Why Is Starlin Castro Terrible Now?

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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Mike Petriello lives in New York and writes about the Dodgers daily at Dodgers Digest, as well as contributing to ESPN Insider. He wrote two chapters in the 2014 Hardball Times Annual as well as building The Hardball Times and TechGraphs, and was an editorial producer at Sports on Earth. Find him at @mike_petriello.

51 Responses to “Why Is Starlin Castro Terrible Now?”

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  1. Tommy Wiseau says:

    Recently traded him away for Alex Gordon, preeettttttyyy, pretttyyyyyyy, pretttyyyyyy satisfied. Though still (minimally) paranoid of a Castro turnaround.

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  2. Brian says:

    The timing here is funny since he’s had two solid lines the last two times out. Just a slump, to me, and I’m buying extremely low. The two days off seem to have helped, end his at bats looked solid.

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  3. JD says:

    From what I’ve heard, pitchers realized he’s not hitting fastballs. Usually when a player comes up, pitchers throw junk because that’s the typical weakness for a young player. But Castro’s bat speed is made for breaking pitches, especially mistakes. It took a couple years for teams to realize he can’t make solid contact on a good fastball (more likely because of his swing mechanics and not a complete inability to do it). Now they’ve figured it out, and Castro hasn’t adjusted yet.

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  4. Sgt Hulka says:

    At the end of April/beginning of May, I offered Segura and decent pitcher (can’t remember who) for Starlin. Got rejected. Very, very happy about that.

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  5. Brett W says:

    He really does look like he’s turned the corner within the last week with much better contact, albeit against Astros and Brewers pitching.

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  6. Alex says:

    I also wrote a piece on Castro at Fake Teams yesterday, explaining why I flat out dropped him in a redraft league. I appreciate the Trip Cromer and Benji Gil name drops, haha. Good stuff.

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  7. Ender says:

    I’m only putting this up as a possibility. Perhaps he got a large guaranteed contract and now he’s kinda taking it easy. It happens all over the place in sports, not just baseball. I’m not saying I have an alternative solution, but I’m shocked that GMs routinely give huge paydays to veteran all stars that are about to tip into their decline.

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    • dirck says:

      You may be right about Castro sitting on his newly fat wallet
      , Ender ,and you certainly are right about the stupidity of giving aging veterans huge long-term contracts, but since Castro is only 23 that part certainly doesn’t apply to him .

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      • Ender says:

        Yes yes, of course you’re right about Castro’s age. That was sorta a side tangent off of my point.

        He got paid and now he’s in cruise control. Why try hard when you get paid the same amount even if you are horrible?

        *** [ humble request for fangraph article ] ***
        Sports GMs and owners really need to create a new system where this guaranteed contract and then sit on my laurels can’t happen. Perhaps some performance based stuff. I’m sure the players associations would never go for it, but there’s something there.

        Perhaps they can make a player profit sharing scheme. Some combination of a base minimum guaranteed salary + player performance incentives (somewhat easily attainable, not requiring superstar #s), but also profit sharing from the team’s success. Team wins the pennant? Bonus. And another bonus at each stage of the playoffs.

        Have owners previously tried to do something like this in any sport? What happened?

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    • stan says:

      This is the answer, IMO. Castro is a guy who has been disinterested at best mentally throughout his career. I think you can expect this malaise to last right until he’s worried about having his option years picked up in four year. Conveniently he’ll be just young enough to still be at shortstop and justify getting a long-term contract when the current deal ends. Buyer beware to the team that gives him that deal.

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  8. Jack says:

    I just gave up and dropped him yesterday, picking up Anthony Rendon.

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  9. Guy says:

    whats interesting is that ian desmond has a 5% BB rate as well and a worse K% rate, but is still doing fine.

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    • Izzy says:

      Ian Desmond has thirteen home runs compared to Castro’s three. Castro has little power and doesn’t walk so he is completely dependent on his contact skills.

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  10. jst1vaughn says:

    I offered Trumbo and Shields for Castro and Verlander back at the beginning of May. My league vetoed the deal.

    I think I owe them all gift baskets or something.

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  11. Sky says:

    Drafted Castro and after his slow start agreed to trade away him AND RA Dickey to a known Mets fan in my league for Andrus and Strasburg back in late April. Beyond happy with how it’s worked out since at the time I was hesitant to let go of Castro in case of a turnaround. Andrus hasnt been great but at least hes provided some steals. Seriously lucked out

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  12. Guest says:

    Salvador Perez is NOT a high strikeout catcher and has never been in mlb or milb. You should find a better example.

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    • josh says:

      he was simply saying that perez COULD get away with it if he were a striker outer because of what all else he brings to the game

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  13. harpago17 says:

    Is Salvador Perez considered “high-whiff” now? I thought his 12.3% K rate this year (and 10.9% career) were both well below average. The low walk rate is accurate, but considering him “high-whiff” is a stretch at best.

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  14. Brian says:

    To me, that’s the one flaw in this website, is the tendency to take the random variance and find some sort of statistical reason to reflect it. I watch the Cubs, and it seems to me to be a clear case of a guy who’s pressing and putting pressure on himself. This may be a lost season for the guy, but he is a human going through his first extended tough stretch of his life, and dealing with it poorly. Watching and understanding the guy, who probably is ADD based on his similarities to myself, I think he just needs to be left alone a la Adam Jones or Carlos Gomez. Use the contact skills, don’t try to be a saber-friendly player.

