Is there a more disappointing player in fantasy baseball (non-injury division) this year than Starlin Castro? Okay, Josh Hamilton, maybe. Perhaps Matt Kemp, though anyone who didn’t expect some amount of negative impact from his shoulder surgery wasn’t really paying attention.
Remember, Castro was a guy ranked by Yahoo! as the #39 overall fantasy player (and #3 shortstop) entering the season. This was a guy who was placed in the elite top tier of fantasy shortstops along with Jose Reyes & Troy Tulowitzki right here by Erik Hahmann in March. I point that out not to embarrass Erik, but to show that everyone thought Castro was among the best of the fantasy best at the position — myself included, since I drafted him on more than one team.
Three months into the season, I now own Castro on zero teams. In one case, I simply dropped him for Jhonny Peralta, and I haven’t looked back. But 90% of Yahoo! teams and 97% of ESPN teams are still holding on. What went wrong, and is there a reason to hold out hope?
It’s difficult to overstate just how bad Castro has been this season. There are 27 shortstops who have had at least 200 plate appearances, and Castro’s .259 wOBA (thanks to a line of .231/.266/.320) beats out exactly three of them. Even then, saying you’re a better hitter than Brendan Ryan, Adeiny Hechavarria, and Ruben Tejada isn’t exactly high praise.
In fact — and I apologize in advance for Cubs fans for this — I looked back over the last 20 years to find similar offensive seasons from shortstops. The two most similar right now? Tripp Cromer‘s 1995 campaign of .226/.261/.325, and Benji Gil‘s .224/.261/.325 in 1997. Other than my own joy at being able to drop “Tripp Cromer” into an article, that’s terribly disappointing for a player so highly thought of.
So what’s Castro’s problem? He has never really walked all that frequently (5.0% career), and that number has dipped even further this year to just 3.6%, a bottom ten number in the bigs. If that was all it was, that might not be so big of a deal, but unfortunately Castro has compounded that with increasing difficulty in making contact. In his rookie year of 2010, his swinging strike percentage was 6.5%; in the three years since, it’s risen to 7.2%, then 8.3%, and now 8.6%. So right off the bat, we have a player who is striking out more and walking less, and immediately we have some pretty severe warning signs.
You can get by with a low-walk/high-whiff combo if you’re a power hitting center fielder like Baltimore’s Adam Jones or a defensively-gifted catcher like Kansas City’s Salvador Perez, but otherwise you’re grouped in with below-replacement players like Yuniesky Betancourt or Jeff Keppinger, and that’s not a great place to be. It’s especially a problem for a player like Castro, who provides much of his value in steals and homers at a position that is tough to collect offense from. Castro had 47 steals over the last two years, but since he’s rarely ever getting on base any longer, he’s got just six this year — and he hasn’t homered since April.
It’s hard to think that Castro has suddenly forgotten how to hit, since he’s still only 23 and immensely talented. And maybe it is just a slump, because Castro started off in April with a .715 OPS before dropping to .608 in May and down to an abysmal .394 so far in June, and his .279 BABIP is below average. But when even .277/.296/.420, as he hit in April, is the high point of your season, that’s a problem to begin with, and even going back over the last full calendar year he’s only at .250/.299/.373. We may not have noticed it last year because of an usually good HR/FB helping him get to 14 homers, but Castro hasn’t actually been that great for some time now.
Whatever is ailing Castro does not appear to be improving, but the overwhelming majority of fantasy owners don’t appear to have caught on yet. If you’re one of them, take advantage of what name value he has remaining and sell, sell, sell. It’s difficult to think that you can’t find an equivalent or better replacement on the waiver wire.
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