Analyzing Starlin Castro’s Plate Approach in 2012: Is He Trying to Pull Too Much?

Yesterday, I couldn’t help but think that, when Starlin Castro rolled over an outside pitch and pulled a dribbler weakly to shortstop, I’d seen him do that a lot this year.

That kind of out is usually the product of a batter not closing off his body to a pitch on the outer half, instead remaining open, reaching with the hands, and trying to pull the ball. In variably, he can’t get there with authority (it’s all wrists at that point), his wrists roll over, and it’s a weak ground ball. If, on the other hand, the batter lunges toward the outer half, closes his body off, and meets the ball more in the middle of his swing, he’s more likely to line the ball with authority – but it’ll be toward right field, rather than left. You sacrifice power in this approach, but you hit more line drives on those outside pitches.

So, other than anecdotes like what I saw yesterday, how can we determine whether Castro is making a conscious effort to try and pull the ball more this year? Well, I can think of two ways. First, let’s just look at his plate approach. Compare how he looked at this time in April 2011 (as the pitcher delivers):

With how he looks now:

Two things jump out at me about his lower half (BN’er Chris points out the change in hand position, which is notable, but harder to judge given the possible incremental difference in the timing of the pitchers). First, Castro’s stance is much more open now than it was early in the year in 2011 (it’s fair to note that it became more and more open as the year went on). This year, he actually looks quite a bit like Derrek Lee looked in his days with the Cubs. Castro’s left foot is so far open that almost touches the far edge of the batter’s box. This kind of open stance allows a batter to stay open fractionally longer, so that if he gets a pitch on the inner half, he doesn’t have to work quite as hard to turn on it, and connect with the barrel of the bat on pitches closer to where his body is rotating. This, theoretically, allows him to hit for more power.

The second thing that jumps out at me in the picture is Castro’s bent right knee. I’m not a professional swing analyst, so I welcome input, but, to me, that looks like a guy who has redistributed his weight slightly to his back leg. Once again, more weight on the back leg, which shifts forward as the swing is delivered, will generate more power.

So, from a quick look at Castro’s plate approach, he has the look of a guy who’s trying to hit for more power. He’s now the number three batter, charged with driving in runs, so you can understand the tweak. But, is it possible, in an effort to generate that power, Castro is making a conscious effort to pull the ball more? That is to say, it’s one thing to focus on generating more power, and a separate – but related – thing to focus on pulling the ball more. We can see that Castro is probably trying to generate more power with his stance and approach, but is he also actively pulling the ball more?

It’s early in the year, and there isn’t much data yet. But, so far, the answer appears to be yes.

According to FanGraphs, I count 37 hits to right field for Castro last year. He had a total of 207 hits in 2011, so about 17.9% of his hits went to right field.

This year, I count just two hits to right field for Castro, compared to 28 total hits (7.1%). Again, it’s early in the year, and that’s a small sample, but it’s a pretty marked shift down. Further, Castro’s spray chart this year certainly has the look of a guy who isn’t frequently going to right field with authority:

Only seven of 40ish balls he’s hit at Wrigley Field this year went to right field (three to five are on the CF/RF border). I see a lot of groundouts to the left side, and a lot of liners up the middle. I like the latter, but the former tends to add weight to my theory that he’s rolling over a lot of outside stuff.

So, based on the little data we yet have, combined with a review of his approach this year, I’d say it’s safe to conclude that Castro is trying to generate more power this year, in part by actively looking to pull the ball more.

Now, none of this is necessarily a criticism of Castro’s approach (indeed, when he *has* gone to right field this year, he’s added quite a few outs on fly balls, so maybe he’s doing the right thing). Most hitters, as they mature and their power develops, start to pull the ball more. Castro’s numbers on the year aren’t bad, so it’s not as though he’s killing himself with this approach. Then again, he has yet to hit a homer (and his IsoP is actually lower than it was last year – i.e., he’s hitting for less power overall this year so far), and I can’t help but wonder how many of those weak dribblers to short actually could have been sharp line drives to the right side of the field.

Ultimately, I have no beef with Castro’s change in approach if it yields newfound power. We haven’t seen it yet, but I suspect it’s coming. And, until then, if he wants to start driving some of that outside stuff to right field, I’d be find with that, too. Is he pulling the ball “too much”? He’s pulling the ball “a lot,” but evaluative terms like “too much” will probably have to wait for at least a full year’s worth of data.

Brett Taylor is the editor and lead writer at Bleacher Nation, and can also be found as Bleacher Nation on Twitter and on Facebook.

