Starlin Castro Clears His Mind, Uncorks on a Ball and Other Bullets

starlin-castro-batSeptember has arrived, and that means the August 31 waiver trade deadline passed without much fanfare from the Cubs’ perspective, as expected. They will notice one change, though: they won’t be facing Michael Young today, as he was traded to the Dodgers yesterday. Series clinched.

  • Starlin Castro is hitting .323/.400/.516 over his last seven games (including yesterday’s game-winning homer), and .259/.302/.377 since that day off in Milwaukee back in June. That latter one doesn’t sound like much, but it’s still a marked improvement over his season line (.242/.281/.344). Of late, Castro tells that he’s just trying to clear his mind after five months of doing too much thinking at the plate. And it sounds like that everyone is on board with that plan. “Whys, what ifs, he saw more pitches and struggled with it throwing away at-bats,” manager Dale Sveum said on ESPN1000 yesterday. “Everybody tried to help him by telling him this and that. Now we want him to have a clean slate.” It sounds like – as we discussed on the latest episode of the BN Podcast – for now, the Cubs acknowledge that the intended changes to Castro’s approach and swing (centered mostly on helping him work his way into better hitter’s counts) haven’t yet taken hold, and may be the source of his deep struggles this year. For the final month, it might just be time to let him go back to see-ball-hit-ball, and if that means his ceiling is capped as a .300/.330/.400 hitter, well, that’s a lot better than what he’s been this year.
  • Ryan Sweeney is finally expected back today from his broken rib, and it’ll be interesting to see how he’s used over the final month. I’m guessing he’ll see regular starts in left field at Brian Bogusevic’s expense, though I’d think the Cubs would want to see more of him, as well. Maybe he displaces Junior Lake in center for a game or two. Sweeney is a free agent after the season.
  • Scott Baker hopes he gets a shot to make some starts in Chicago after Kane County’s season ends tomorrow with his final rehab start. He understands that the Cubs have a number of young players to give a look this month, per that piece, but he appreciates how the Cubs have treated him this year.

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

69 responses to “Starlin Castro Clears His Mind, Uncorks on a Ball and Other Bullets”

  1. Cerambam

    I know in my head that junior lake isn’t the answer to center field, but my heart just believes (wants) it to be true.

    Heart: about 200 PA is not too small of a sample size
    Brain: 4.3%. BB 23.9% K

    Heart: .335 wOBA
    Brain: .376 BABIP

    Heart: he does have a history of high BABIPS
    Brain: not this high

    1. jt

      while I’m pretty much with the brain part of your ditty, my heart wonders if his BB rate could go up as the BAbip rate goes down. It SEEMS that I’ve seen him lay off of some tough pitchers that proven batters have chased. Could be that my heart is selective seeing though.

  2. macpete22

    Daniel Bard DFA. Think he ends up on the Cubs?

    1. Deacon

      Great question! Why wouldn’t they take a flier on Bard? With that kind of stuff and his history with the front office I’d be stunned if they passed him up.

      1. jeff1969

        It looks like Bard has lost it mentally. Lost his command completely. He has an option though, but this is not just a physical rehab type guy.

  3. cubsin

    If the Cubs had paid me $5.5 million to rehab this year, I’d appreciate it too. I’d be happy to rehab next year for the MLB minimum.

    1. Rich H

      I am glad that Baker understands the business side of this. Most free agent contracts are insured. Meaning if Baker does not make a major league apperance this year that is not 5 mil spent by the Cubs. It is just the amount that the insurer refused to pick up. Just an educated guess but I would say the Baker signing if he does not play is probably a 1.5 mil investment not 5 mil.

      1. Pat

        Its highly unlikely the contract was insured against a pre existing condition, especially since missing part of the season was practically guaranteed.

        1. Rich H

          That is exactly why the mlb years ago entered into partnership with BC/BS to self insure. These one year deals are all partially covered or no one would give these guys a chance. The only question is how much is covered and how much risk do the Cubs take on.

          1. Pat

            Do you have any kind of link on that? Everything I see says 1) not all player contracts are insured, and 2) pre-existing conditions are usually not covered. In fact, oftentimes pitchers are not covered against shoulder or elbow issues even without an injury history.

          2. Lapdawg

            I think you’re confusing two different types of insurance.

            BC/BS is health insurance-paying for the costs of medical care. Pre-existing conditions are likely covered because it is a group plan and everyone in the group is generally covered.

            Insuring contracts is more like disability insurance and I would strongly doubt BC/BS would have anything to do with it. And I doubt even more strongly that an insurer would cover a pre-existing injury in that type of case.

