There were certainly some things to like about last night’s game – Chris Coghlan finally getting the results that his hard contact merits, for example – but there was a lot to frustrate you. Yes, the three errors that led to three unearned runs in a one-run game is an easy focus. The Cubs had been errorless for eight straight games before that, though, so I tend to think: eh, that will happen. Further, not every error is going to lead to a run; it just happened to last night. Kind of a flukey thing that’s hard for me to stew about too much.
Instead, what I keep going over in my head are the terrible Starlin Castro plate appearances out of the cleanup spot. Castro struck out three times and rolled over an outside pitch (the first he saw) for a weak groundout to the left side. He looked completely lost at the plate, pulling dramatically off the pitch.
Here are Castro’s swings when striking out against James Shields last night, each time with a runner on base and fewer than two outs:
Castro had no chance on those pitches. The first finished nowhere close to the zone, and the second didn’t even start anywhere close to the zone. Castro didn’t effectively step into the outside pitch (not that he should have been offering at them at all), opened up his body (in the same way he’s been doing on all those weak groundballs), and flailed away helplessly.
It looked really bad, and Castro knew it as soon as he swung.
To be quite clear, I don’t want to linger on these particular strikeouts or this particular game too much. After all, James Shields is really good, and he’s made many great hitters look silly a couple times here and there.
Instead, I point out these swings as emblematic of Castro being out of whack. We’ve all seen that something’s off with his swing/approach, yielding far more whiffs than usual (19.6% strikeout rate is the highest of his career, his contact rates are the lowest of his career), and far less solid contact (his Hard% is down, his Soft% is way up, and his groundball rate is through the roof).
The good news is that Starlin Castro is an established big league hitter, and there’s no reason to think he can’t make adjustments. His swing/approach is off right now, and it’s going to take some time to get it back together. I’m relatively confident that it will come in time.
While that happens, though, I’d like to see Castro back down in the order a bit. I understand the theory behind having a guy like Castro at four – he’s high contact, keeps the line moving, breaks up the lefties (and takes the pressure off of Jorge Soler by sliding him down) – but, right now, the Cubs have two of the best on-base guys in baseball hitting ahead of a dead spot in the lineup.
For the season, Castro is hitting just .266/.301/.344 with a 74 wRC+. After May 1, the picture’s even more grim: .179/.233/.254, 5.5% BB rate, 26.0% K rate, 32 wRC+.
That isn’t going to work right now in the 4-hole. Maybe it’s time to bat Castro 7th, ahead of the pitcher, and give him an opportunity to see a bunch of junk from the pitcher that he can work on laying off.
Whatever the maneuvering, there has to be a balance between putting Castro in a position to rebound and succeed – we have every reason to expect that’s coming eventually – and not harming the offense in the process.