67 responses to “Analyzing Starlin Castro’s Plate Approach in 2012: Is He Trying to Pull Too Much?”

  1. Mike

    Due to what we know about the nature of BABIP, wouldn’t it be meaningful to note his total balls in play to right field – not that hits are meaningless as it can indicate power, but balls in play would seem to be a meaningful piece of information. Especially only one month into the season.

  2. Bails17

    Brett…I don’t think the picture from last year is a good one from what Castro looked like last year. His stance is the same. Check out this video from last year in August:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jFryVDfD5dU

    Same stance as this year. I think that he IS trying to pull the ball more for the simple reason as to how guys are pitching him. I have watched a fair bit of games so far this year and looks to me like they are going in on him more with the fast ball and when they go away..they are going off the plate to get him to chase. It would be interesting to see the pitch locations and percentages versus last year. Most of the time when guys roll over on those FBs on the outer half is when they were looking in and it was away. Most good hitters will actually look for a location (in or out) versus a certain pitch selection. Just my humble opinion.

    EDIT…and to add to that…I do think he is actually seeing a lower percentage of pitches in the zone this year so far..again if anyone can knows how to get that info it would be cool to see. I am clueless when it comes to that.

    1. FromFenwayPahk

      Bails’ video was (also) helpful. In Brett’s stills, the pitchers appear to be in the same part of the delivery, but Castro appears to be further along in his swing in the this-year still. Maybe he was looking fastball? He IS standing further from the plate in that example; both feet I think.

  3. Drew

    Brett- not an attempt to insult your intelligence, but I do have a couple comments:

    “You sacrifice power in this approach, but you hit more line drives on those outside pitches.”

    -Really, by taking the same swing but waiting to make contact towards the back foot shouldn’t sacrifice power at all; power is generated from the torque created once the hips go into motion, and going the other way shouldn’t effect this.

    “If, on the other hand, the batter lunges toward the outer half…”

    I think this is where the sacrifice of power argument comes in. This is how Soriano goes the other way, except hes hitting the same poison he has tried to pull and missed in years past: the breaking pitch low and away out of the zone. If those pitches were in the zone, he wouldnt have to lunge and wouldn’t be sacrificing power.

    Personally, I’m not concerned with his batting stance. He appears to me (without looking to closely, just from watching the games) to be getting in the same hitting position he always has once his front foot comes back down.

    You are spot on with why he is rolling over though: Over-extending the arms (taking all power generated from the legs) generally comes from getting pull-happy and results in those weak GB outs you mentioned. Great post

  4. Bails17

    Going the other way will be considerably less power Drew…the torque you are talking about is created by separation of the upper and lower halves. When going the other way…you have less separation thus less torque.

  5. Chris

    i think it’s worth mentioning that he’s changed his hand position, as well.

    1. Bails17

      Well…a picture is so hard to really tell what his hands are doing. He typically starts his hands low (in the first picture)…but then the go high at the last minute like the second picture. Secondly, it doesn’t really matter where your hands start it’s where they are when you have your front foot down.

  6. ISU Birds

    I like how foul territory in that graphic looks like a barren wasteland.

    1. Seth

      Don’t go out there unless you wanna be eatin’ by giant mutant scorpions.

  7. clark addison

    I don’t think the hand position change is significant because in the two photos the pitchers are at a different point in their delivery.

  8. Chris

    Well, essentially, he’s setting his hands earlier, which sets the plane of his swing earlier. this allows him to maintain a great deal of fluidity in his swing, which, in turn keeps him together (top half and bottom half) throughout his swing. If he’s getting a little quick in his hips then he’s going to drag the bat through the contact area which results in weak ground balls to the right side. When his top half and bottom half are in sync he’s generating more power from the ground up. TRYING for more power might be making him bail out with his hips a little earlier than normal.

  9. Ron Swanson

    I think it would also be interesting to see photo comparisons of his stance at point of contact vs. how he sets up. You can get to the same place from different starting points. Not saying that he is, just a thought….that I’m too lazy to do myself.

  10. Bails17

    For the most part guys….stance has very little to do with the actual swing. To get a better idea you need to look at video of when the load starts and what a player looks like when he has front foot ground plant. Stances are a style…however there are certain absolutes that must happen in order for the swing to work properly. The bottom half must start and lead the swing…when the hands start the swing you have very little separation of the upper and lower halves resulting in very little torque or power. Just look at Marlon Byrd at times…he starts his hands early resulting in much less power then he should generate.

