When Starlin Castro came up in 2010, he was a revelation, posting a 1.9 fWAR in his first 125 games at the big league level. The following season was even better. It looked like the Cubs had their solution at shortstop, but the next two seasons challenged that belief. His offensive numbers plummeted, and in 2013 he produced only a 0.1 fWAR, by far the worst of his career. Fortunately for Castro and the Cubs, 2014 was a different story, and he returned to being the valuable offensive player they used to know. Castro’s up and down career, and his propensity to lose focus, naturally lead to a question. Was 2014 another good season before an eventual downfall or the start of sustainable success?
Castro’s resurgence in 2014 stemmed from a major overhaul of his approach at the plate.
Castro has always had a tendency to swing at pitches off the plate high, low, and inside. In 2013, he added another troubling tendency--an inability to lay off pitches in the lower outside corner. The 2013 heat map shows how often he swung at those offerings, and as his swing rates rose, he was essentially inviting pitchers to attack that part of the zone. While his O-Swing% actually improved in 2013, (with his peak coming in 2012), his propensity to swing at pitches in the lower-outside part of the zone led to more issues. It wasn't until 2014 when he changed his batted ball distributions (discussed below) that his improvements were fully realized.
His O-Swing% was the lowest of his career and represented a 15.8% decrease from 2012 and a 6.5% decrease from 2013. His Z-Swing% has always been incredibly consistent, varying only .1% over the last three seasons. In addition to his declining O-Swing%, Castro also significantly reduced the amount of contact he was making with pitches outside the strike zone, specifically by 4.7%. As I pointed out in my last piece on Jay Bruce, not all contact is created equal. With his O-Contact% decreasing, his BABIP rebounded to .337. While that number is significantly higher than MLB average, it’s not out of line with his 2010-2012 stretch and shouldn't be thought of as an anomaly.
As Castro struggled with outside pitches in 2012 and 2013, his batted ball ratios decayed.
From 2013 to 2014, Castro's LD% and FB% increased by 12.1% and 9.9% respectively, while his GB% decreased by 10.7%. These increases were likely influenced by Castro’s return to pulling the ball more. In 2014, Castro shifted his focus back toward left-center and less on taking the ball the other way.
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Matt Goldman is a Contributor to Beyond the Box Score. You can follow him on Twitter at @TheOriginalBull.