I've been as caught up as anyone in the exuberance over Starlin Castro's return to form as a hitting phenom, so much so that I hadn't really been paying much attention to anything beyond how much better he's been at putting the ball in play. But that's only a part of the game and doesn't tell the whole story.
Tommy Cook wrote a great breakdown of Starlin's approach a couple months ago, but I wanted to revisit a few things now that we're even deeper into the season. When he first came up, we saw a free-swinging kid who really didn't strike out or walk much. Then the front office coaxed him to see more pitches, which resulted in a sharp drop-off in productivity.
It reminded me of my Little League days, when my coaches drilled the "A walk's as good as a hit" mantra into my mind like a confidence-draining earworm from hell. I was so caught up in trying to take pitches that I wasn't prepared when I did get something to hit; Mo'ne David would've had a field day with me. That's what I saw from Starlin Castro last year.
From the looks of things now though, his maturation has included a little of the old with some of the new. And while his 2013 had many among the Cubs faithful begging for a trade, 2014 is making opposing teams and fans wish the Cubs would have cut bait on Castro last year.
If he can hit just 2 more home runs and collect 15 RBI in the remaining 38 games, Castro will set career highs in those categories. Likewise, he should be able to rope the required 6 doubles to set a high-water mark there as well. But also notable is how Castro has improved at the plate by not swinging.
With just 3 more free passes, Castro will set a career high in walks. And while 37 BB's might not be a very striking total, it's a nice sign of his improved approach. Interestingly enough, he's taken more walks while actually seeing fewer pitches per plate appearance this year (3.73) than last (3.85).
His BB% has increased to 6.4%, almost a 50% improvement over last year's figure. At the same time, however, Castro's strikeout % has dropped, from 18.3% last year to 17.8% in 2014. It would appear quite obvious from these number that Starlin is seeing the ball better than he ever has in his career.
And as an added bonus, he's also hitting the ball harder than ever before. His extra base hit % currently stands at 8.4, the first time it's ever been over 8.0. And Castro's AB/HR ratio is 38.0, easily the best it's ever been after previous years of 154.3, 67.4, 46.1, and 66.6.
That latter number is somewhat telling, no? Last year it certainly felt the Cubs shortstop was possessed, at least from the fans' perspective. But it seems as though Starlin Castro has exorcised the demons and is now on pace for what could well be the best season in a very good young career.
Arismendy Alcantara has moved out to CF and Javier Baez has acquitted himself quite well in the move to the other side of the diamond. That leaves Addison Russell as the next young pivot man trying to unseat the incumbent Cubs shortstop. And he looked every bit the future star the Cubs were hoping for when they acquired him, blasting a big home run on Monday.
Of course, Starlin put on quite a show himself over the Cubs' 4-day engagement in New York...
Based on Castro's play, both at the plate and in the field, he seems bound and determined to hold onto his spot. It'll be interesting to see how the Cubs make things work between Castro, Russell, and Bryant in the coming years, a quandary every front office only wishes they had.
For now though, we can all just sit back and enjoy the new old Starlin Castro and his resurgent hitting. Or, better yet, his not hitting.
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