Starlin Castro is not a man who flies under the radar. One day he’s walking off with with a game-winning hit, the next he’s walking off in anger at not making a play and letting a run score in the process. He’s a walking (off) contradiction, or maybe controversy.
Early in the season, he was silencing critics with his great play. Only a short while later, he had me throwing up warning signs. It’s not like this is anything new though, as Castro has always been a streaky hitter. He can carry a team on his back one week and then weigh it down like an anchor the next.
The month of May saw the Cubs shortstop playing like so much dead weight as he slashed only .221/.264/.274 with a 19.8% K-rate. Even if you know very little about the most basic metrics, you can tell that’s not necessarily a very good line. Actually, it’s vomit inducing.
But looking past the most obvious stats, there was perhaps a bit of reason to hope that things might be turning for the better. When writing about Castro’s struggles, I had noted his overly-high pull percentage, which sat at 54.3% in the month of April. With pitchers challenging him low and away, that approach resulted in a lot of weak contact on the ground.
According to Fangraphs, Castro’s ground ball percentage was 64.3% in April, which, in and of itself isn’t terrible. However, when you’re only making hard contact 18.6% of the time, the chances for those grounders to find holes is decreased significantly. But his .325 average, buoyed by a .368 BABIP that was 44 points above his career average, masked the contact issues.
So the drop-off in May was less about bad luck and more about an inevitable regression to the mean. This is Starlin Castro though, so water didn’t simply find its level. Rather, it sloshed over to the other end and set the numbers all askew. The batting average dropped over 100 points, drug down by a BABIP that over-corrected to .270.
But the hard-hit balls were up significantly, to 30%, and Castro had decreased his ground-ball percentage to 57.8. Not great, mind you, but reason to believe that the poor performance in May was nearly as much a mirage as the solid April.
And wouldn’t you know it, things have begun to balance out here in June. Just over three weeks into the month, Castro is batting .273 with a BABIP of .292 and has gotten his ground-ball percentage down to 50.8. What’s more, he’s backed off that that pull-happy approach and has it down to a more reasonable 34.3%.
When Starlin is at his best, he’s squaring up pitches from the middle of the plate in and he’s flipping those outside pitches through the gap and into right field. In the season’s opening month, his pull/center/opp splits were 54.3/27.1/18.6, but those have tempered to 34.3/41.8/23.9 this month.
For those of you who are more visually inclined, take a look at Castro’s spray charts for each of the first three months of the season.
You can see the heavy concentration of infield grounders in April, most to the left side, with very little activity to center and right. As the season has progressed, that light green cluster has broken up and you’re seeing much better coverage of the field, along with more line drives. I’d still love to see right field peppered with more green and red dots, but time will tell.
It appears as though he’s slowly rounding into form as the summer starts to heat up, which is a really good thing for both Castro and the Cubs.
Now if he could just get a handle on those mental gaffes.