  4. Matt

    Brett, listened to the recent podcast and had some questions surrounding FA discussions. Where would Granderson fit in FA discussions, assuming you we’re talking a ~3yr deal? Any pitching make sense , outside of Tanaka?

  5. Soda Popinski

    I’m relieved to hear this about Castro. While I agree that it was a noble effort to raise his OBP and SLG in an off year, some players are just better doing it their way. I’ll take Michael Young-esque offensive numbers at SS any day of the week. I just hope he’s able to get back to his old approach without a hitch.

    1. Jay

      Only the Cubs could take a .300/200 hits player at age 21 and screw him up.

      1. willis

        Haha, true. And boy did they try. I’m thrilled to hear that the lesson seems to have been learned and we will be returning to the Starlin Castro of old.

  6. josh ruiter

    I have got to vent a bit about the approach and thought the staff put into Castro’s hitting this year. In my mind, the way they tooled and fooled with patience is a freakin joke. You do that kind of stuff to any hitter and they are going to struggle mightily. In my mind the focus should have have been to get in “better counts” as an end goal, but to swing at his pitches, whether that be 0-0, 0-1, 1-0, 3-1, 2-1, 1-2, who gives a crap. The way to teach a kid to get pitches to hit isn’t really to work yourself into a hitter’s count. It is simple and thoughtless.
    Teach the kid that in different counts to look for different pitches. end of conversation. 0-0, 1-0, 2-0, 2-1, 3-0, 3-1 look fastball middle in (or wherever the particular hitter prefers the ball) and only swing if its that pitch in that spot. Don’t think, just know your pitch to hit. forget “good count” hitting. HIT YOUR PITCH hitting is way easier to incorporate and more effective. It’s been bothering me all year to see this happening to Castro, take 10 minutes a day before the game, and review with him what pitches he wants to hit. Then just let him see ball hit ball in game, and over time hopefully he becomes more “choosy” with HIS PITCH.

  7. Matt

    Don’t you guys think he should make the complete shift back towards his closed stance of ’10-’12? He was well on his way to utilizing his power, granted the upticks in BB rate were moving a bit slower.

  8. kyle householder

    u know everybody can say what they want about castro but the dude is talented, I would take him over every other shortstop in the game, his mental lapses are gunna happen he is a 23 year old kid who has never struggled in his career except for now so there is gunna be some kind of failure before he gets back in his groove again and I think a lot of his batting problems are because change of stance look at his stance two years ago compared to now

  9. Die hard

    See and hit worked for a HOF like Billy Williams — if BW was truly involved as a former Cub advising team either he was ignored or told not to mix in— another example of FO who has a collective zero years MLB playing experience thinking they are experts on hitting

    1. jeff1969

      I doubt if Theo or any other FO people are trying to tell players how to hit. It’s an organizational approach. A philosophy. If they don’t like Castro’s approach, they should have traded him instead of forcing this approach on him. The coaches also should have stopped this experiment a lot sooner when it was obviously not working.

  10. Brains

    Trade Castro. We’ve already seen him at his best, and that’s as a low OBP singles hitter who’s poor at fielding. We can get a huge return on him still, his contract is desirable for teams, and he’s young. This is not a guy who can flourish in our race-to-last-place lineup, but he might see better pitches and hit more on a contender, who would be delighted to give us more pitching for his potential.

  11. jt

    In the above picture, Castro’s shoulders are turned 180 degrees from the plate and his head is still on the ball. I think he always keeps his head on the ball. However, I don’t recall seeing the hips open 90 degrees and the shoulders another 90 degrees and the head still on the ball.
    Again, maybe I’m just seeing what I want to see.

  12. Aaron

    Castro is a major league talent. He has great natural instincts and yes he is a slugger. He probably has never been a patient hitter and now is not the time to try to teach that, especially during the season. He very young still so let’s give him an opportunity to grow into his role as a key player for the Cubs for the next several years. He’s been hitting the ball very well over the past few weeks. He’s not thinking as much and just using his God given ability to hit the baseball. If the Cubs watch to teach him anyone, how about doing your homework by watching video of the pitchers you’ll be facing and study scouting reports on them. This is one key step to get into better hitters counts. You can’t “manufacture it” by not swinging at the first pitch.

  13. Cheryl

    I think all of us agree Castro is talented. But can he put it all together? If Sveum is here next year, I don’t see him being able to bring Castro to the next level. In fairness to Sveum, maybe Castro isn’t capable of living up to his potential and that is the frustrating part for both Sveum and Castro. Castro would probably do better elsewhere, It may be better to trade him than to watch him go through another year like this.