    EDIT: His change in style or stance could be as simple as a timing thing. You never know what is going to trigger a player into having a better “feel” at the plate for timing.

    1. hansman1982

      If anyone wants to see an example of the hips and legs leading the hands – go to you tube and search for “Babe Ruth swing analysis”. His hips and legs were practically on first base before his hands came through the zone.

      1. Bails17

        Yes sir Hansmen…and that will be the same for almost every hitter in history that hit for a high average plus power.

        1. hansman1982

          The only thing is, the analyses that I have seen have described (and it appears) his swing as incredibly long. Can you attest to this at all or have you not done a review of his swing. Also, appeared that he ended his swing heavily on his front foot. Could these two things make him susceptible to high heat and Jamie Moyer?

          1. Bails17

            Hansmen…I wouldn’t describe his swing as long at all. The length a swing should be the distance that the sweet spot travels from foot plant (or when the actual swing starts) to contact. In his swing…that part is relatively short for someone with so much power. What he does have is a complicated timing mechanism….he starts so narrow, creates so much momentum, and strides so far that he HAS TO HAVE impeccable timing to make that work. Which he did 714 times. However…he also stuck out 1330 times in his career! It was his big pre-swing (momentum generator if you will) that made him susceptible to offspeed stuff and such and yes…Jamie Moyer.

            EDIT: Check out Miguel Cabrera here. He creates quite a bit of momentum. Watch his back foot actually come off the ground as he gets close or right after contact. Very similar…but MC’s is still much more simple than the Babes.

            http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C-zDOVeqWOM

        2. Nomar's Left Glove

          There are a couple of Ruth Videos out there. One is very good, and the guy goes through the swing very slowly. In the one below, the speaker goes through the swing a little quicker. One thing that I noticed, and I know that Ruth was a pitcher early in is career, but how much his swing mechanics might look like pitching mechanics. It just seemed very obvious to me. The video is old and and grainy, so sometimes you lose the bat a little and it looks more like he’s throwing. It was just something I noticed while we were on topic.

          http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wBmB–g0_U8

    2. Drew

      This I agree with. As I mentioned last week, stances vary to the Nth degree, but almost every great hitter’s swing is identical once the load is completed. You are exactly right: stances are about whatever makes you comfortable and what is going to help your timing in getting your load started (and yes, I realize how bad that sounds).

  11. Andrew

    I have no issue in what castro has changed if it produces results. I would like hm to hit in the situation though whenever he is at bat. 0-2 count shorter his approach 3-1 account runners on the corners look to drive the ball. First batter in the inning do anything to get on. That is what great hitters do I believe. Down 4-1 in the 7th he should not be trying to hit a solo bomb, rather he should try and get on base and set it up for the team. Although, a solo bomb wouldnt be a bad thing ;)

    So to sum it up…. hit to the situation and keep doing what you’re doing castro!

    1. rcleven

      Have to agree. In the first 5 run game against Phlilly. Campana on first 0 outs. Castro lines a rope to the left fielder. 1 out man still on first LaHair pulls ball get a hit. Campy on third LaHair on first. Castro should have tried to hit behind Campana moving to second. With La Hair’s hit Campana would have scored on 1 hit. Luckly Stewart gets hit scoring Campana from third. Point I am making it took 2 hits when it should have taken one. With Cubs having trouble scoring runs as is. Averages be damed. Be a team player and hit to the situation.

      1. DocPeterWimsey

        “Be a team player and hit to the situation.”

        It is better for the team over the long run to do what Castro did.  If you watch the good teams, then you’ll see that their batters do not “give themselves up.”  If you want to score a guy with only two hits, then make one of those hits an extra-base hit OR pad those hits with walks.  If you cannot do these things, then don’t worry about “finding a way to win”: no other team knows how to do it, either.

        Again, look to Theo’s Sox.  The situation was always this: look for a pitch you can drive and try to thwack it.  (If you were a pitcher, then the situation was always: throw a different strike from the one that you just threw.)

        1. Drew

          Couldnt agree more Doc- How many times this year have we see the zone expanded with runners on, (see Barney,Darwin) only to see a K or GIDP because the pitches that are swung at are out of the zone?

          Keith Moreland talks about this at least once every game I listen to. Both times I can think of there has been a guy on 2nd, nobody out, early in the game. This is what I hear:

          “Barney (Byrd in the 1st broadcast) knows he has to give himself up here.”

          Really? Here’s a thought Moreland – How about a base hit, or better yet, another 2B? I just don’t understand the mindset of giving up outs like that, especially (in Barney’s case) with guys who are hitting at the top of the order. Pick your pitch and drive it, regardless (with one or two extreme exceptions) of the situation.

