Castro’s New Patience Backfires

Starlin Castro’s 2013 season was such a disappointment our own Howard Bender has already stated Castro was the least value player for the 2013 season. I am not sure how much his owners paid for him, but I am guessing it was more than the -$4 he returned this season. The main problem with Castro’s declining production can be traced back to changes his approach at the plate which may continue into 2014.

Here are his triple slash lines over the years with 2012’s two halves.

2010 506 0.300 0.347 0.408 0.346
2011 715 0.307 0.341 0.432 0.344
2012 691 0.283 0.323 0.430 0.315
2012 1st Half 363 0.291 0.314 0.422 0.331
2102 2nd Half 328 0.275 0.332 0.440 0.297
2013 705 0.245 0.284 0.347 0.290

Cubs made a change at hitting coach is the reason I split 2012 in half. On June 12th, the Cubs decided they didn’t like Rudy Jamamillo’s hitting approach and wanted to go in a “selective aggressiveness” direction  (source).

He said [Rudy] Jaramillo ‘‘might be the best in the world at the mechanics of the swing.’’

‘‘I think mechanics are important,’’ Epstein said, ‘‘but until we sort of embrace as an organization the right approach, mechanics almost have to take a back seat at times. And that was part of the motivation for the move.’’

‘‘We decided that it was best that if you’re going to embrace a new message to have a new voice to go with it,’’ Epstein said of the timing. ‘‘It’s not based on results. It’s more trying to get a new voice with a new message. We have a certain philosophy we believe in, and we have a lot of growth that awaits us as an organization, and [we’re] trying to get there.’’

Ultimately, it’s about a see-more-pitches team-wide emphasis that’s not necessarily inconsistent with Jaramillo’s teachings – but that wasn’t as much a focal point as the new front office wanted.

“We’re really trying to get to the point where we have a game plan for our hitters emphasizing selective aggressiveness at the plate,’’ Epstein said. “Seeing a lot of pitches and focusing on getting your pitch to hit.

Personally, I think making major changes to a major league hitter doesn’t usually work. They player got to the majors with a particular approach and if changes were to be made, they should have been taught to the player in the minors. I know Epstein wasn’t around when Castro was in the minors to try to implement the change, so he should just let Castro go with what got him to the show.

Castro went ahead and adapted the Cubs new patient approach.

Season PA Pitches P/PA BB% K%
2010 506 1839 3.6 5.7% 14.0%
2011 715 2627 3.7 4.9% 13.4%
2012 691 2389 3.5 5.2% 14.5%
2013 705 2716 3.9 4.3% 18.3%

He took over 300 more pitches in 2013 than in 2012 in almost the same number of plate appearances. Usually a more patient approach leads to more strikeouts and walks. He saw the jump in strikeouts, but his walks fell to a career low.

After looking over his different splits way too much, he basically did not come out first pitch swinging in 2013 compared to previous seasons.

Season Went 0-1 Went 1-0 1 pitch PA
2010 47% 37% 16%
2011 48% 41% 12%
2012 48% 37% 14%
2013 51% 41% 9%

In 2013, the percentage of times seeing a 0-1 went to career high and the percentage of one pitch plate appearances went the opposite way. He performs significantly worse when he goes 0-1 over his career compared to when he swings at the first pitch.

One Pitch PA 0.306 0.315 0.481 0.175
Through 0-1 0.269 0.287 0.371 0.102
Trough 1-0 0.293 0.367 0.420 0.127

The Cubs have brought in new manager Rick Renteria to help fix Castro (source).

That makes him Castro in reverse — and maybe the perfect guy to get through to a well-meaning kid whose career has been going backward since at least June 2012, when Epstein dismissed hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo. Recurring issues with focus and concentration — most notably called out nationally by Bobby Valentine during an ESPN telecast in 2011 — frustrated Lou Piniella, Mike Quade and Dale Sveum but were easier to take when he profiled as a guy who could hit .300 and develop into a 20/20 man, if not even better. …. Renteria, who served as Black’s bench coach when Hoyer and McLeod were with the Padres, was the right man in the right spot when Epstein decided that Sveum wasn’t helping develop the organization’s players. He wanted a bicultural manager who could create a good atmosphere for the wave of players with Latin American heritage who will shape the organization.

Castro’s problems haven’t been limited to growing confusion at the plate, where he may have lost some of his natural aggressiveness by trying to work counts.

Making a somewhat concerted effort, I could not find Renteria stating the approach he would like to see Castro implement. A person will need to find out about any changes during spring training.

Going into 2014, I see basically two outcomes for Castro. First, the Cubs let him go back to his free swinging ways making him a .300 hitter again. Or the Cubs can continue to try to teach the more patient approach. Eventually, I see his walks creeping up, but his AVG will be suppressed. If someone is looking at evaluating Castro for 2014, I would read anything on his approach in spring training. Will the Cubs let him go back hacking away or will he try to be a more patient hitter? We will have to wait and find out.

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Jeff writes for RotoGraphs, The Hardball Times, Rotowire, Baseball America, and BaseballHQ. He has been nominated for two SABR Analytics Research Award for Contemporary Analysis and won it in 2013 in tandem with Bill Petti. He has won three FSWA Awards including on for his MASH series. In his first two seasons in Tout Wars, he's won the H2H league and mixed auction league. Follow him on Twitter @jeffwzimmerman.

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Brian Cartwright
Brian Cartwright

The best use of selective agressiveness is to take balls (not chase out of zone) but to rip at strikes. Unfortunately, Castro took strikes.

If someone told him this approach meant taking first pitches, even if they were strikes, that is a failure.