  14. jeff1969

    Castro should have been left alone. His trade value has seriously shrunk because of whatever changes have been forced upon him. I know he’s a knucklehead half the time, not paying attention to outs, kicking pebbles instead of having his head in the game. But, as either a player for the Cubs or in trade to someone else, this season has drained his value. Here’s hoping they leave him alone & he just starts collecting 200 hits a season again because for us or on the market, that’s a heck of a lot more useful.

    1. Rich H

      If you mean his trade value has went from hanging up on Arizona last offseason to actually listening when a call comes in then yes you can say his value is less. Castro’s value is a lot like a luxury car with a recall pending. Everyone says why would we want junk as they talk to the salesman to see if they can get a steal. Then in a year or two that car has all its value back.

  15. jeff1969

    I see what you’re saying. Hopefully that value does come back either on the field as a Cub or on the trade market.

  16. Gutshot5820

    Sveum absolutely stinks as a hitting coach. After this fiasco with Castro, what rookie would ever again listen to Sveum with any seriousness? Anybody with any sense will always worry if Sveum is going to screw up their swing. He has lost any and all credibility as a hitting instructor. It has been proven time and again that hitting coaches have little if anything to do with improving a players performance. Talent is King. But, here is a unique case, where a hitting coach not only did not help a player maintain or improve his hitting, but actually directly influenced in destroying his batting career.

    1. Die hard

      They have mentor in Billy Williams who knows a thing or two about hitting– should go to him more often

    2. ClevelandCubsFan

      Because he didn’t get through to 1 player, he stinks? First, he’s not the hitting coach; they have someone else employed to do that. I’m sure Sveum filters some stuff in, but if he’s a good manager, he’s not dictating that process. Second, we’ve got a number of guys hitting quite well. Soriano has had a couple nice years when he should have declined significantly. Navarro. Scheirholz. Castillo. Murphy (despite the average). All are having nice things happening at at the plate. Only guys you can really complain about on the team are Castro and Rizzo, and the’ve been discussed ad nauseum. Rizzo’s been betterhitter than the numbers suggest (see BABIP). So because one unique hitter is struggling….

      1. Gutshot5820

        First of all, Sveum as the main coach has the final say over any of the bench coaches and he obviously fancies himself as a great hitting instructor. it’s been well documented through many interviews and articles that he has been trying to influence Catsro’s hitting approach. Second of all, you are totally incorrect in identifying the improvements of bench players as a whole. The team sucks at hitting. Sveum has gone on record saying “Clevenger has a slump proof swing” and “Barney is just reaching to tip of his potential as a hitter.” LMAO If you read through his past statements, the list goes on… And to top it off, the only hitter on the Cubs capable of hitting 300 avg, he takes and constantly abuses and embarrasses him in public at the same time messing up his swing. It;s obvious Castro had enough of Sveum and told him to stay far away from him. And guess what? It’s working.

    3. MichiganGoat

      Could it be that Castro couldn’t learn or the MLB pitching has figured him out and he hasn’t adjusted yet? Nah it’s easier to blame Sveum.

      1. AlwaysNextYear

        It doesn’t take multiple full seasons to figure out a hitter and to forget how to hit big league pitching something Castro did really well before this year. Yes you can fully blame a coach for messing a player up, not saying it was Sveum but somebody messed him up. If it ain’t broke don’t fix it

        1. MichiganGoat

          You might be right that MLB pitches haven’t done anything differently and it’s the change of approach/swing that is the problem. So if that’s the case maybe Castro just hasn’t learned or been able to apply the lessons (or at least not yet) and if that’s the case Castro has blame here for not learning his lesson. I’m not saying Sveum shouldn’t be held accountable for Castro’s performance but it isn’t all him. Castro was (and maybe will never be more than) a slap hitter with limited power- trying to turn him into a a better hitter is/was the right thing to attempt.

          1. jeff1969

            I wish they had left Castro alone. I mean, he wasn’t a perfect hitter, but he didn’t have the most or second most hits of any player his age at one point? Maybe he was second to Robin Yount? This is just my opinion, but if a guy can put up numbers like he did, encourage him to work on his batting eye-pitch recognition but let him do his thing. As for blaming the manager & the FO, a lot of that sounds like hater type stuff.

            1. MichiganGoat

              I agree with this but then again I’m just a pathetic brown nose chief. He might just be a slap hitter but there is nothing bad about trying to get him to be something more than that- but it is easier to blame than step back from the ledge as these haters kerp showing.

            2. DocWimsey

              Ultimately, the needed to see if they could get a playe to develop a batting eye, and Castro had to be a good guinea pig. Trying to figure out a way to “coach” that is uncharted territory: any experiment is just that, with only simple premises justifying it. (In this case, looking at as many real pitches as possible seems as good an idea as any, as the only place a batter can watch MLB pitches in during MLB games.)