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    • johnnycuff says:

      if there’s a reason for his struggles, then the variance is *not* random. if he’s struggling because he’s putting too much pressure on himself, then that’s a causal relationship, which is not random.

      mike is trying to find statistical evidence to explain his struggles just like you’re using anecdotal evidence and armchair psychiatry.

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      • Yahmule says:

        The statistical evidence provided details his struggles but does little to explain them. His walk rate has always been poor. His swinging strike rate, while steadily declining, is pretty similar to last season. Not enough by themselves for the historically poor season.

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  15. Fedee_ says:

    He’s awful. If I wasn’t in a keeper, he’d be on the wire right now. I can get like 40 cents on the dollar for him right now. No thanks.

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    • 3FingersBrown says:

      I have him in a 12 team H2H keeper league too and I’m wondering what to do with him. I’ve got Altuve, Peralta and Castro in my MI with EverCab coming back from the DL soon. I don’t think I can get much for him at this point and I’m considering just dumping Castro for Cabrera when he’s back.

      In my league, next season Castro could be kept at the cost of a draft pick corresponding to his player rank – so very cheap if he continues this downward spiral. Do I wait it out and hope for a bounce back season and a cheap all-star shortstop next season? I’m in first place so I’m inclined to dump him and play the wire.

      The X-factor for me is how the Biogenesis case develops. Both my SS, Peralta and Cabrera have been connected. Even a lousy Castro will have value if that goes down, since the FA pool is pretty thin.


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  16. FeslenR says:

    packaged him to get Chris Sale in another league, not a bad deal, I’d say.

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  17. Jeff says:

    Looking at his Pitch Types and Pitch Values, he’s seeing a lot more fastballs this season, and hitting them worse than ever. Not sure whether this is merely correlation, but maybe teams are challenging him more at the plate?

    The sample size would likely be so small as to be meaningless, but it would be interesting to see his Swing% and Contact% by Pitch Type over each year in the majors.

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    • Charlie says:

      For fastballs in general, compared to 2012, Castro’s “whiff” rate is .5% more this year. The real difference is the fact he is fowling off 5% more fastballs compared to last year. Why this is happening? Could be a variety of reasons. His “contact” ability suddenly hasn’t disappeared by no means. The bat is still hitting the ball.

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  18. Charlie says:

    It’s really easy to look at the surface peripherals (Swing%, BB%, K%, etc.) and make an argument that Castro has somehow turned into Brendan Ryan, but this author didn’t dig deeper.

    Castro’s overall plate discipline is better this year compared to last year in terms of pitch recognition. His O Swing % is down 3%, his overall swing % is even down 2%. His contact % is down only a mere .9%.

    Let’s talk about power, or his sudden drop in ISO. As you know, ISO can me more about BBIP location (down the line, in the gaps, etc). I looked at Castro’s BBIP distance: 262 feet in 2012 and 262 feet in 2013. No difference. Castro is actually hitting more fly balls this year (sacrificing 2% from LDs to a 2% increase in FBs compared to 2012). His distance on FBs is 5 feet further this year.

    His BABIP is down, but honestly, it’s not really indicative of Castro getting “unlucky.” His xBABIP isn’t THAT much higher. So what gives? Spray chart in 2013: http://pitchfx.texasleaguers.com/charts/gen/5167702013040220130627AAAAAspray-chart.png

    Spray chart in 2013: http://pitchfx.texasleaguers.com/charts/gen/5167702012040220121024AAAAAspray-chart.png

    Look at right field, Castro’s bread and butter is the opposite field hits. There seems to be a defensive shift taking place, where OFers are playing slightly more shallow taking away balls that fell as a hit in 2012.

    So Castro is hitting more FBs for even a further distance, swinging at balls less outside the zone, and his contact % is down .9%. With those peripherals, I’d expect his surface stat lines (BB%, K%, ISO, average) to change over a larger sample size. He will have to adjust to the defensive shift in right field and maintain his BBIP distance gain. His performance drop is way overblown.

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  19. IDrago says:

    Tripp Cromer. Oh man. That guy looked like a whippet on two legs and hit like one too. Those were dark times to be a Cardinals fan.

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  20. HatchetMan2004 says:

    I drafted Castro is two of my standard leagues. Luckily, I always try to three players per infield position, so I picked up Zobrist and Prado too. Prado has also been a bust so far, but Zobrist has been a saviour for me.

    I did wonder if Castro would play well when I drafted him, as his performance actually tailed off in the second half of last year. This was put down to the Cubs firing the hitching coach (whoever he was), whom Castro was supposed to really get on with. I wonder if this is the real reason for his poor performance so far this year.

    I was hoping that he would figure this out quite quickly with the new coach. I am still holding onto him (and Prado), in the hope that things will pick up. He has been much better this week. Hopefully this will be the start of things getting better.

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  21. Jim says:

    Still struggling to drop Castro (for Nick Franklin, I’m thinking), but this article has me a little closer to finally pulling the trigger.

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  22. Derekmal says:

    I will keep buying low. I believe it’s a really long, bad slump and he will rebound,

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