documented that the front office tried to change his approach after Rudy left and the result was struggles in the the middle of the 2012 season. He eventually pulled out of that nose dive after 2 months. In 2012 they tried to change his approach to produce more power and he ended up with his most HRs (14) and RBIs (78) for a season.

    Then last year they tinkered more with his approach to make him a more patient hitter. I'm not a baseball expert, but to me it seems like there is a major difference for a hitter like Castro when you try to get him to hit for more power than when you try to get him to be patient.

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    Nice analysis MR! Well done!

  • Great stuff. Love the analysis. I am mildly impressed with Castro's activity the opposite way. I am hoping last year was the anomaly for Castro. He is past Svuem. He is past the sexual assault claim - hopefully he did not do it. He is past hanging out at night with Soriano. Now I hope he and Lake settle in and focus on being professionals.

  • In reply to Gator:

    I think Soriano was a good influence on Starlin.

  • In reply to Gator:

    Castro and Lake are reportedly very good friends. Maybe having an extroverted buddy like Lake around will energize Starlin (who seems very introverted) and help him flourish.

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    Predictions are fun to talk about and they give the bloggers, writers and statistics nerds something to do, especially in February, but they're as useless as tits on a bull. What was Castro's predicted BA last year? I bet it was 280 to 320 and what did he bat? 245. I don't know what Castro will do this year. He may get hurt on the first day of training camp and be out for the year. He may hit 340 with 20 HR and 100 RBI. He may hit lower than last year and get traded. The Cubs right now are 0-0 and I just hope they take all the bad luck they've had recently and stick it up everyone's ass and turn out good this year.

  • There's a fallacy here that you are either a "quick twitch" hitter who seldom walks or a patient hitter who does. There is naturally a middle ground, which is what one hopes Castro finds. It is also not in Castro's best interests to blame everything on the previous coaches. True accountability needs to be split. Castro is a young player who had many distractions occurring off the field. He also had a tough former SS as a manager frustrated by Castro's lack of improvement with the fundamentals and nuances of the position. Throw in the desire to improve his walk ratio at the plate, and Castro got very frustrated and through his agent looked to blame others. Not unusual at that age when empowered with some early fame, money and an agent. What the new coaching staff allows is for a fresh start. No more finger pointing. No more recriminations. In a way, the pressures actually really on Castro. For if he can't improve his defense and can't at least return his 2012 offense, then all the blaming of others will fall on deaf ears.

  • In reply to SkitSketchJeff:

    I don't remember castro blaming other people for his problems,and the thing with his agent was about dale managing through the media.

  • In reply to seankl:

    I remember some comments from Starlin or his camp regarding his lack of hitting due to too many voices telling him what to do. I'm not sure if it was an interview or what but I do recall something of that nature.

  • Agreed on all counts! If Castro and Rizzo don't bounce back, the Cubs have too many options to be bogged down by mediocrity. And unfortunately, it isn't their fault!

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