              If they’ve decided that this won’t work, then Castro can always go back to doing what he always did. Obviously, it means that he’ll be best-suited as a #6 or #7 hitter if the team ever gets any decent OBP guys. And people will complain that Castro somehow got ruined when he ceases to put up 200 hit seasons when it will simply be an artifact of Castro getting 50-80 fewer PAs each year.

              1. MichiganGoat

                Robot apologist ;)

                1. DocWimsey

                  Yeah, I got an empathy card installed. I’m all ready to apologize for the Great Meat Bag Cookout that we have planned for a couple of weeks from now.

              2. Emil

                No Mensa for you.

              3. jt

                I believe that Castro’s infield hit was on a pitch just off the outside of the plate that he hooked to the left side. It was not an impressive hit but he did get the head of the bat out in front and was able to pull it. He could do that because his base was established with both feet on the ground and his fanny still centered over that base. His previous AB resulted in a hard hit ball a few of yards off the 3rd baseline on a pitch more in. He wasn’t doing that before. Again, he established the base and kept his fanny centered over it. That helps with him squaring up the pitch. I believe that that is what they have had a hard time getting him to do.
                I believe that as he starts to feel success from that approach he will also feel the shoulders and rear end begin flying into the pitch. That will be the cue for him to shut down the swing. That will be the pattern. That will be the pitch recognition.

          2. AlwaysNextYear

            Maybe true that he has problems catching on what the coaches are preaching but like I said nothing was wrong before. He is so young and to already make a couple All Star games in first two seasons I just seen no reason to mess with his approach, as young as he is he will get batter at understanding the game as a whole and hopefully with the past 7 games he is going up there with his same approach from seasons past cause his numbers seem to indicate just that

  17. Gutshot5820

    You are such a FO/Sveum apologist that people literally have to wipe the brown spots off your nose. There is literally no argument that you cannot defend the FO/Sveum for, no matter the results. You unequivocally, pick the FO side in all situations,.and gather as much bs or spin to support your side, facts or results be damned. It is entirely stupid to converse with you because your opinion is always prejudiced. You’ve already made you opinion before anyone presented an argument.

    1. MichiganGoat

      I’m assuming you rant is directed at me, and as much you believe I apologize for the FO/coach/owner you seem hell bent on directing blame and witch hunting since the day you first posted and you always become a bitter Betty whenever anybody disagrees with you. I do have issues with Sveum (bullpen usage specifically) but I don’t blame every single failure on the manager and FO. Castro has blame here- he is the one failing… but nah it’s easier to blame others and run around screaming and hunting for a scapegoat. Good night.

    2. Emil

      He failed at right field in little league just like Theo. Brownnose apologist who is embarrassing but likes to name call daily and act like he is chief of this site.

      1. MichiganGoat

        Whatever you need to get through the day kiddo.

      2. miggy80

        The Goat is the Chief of this Site? I’m telling TWC on you

        1. DarthHater

          The Emperor is most displeased.

          1. miggy80

            sorry Sir


      3. ClevelandCubsFan

        Sure. The front office sucks. Sveum sucks. Of course nobody hired me to do their job. Nobody even considered me. So I’ll go ahead and suggest I’d suck even more. And the rest of us would be right up there with me. You don’t have to be an apologist to realize a) you have very limited facts, b) you can’t mind read, c) it’s a really, really hard and unpredictable job. Dealing with people is hard work. The very best at it usually have a lot of failings.

  18. Mike F

    While I think Sveum and the FO deserve criticism for any tinkering, somehow people continue to apologize for Castro. First, we have to quit enabling him. He was and is situationally challenged. Well let me rephrase his approach is dumb and lacking the kind of intellectual and above average situational intelligence they want. That belongs to Starlin and Starlin alone. He may just be dumb.

    Second, he lacks focus and has from day one. That is not Sveum’s fault. I well acknowledge the FO/manager made some mistakes, but fans plenty here argued little over a year ago the label HOF have always been unrealistic in their evaluation of Castro.

    1. Cheryl

      I agree Mike F., he lacks focus and you’re right we have to quit apologizing for him. What I don’t understand in whoever is coaching him is why that person didn’t just say to him – “I want you to have a better approach at the plate. Don’t change your stance, don’t change the way you hold your hands, etc., the one thing we’ll concentrate on is not swinging at pitches outside the strike zone no matter how tempting.” Does an approach like this make sense? If he concentrated on one thing and accomplished that wouldn’t some improvement take place? But in the end, any improvement in his play is entirely up to Castro.

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