Changing Philosophy on Starlin Castro's Batted Ball Approach

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Changing Philosophy on Starlin Castro’s Batted Ball Approach

Chicago Cubs

starlin castro featureStarlin Castro has not been having the season that we – or he – hoped for in 2015. After a relatively strong April (.325/.349/.410), he had an absolutely abysmal May (.221/.264/.274). Back in early May, I looked into his surging groundball rate and weak contact, as a precursor of potential struggles to come and that’s precisely what happened. Specifically, we noticed that Castro was pulling the ball more than usual, resulting in weak contact to the left side of the infield. But recently, Castro has strung together a few solid games, including two walks-offs. Might Castro be turning a corner? And what can we attribute that to?

Patrick Mooney spoke with Joe Maddon on the topic earlier this week at CSN. Among Maddon’s thoughts: “We’ve talked about [how] I think [Castro’s] trying a little bit too hard sometimes. That’s where I think that rollover groundball comes from – trying to do too much. The last two nights [on the walk-off hits], in big moments, line drive up the middle, line drive in the gap. And I’ve always said to him: I’d like to see left-center be his left-field foul line. Meaning to not try to pull the ball so much.”

Maddon seems to believe in Starlin Castro’s ability to turn things around and believes the key lies in driving the ball the other way more often, while pulling it less. Given what we know about his tendency to roll over outside pitches weakly to the left side when trying to pull the ball, that sounds about right.

Unfortunately, that may not have been what Castro has been coached into doing over the past several years. Back in 2012, Brett took a look at Starlin Castro’s more open stance and his apparent attempt to generate more power. By opening up, Castro gave himself the ability to pull inside pitches more easily, theoretically providing the opportunity to hit for more power/extra bases. Castro, at the time, was hitting in the 3-hole as one of the team’s primary run producers, so the change was understandable.

But is trying to pull the ball less definitely the solution for Castro? Is it that simple?

For what it’s worth, Starlin Castro’s numbers make things a bit more complicated. In 2014, for example, Starlin Castro had one of his best seasons yet. Oddly, though, he actually pulled the ball more that year (40.2%) than any year previous. You may be inclined to disagree with Maddon, then, but Castro took the pull-happy approach to an entirely new level in 2015 (45.0%). Given that his career average before 2014 was 34.13%, that is quite an increase. It’s quite possible, then, that Castro is overdoing what worked so well for him in 2014, to his own demise.

The key difference I see (in 2015) is his propensity to drive the ball into the ground. In 2014, Castro had a 22.3% line drive rate, a 32.3% fly ball rate and a 45.3% ground ball rate. In 2015, though, Castro has just a 16.1% line drive rate, a 25.1% fly ball rate and a 58.8% (!) ground ball rate. He is putting the ball on the ground far more often than he usually does, and, given his increased pull%, we may have the reason for the early struggles.

To plausibly elaborate on Maddon, then, Castro needs to pull the ball less AND hit the ball in the air more often, in order to rediscover some success. For what it’s worth, the batted ball data suggests things are improving, at least slightly, in June.

Over the admittedly small sample, Castro has hit about the same rate of line drives (15.7%) and fly balls (31.4%), but fewer ground balls (52.9%). Moreover, he is pulling the ball far less (37.3%), hitting it to center more often (41.2%), and hitting it the other way a bit more (21.6%), as well.

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Author: Michael Cerami

Michael Cerami covers the Chicago Cubs, Bears, and Bulls at Bleacher Nation. You can find him on Twitter @Michael_Cerami