As a die-hard Chicago Cubs fan (since all the way back in November!), Starlin Castro will always hold a special place in my heart.
You see, back in 2010, the now-27-year-old Yankees second baseman was essentially the lone beacon of hope for a Theo Epstein-less Chicago Cubs organization (who were unknowingly headed towards five consecutive losing seasons). And until Anthony Rizzo came onto the scene in 2012, Castro was it for Cubs fans. He was all we had to cheer for.
Unfortunately, despite some early career success (and all the time in the world), Castro’s years in Chicago were relatively uneven. While he often unfairly drew criticism for his “lack of focus” on the field, he fairly drew criticism for his inconsistent production at the plate.
wRC+ By Year with Chicago:
2010: 99 wRC+
2011: 109 wRC+
2012: 100 wRC+
2013: 74 wRC+
2014: 117 wRC+
2015: 80 wRC+
wRC+ stands for “Weighted Runs Created plus” and exists to be used as an easy, relative measurement of a players production vs. the entire league. A 100 wRC+, for example, is exactly league average and every point above or below it is how much percent better or worse a player is than the average hitter.
As you can see, Castro oscillated back and forth between a very productive hitter and a very … unproductive one. From 2013-2014 alone, Castro ranged from 26% worse than the league average hitter to 17% better than league average. In other words, when Castro was a Cub, you never quite knew what you were going to get.
But he always had the the promise.
Castro had struggled at the plate quite a bit, yes, but he was still so young! And had plenty of things going for him. At some point, we all thought, he was going to make it, and it was all going to be worth it. But then, just like that, he was traded away.
Starlin Castro is now in his second season with the New York Yankees, where he appears to be well-liked and plenty happy. Unfortunately, his first season with the team (94 wRC+) didn’t feature much of an improvement at the plate, but I think 2017 is different. Like, for real different. In fact, I think this 27-year-old version of Starlin Castro may be the best one yet.
He may have FINALLY arrived.
Starlin Castro is 3-4 tonight with 2 doubles. He's got a .928 OPS here in 2017. pic.twitter.com/GurW8XguxU
— Baseball is Fun (@flippingbats) May 18, 2017
After going 3-5 at the plate last night – including two doubles – Starlin Castro is now slashing .351/.387/.545 at the plate, which is good for a 156 wRC+. And while I don’t expect him to end the season with numbers that strong, he has done this over a not-at-all insignificant 163 plate appearances. But more encouragingly, the peripherals are solid.
At the highest level, Castro’s 5.5% walk rate is the first thing people will notice. While still technically below average, that walk rate is the highest mark he’s posted since 2014 (when he was at his very best). It also represents a 41% increase over his 3.9% walk rate in 2016 and helps explain why he’s posting – by far – the best OBP of his career.
But what about slugging?
Castro’s .545 slugging percentage is .107 points higher than his previous season-best and is .132 points higher than his career averages. Naturally, it’s supported by a .195 ISO (again, by far the best in his career). Not everyone’s development is linear, and Castro would be far from the first player to develop a power stroke later on in his career.
According to the batted ball data, Castro is still spreading his hits across the field about as much as he ever has, but he’s also notching more hard-hit balls (29.4%) this season than he has for his career (27.5%). Plus, he’s hitting the ball on the ground less and in the air more, which, as we know from the fly ball revolution, is the key to extra bases and hidden, untapped slugging.
There are some red flags, of course (like his increased infield fly ball rate and elevated HR/FB ratio and BABIP) but overall, it appears that he may have actually turned a corner.
Although, perhaps we shouldn’t be too surprised. We all knew he had this in him, it’s just nice to see him finally putting it all together – even if it’s from across dugouts. Starlin Castro may have missed out on his World Series ring in Chicago, but Cubs fans won’t forget him. And hey, right now he’s one of MLB’s top 20 hitters (17th overall by wRC+ to be exact) on a first-place New York Yankees team.
I think he’s doing just fine.