When discussing a fantasy baseball ‘Least Valuable Player,’ we’re looking at a few different things to factor in. Obviously, an under-performing stat line is one. But we’re also looking at the relative cost of the player in relation to other players at his position. If he didn’t cost you more than a 15th round draft pick or $2 in your auction and he didn’t perform well, then so be it. Very little harm done. But when you’ve used a third or a fourth round pick on him and he doesn’t meet expectations, it’s a much bigger deal. We’re also taking into account that player’s in-season trade value. Some guys who are in a slump, you can still trade them on name and reputation, but when the performance is so bad that no one wants to trade for them, an LVP award is just begging to be won. For me, this season, no one epitomizes the LVP award more than Cubs shortstop Starlin Castro.
To be honest, I was never as high on Castro as many others were. His minor league numbers were good, but it’s not like they were ‘grab your attention, holy crap, look at what this guy is doing’ numbers. Even his defensive numbers, though no help to the fantasy community, seemed middle-of-the-road, at best. But when he was in the process of being promoted, the hype was immense. The talk of a fantastic contact hitter with tremendous speed was abundant and expectations ran pretty high.
His first two seasons were good. Not great but good. Between the two, we saw a .300-plus average with good stolen base potential. Despite the disappointing walk rate, the high BABIP wasn’t considered a potential issue because of both his high contact and somewhat favorable strikeout rates. And at just 21-years of age, there was plenty of room for additional growth.
And grow he did, the following season. In 2012 we saw improved power and an uptick in stolen bases. The walk and strikeout rates remained comparable and though his contact rate slipped a bit and his BABIP fell to a more reasonable .315 mark, his .283 average was still strong enough for his owners not to be concerned. After all, how many times have we seen a player increase his home run total at the expense of batting average? So long as the speed remained on an upward turn and there were no glaring red flags, Castro’s stock remained, at worst, the same.
Enter the 2013 season. The shortstop position was looking as bleak as ever. Hanley Ramirez was up there in the rankings but his performance and stock were still headed south. Just the mention of Troy Tulowitzki’s name landed him on the disabled list. And Jose Reyes still had a number of question marks while headed north of the border. But there was Castro, ranked in the top five at the position and costing owners a third or fourth round pick, depending on the number of teams and level of fear of position scarcity.
We obviously don’t need to recap his disappointing 2013 totals to know that he failed to live up to his draft position, but in case you do, it’s simple — less power, more strikeouts, a near-disappearance of speed, a spike in ground balls, fewer line drives, low average, low BABIP and diminishing contact rates. That alone could land you an LVP award, but Castro even took it one step further. A major attitude problem put him at odds with his manager and a few teammates and his stock plummeted faster than his place in the batting order did.
He eventually found his way back to the leadoff spot, but the damage was done. Castro’s fantasy stock was sliding fast and his trade value was vanishing before our eyes. Even keeper league owners, despite his age, were still hesitant to trade for him. Things may turn around for him at some point between now and the 2014 season, but there is now a major amount of skepticism when it comes to discussing his fantasy value. Someone in your league will stand by the belief that it was just one season and that he’s still so young that he can change. Some will obviously cite Dale Sveum’s departure as a positive in Castro’s return to the top of the mountain. Maybe.
But the fact remains that, for what was expected and for where he went in drafts, Castro didn’t even come close. The season was a complete bust and it left a young and talented player with a very murky future.