On average, Starlin Castro was the third shortstop selected on draft day, somewhere between the third and fourth rounds. He represented an intriguing power/speed option at an offensively-challenged position, and best of all, he only turned 23 in March so he was on the correct part of the age curve. No one can be blamed for buying high on the young man.
Yet, it’s August 23, and Castro is hitting .238/.274/.335 with seven home runs and eight stolen bases. His .270 wOBA ranks fourth-worst amongst qualified shortstops, and even Nick Franklin has provided more fantasy value on the season — despite not playing a big-league game until May 27. It’s frankly been a disastrous season across the board for Starlin Castro. Perhaps it’s best summed up by pointing out that he’s been worth almost four fewer wins than he was each of the previous two seasons. Four wins!
Our own Mike Petriello wrote about his problems earlier this season, and he indicated that many of his issues have stemmed from walking less and striking out more. That’s absolutely correct. While not necessarily the cause of his struggles, it signals that something is wrong with his approach or his mechanics. Just like the fact that his contact percentage on pitches in the strike zone has fallen this season.
The decreased walk rate, increased strikeout rate and decreased zone-contact rate all raise serious warning signs that Starlin Castro is struggling with his mechanics at the plate. Manager Dale Sveum, a former hitting coach in Milwaukee, noted over the summer that Castro’s mechanics have changed throughout his big-league career, and not in a positive way:
“I’d like to see him back to where he was back in 2010 and 2011 when there was a lot less movement going on. He thinks they’re the same mechanics, but they’re not the same mechanics from when he came up to the big leagues or even 2011. It might look the same, but there’s way more movement when the pitch is being delivered.”
Sveum emphasized that there is a lot to like about Castro’s mechanics, saying that if he can eliminate the excessive movement, his hand-eye coordination allows him to hit any pitch. Sveum focused in on Castro’s leg kick, more open stance and movement with his hands as things that have changed mechanically for Castro since he first entered the league. Sveum said slight mechanical changes are often something that happens with players throughout their careers. They slowly develop bad habits, over time they get more pronounced and it may take a while before the player even realizes it’s happened and eventually adjusts.
These bad habits have resulted in a career-high 19.7% strikeout rate and a career-low .098 ISO. And things aren’t getting better. In the last 30 days, Castro has compiled a putrid .216 wOBA, which is the third-worst mark in the league over that time frame. Only fellow black-hole shortstops Adeiny Hechavarria and Alcides Escobar have performed worse. Furthermore, his strikeout rate in the last 30 days is a massive 26.3% and his ISO continues to tumble at .054.
At this point, it’s likely a combination of mechanical problems and a loss of confidence at the plate. He’s trying to swing himself out of a slump, and it’s clearly not working. For fantasy owners prepping for the stretch run in September, it would be wise to avoid Starlin Castro at all costs. Don’t grab him off the waiver wire and hope for a final-month rebound. There are no signs this slump is about to end. In fact, it seems to be getting worse.
It will be interesting to see how Castro is valued next spring, though. He could be one of the most popular sleepers in fantasy baseball, as many owners could see an opportunity to buy low after an uncharacteristically down season. After all, he’s only 23 years old, and the physical talent still remains. This season, though, he’ll go down as one of the biggest fantasy busts in Major League Baseball.
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