I haven't posted anything in a couple weeks. Thanks to everyone else for taking over. I've mentioned it before, but I've had neck problems for 6+ months now. They've continued and I've been unable to do much of anything. Unfortunately, it's only slightly better right now because of medication and I won't be around that much over the next few months. Hopefully by then I'll be better and ready to write as much as many of you were used to.
Very early in Starlin Castro's career, I noticed some similiraties to Ichiro. I wrote about this at Another Cubs Blog, but since it was only a month after his debut, it's not worth linking to. I know I've written about it since, but can't find the article here at Obstructed View. Oh well.
The basis of the comparison was that Castro, like Ichiro, hits a lot of singles, doesn't walk much, doesn't have great power and that both are free swingers. Castro had a relatively high BABIP his first two seasons, which made me wonder if he could sustain it, much like Ichiro has in his career. I was skeptical that he could sustain it. It was more likely he could not.
He hasn't. In his first two seasons in 2010 and 2011, he had a .345 BABIP. His BABIP has fallen to .313 since. This seems to be a more sustainable BABIP for Castro who doesn't have great speed.
It's no surprise that some of his numbers have fallen off, along with the lower BABIP.
Castro batted .304/.343/.422 over his first two seasons. He had over 1200 plate appearances and a 106 OPS+. He had a .334 wOBA and a 105 wRC+. These weren't great numbers by any means, but for someone Castro's age and position, it was very good. There were some small improvements between 2010 and 2011 and every reason to believe that improvement would continue.
He had the 8th most fWAR among qualified shortstops in 2010 and 2011. He was 6th in wRC+.
While his walk rate declined slightly in 2011, that was largely due to the intentional walks he had as the number 8 hitter in 2010. He had an unintentional walk rate of 4.4% in 2010, which is not good at all. It was 4.6% in 2011. His strikeout rate declined a bit and despite that, his power numbers increased. His ISO went from .108 his rookie season to .125 his sophomore year.
His unintentional walk rate fell to 4.5% in 2012 though his power did further increase. His ISO was nearly .150 so despite the overall letdown of a performance from him last year, there was still a sign that things could be better.
However, since the end of the 2011 season, he's hit only .278/.316/.414. That's good for a 96 OPS+ over 928 plate appearances. His unintentional walk rate is 3.8% this year and his ISO is lower than it was his rookie season. He's fallen to 10th in fWAR over those years and 9th in wRC+.
He's swinging at more pitches out of the zone since the end of 2011 than his first two years. He's swinging at more pitches in the zone. His out of zone contact rate is lower, which has led to an increase in strikeouts. His zone contact rate is below 90% for the first time. The contact rates aren't necessarily bad numbers if it comes with a power increase. It has in some ways, but not in others.
When Castro came into the league as a free swinger, there wasn't yet a great deal to be concerned about. He was so young and was performing well. He would surely get better as he aged at which point it might even become a strength. It hasn't. It's as much or more a weakness today than it was the day he came into the league.
Combine the poor plate discipline with the declining BABIP and you've got a guy who hasn't improved since he reached the big leagues.
This isn't to say Castro isn't a valuable ballplayer. He is. He's stayed at SS much longer than I expected and it doesn't seem as though there's any urgency to move him to a new position at this point. Despite being close to a replacement level player this season, he's better than he's performed. His numbers will improve. He's probably end up with just over 2 fWAR.
I know myself and a couple others caught some shit saying that Castro is what he he's been a couple years ago. He was probably not going to become the superstar many thought possible. Considering the lack of improvement to this point in his career, I see even less reason to be optimistic that happens.
The Cubs recently criticized some of the returning players for not showing an improvement in their walk rate. The front office was speaking directly to Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo when this was said. Castro's walk rate is terrible and his OBP skills have fallen to that of a bottom of the order hitter. Rizzo's plate discipline hasn't improved at all this year either. It's disappointing to see on a team that has a front office as sabermetrically inclined as they are.