          1. rcleven

            Keith Moreland talks about this at least once every game I listen to. Both times I can think of there has been a guy on 2nd, nobody out, early in the game. This is what I hear:

            Situation hitting in this instance is swing for fences or to drive the ball any where. Totally different circumstance. Runner is already on second.

            I guess I am using the wrong term to “give your self up”. Watch what Molina with St Louis does he will change his approach to hitting.

            1. Drew

              In your example though, our arguments reign even more true. I didn’t even read you’re post initially,( I was actually commenting on Doc’s) but I’ll give it a go…

              Just to clarify what you were saying, you would rather the team’s best hitter purposely hit behind the runner to essentially give himself up, rather than rope a line-drive? Again, just want to make sure I am reading that correctly.

              Also, my stance remains the same: be selectively aggressive , pick your pitch and hit the hell out of it. If you get in a two strike count, go ahead and hit behind the runner if you want, but Kyle’s right – Big innings win ballgames.

          2. Kyle

            There are times to play for one run. But they are limited. You can’t make a whole offensive strategy out of it.

            Big innings win ballgames.

  12. Rice Cube

    I would be curious to see a similar post to this one done after the season where you look at each season individually. That way you can have a fuller data set for each season to measure his “growth” as a player and it’d be more meaningful.

    And yay, I posted on BN!

  13. Andrew

    about Castros power numbers i think its interesting to look at his deep hits at wrigley. I dont know how accurate/scientific this is, but i count roughly 8 or so balls that may have reached the warning track. Given how deep wrigley plays in april, I dont think its absurd to assume that at least 2 of those would have been homers in july, so I think looking at isoP this early in the year is especially inconclusive.

    Also with regards to how much hes pulling the ball, I count roughly 10 batted balls to right and roughly 12 or so to left on the chart you provided which isnt a significant difference. I also notice many more flies to right than left. I think another conclusion could be drawn from this which is that pitchers are taking away the inside part of the plate i.e. he cant drive the ball to left with authority. I think pitchers may realize that castro can and will hit anything and are pitching away to limit his damage. With that in mind, I think his stance isn’t as important as is his discipline and only hitting balls he can drive whether theyre on the outside or inside part of the plate. I think this data is incomplete without a chart showing what kind of pitches he is seeing since that too plays a huge role in where the ball is hit.

  14. Norm

    I might have missed it, any reason we’re looking at only ‘home’ and not ‘all’?

  15. Jason*Thundermug*

    Take it as a Positive Starlin Castro has not committed an error in 7 games. I was looking up Castro’s 7 errors and they all have come in day games. 4 of the 7 errors have come in Saturday Day Games ( 1 Wed Day game , 1 Fri Day Game and 1 Sunday Day Game)

    1. Andrew

      are you trying to say that on Saturday DAY games he is hungover so he doesnt have the concentration he has during night games? or are you saying that he has a huge raging party to go to on Saturday nights so he is not as oncentrated? WHAT EXACTLY ARE YOU TRYING TO SAY?!

  16. Danny B

    Nice writing, Brett. Like the use of spray charts and the focus on a hitter’s approach. I thought the same thing about his stance- looks like D. Lee. I’m also unsure if the quantity of ground outs to short is a problem yet- don’t really know Power Castro yet- but it is definitely noticeable. I’d always like to see him slap more to right, but he is still lining the ball up the middle. As long as he can be flexible in his approach depending on the situation at hand, i.e. runners on base, late innings, score. When the Cubs are down 4 runs, we need a single to right to lead of an inning, not a solo home run.

  17. Jason*Thundermug*

    Andrew, Take it FWIW It might just be a weird coincidence with the day game errors. There is nothing that can be done about the 7 errors he has made in April. Let’s hope he has a Good May :)

  18. Jeremy

    Personally, as long as Castro keeps producing I have no problem with him changing his approach. It does seem like he is swinging more for power and less for contact because he trying to drive runs in. He come up quite a bit with RISP and seems to drive them in consistently. I think he just adjusting to a new role of being a primary run producer in the heart of the order and over time we are going to see his approach at this spot mature as he begins to really adjust too it. I think the power is coming with some time as he seems to be driving the ball much deeper this year then last year.

  19. Small Sample Size Nazi Sez

    It’s April.

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    [...] this year, I noted a change in Castro’s approach at the plate (a more open stance), which seemed to be in service of pulling the ball more, and theoretically [...]