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Starlin Castro: Skill Plateau or Even Better Coming?

How often does a 22 year old actually perform basically right in line with pre-season expectations? Well, Starlin Castro pretty much did just that this season. According to Zach Sanders’ calculator, he earned $18, ranking him 5th among shortstops. Our RotoGraphs consensus rankings slotted him fourth, so Castro did what he was supposed to. Top players are certainly expected to be consistent year in and year out, but this was only Castro’s third full season, so really, a major breakout or a flop wouldn’t have been too surprising. So what does the future hold for young Starlin?

First let’s start with his batting average potential. He has made pretty good contact in the Majors so far, but 2009 and 2010 rates in the minors hinted at better than we have seen. That alone gives him some upside. His batted ball profile is good, as he hits line drives at a better than average clip, hits more grounders than flies, and has done a good job avoiding the pop-up.

However, his SwStk% has risen each year with the Cubs, while his Contact% has declined. That suggests that maybe his strikeout rates should have been a little further apart than they look, with a declining trend through this season. Now of course that doesn’t mean this trend will continue, but whatever skills he showed in the minors to make such strong contact haven’t completely translated to the Majors. His batted ball profile though should help him sustain good BABIP marks, and since there’s always the chance he does rediscover some of that contact skill, he could easily return to the .300 level.

Moving on to his speed, this is a skill that is particularly interesting. With 26 triples over his first three seasons and a career Spd score of 6.0, he clearly has good speed. Unfortunately, that speed simply hasn’t translated into base-stealing prowess. In my pre-season bold league leaders article, I picked Castro to lead the league in steals. The idea was that you can’t teach speed, but you could teach base-stealing technique. That was all that lay between Castro and a stolen base breakout. That improvement never manifested of course, as he was successful on just 66% of his attempts. He still swiped three more bases than last year though as he made seven more attempts.

The risk here is that Castro simply never improves his ability to steal bases and the Cubs start giving him the red light. At 22 though, I would bet on improvement. And if that happens, maybe he would also gain the confidence to run even more frequently. So I think the upside is definitely there for a 30-40 steal season one of these years.

I think the biggest question surrounding Castro is his peak power potential. So far his home run, ISO and HR/FB trend looks like that of a typical young player, rising each year. Even his FB% has jumped ever so slightly each season. But is he done, or will we be looking at a 20 homer guy in the near future? His ESPN Home Run Tracker data is decent. The average standard distance of his home runs is actually higher than I expected and better than the league average. Of his 14 homers, 5 (36%) of them were classified as “just enough”, which is only 1 homer more than what would have matched the league average. His average home run plus fly ball distance from Baseball Heat Maps is also better than the league average. This all suggests that right now, Castro is a legit mid-teen home run guy. That’s the start of figuring out what his future may look like.

Given his age and the ISO aging curve Eno published back in January, Castro’s power might have another three years of gradual improvement before it peaks and then begins its descent. Since better contact could be in his future, and the seeming ability to boost his HR/FB ratio to a league average rate, I think we could see a peak of around 20 homers for Starlin. If he ever does improve his stolen base success rate, then he could be a 20-30 guy batting .300 and playing shortstop. That could be first round material.