All numbers updated through games ending on August 6th.
Starlin Castro has nearly had as many plate appearances this season as he did last so it seems a good time to compare the two seasons. In 2010 Castro made his big league debut in early May and went on to hit .300/.347/.408. His wOBA was .325 and his wRC+ was 94, which means he was 6% worse than the league average hitter. At the age of 20, that’s pretty damn good. (click the link below to continue reading)
There were two things I noticed recently when looking at his stats and comparing them in my head. First, Castro was intentionally walked 7 times last year and he was hit by a pitch 6 additional times. These 13 free passes helped inflate his OBP and his walk percentage. I don’t know why Fangraphs doesn’t exclude IBB when calculating BB%, but they don’t. Castro batted 8th a lot in his rookie season and was skipped by the pitching team in favor of the pitcher several times.
This year he’s received just 1 intentional walk and only been once as well. As a result, his walk percentage has looked much worse than it was a year ago and his OBP has barely been better than his batting average. However, the unintional walk percentage a year ago was 4.4%. This year it’s 4.0%.
In the number of plate appearances Castro has had this year, if he had just two additional walks he’d have a slightly better walk percentage. Considering Castro hit 8 in many games last year, it’s also likely that at least a few of his walks were of the non-intentional intentional variety. Take, for example, this at-bat.
Mike Fontenot has led off the inning with a double and after Geovany Soto popped up, Johnny Cueto threw four straight pitches out of the zone. With the pitcher and then Ryan Theriot coming up next, it made sense to see if you could get Castro to chase a pitch out of the zone. He didn’t and he was given first base. In that game, Castro walked 3 times and one of them was an intentional pass. That walk above was the non-intentional intentional variety and the other non-intentional one may also have been more intentional than not. There were runners on 2nd and 3rd when Castro was up. The first was a called strike (low in the zone). The next three were balls and then Castro chased what would likely have been ball four. All but the first pitch were on the corners of the zone. Castro chased a couple of them and Cueto nearly got him out, but Castro eventually took the walk.
Whether that one was or not, it’s an almost certainty that at least one other walk was really an intentional walk. Castro has batted much higher this season so while it’s probably one of his walks this year has been the same as last year, it’s not as many. Clearly the pitchers were willing to pitch around Castro, which we see with the 7 intentional walks. Nearly 25% of his walks were intentional. I wouldn’t be surprised if that figure was 35% if we looked through the at-bats more closely.
I guess what I’m saying is that while Castro’s walk percentage is just slightly down this year, he’s more than likely taken more non-intentional walks than he did a year ago.
While it would be nice to see an increase in his walk rate, we haven’t seen it decline. He’s just a guy who isn’t going to walk much. Part of the reason is because he makes so much contact. When he swings he usually hits it. Part of it his willingness to swing at pitches he probably shouldn’t, especially with 2 strikes.
Another thing to conside ris league average non-intentional walk rate. In 2010 it was 7.9% and this year it’s down to 7.6%. So Castro’s walk rate remaining about the same is actually an improvement over last year.
The same thing is true of many of his other stats. If you look at his triple slash stats this year, they’re .313/.341/.431. The average and OBP are close to the same as last year while the slugging is a little higher. Overall, though, the line doesn’t look that much unlike his rookie season.
However, the league has changed considerably. In 2010 the league hit .257/.325/.403. wOBA is equal to league average OBP (excluding pitcher’s batting). This season the league is hitting .254/.320/.394. Not a tremendous difference, but each rate is lower. While Castro’s OBP is lower, the league’s is lower and, as mentioned earlier, his OBP last season was largely the result of intentional walks and being hit by pitches.
He’s hit for more power this season. His ISO a year ago was .108 and it’s .118 this season. Castro’s OSwing% is actually lower than last year despite the league swinging at more pitches out of the zone. There’s little doubt that Castro has improved as a hitter. One would hope that’s a sign of good things to come.
One aspect of his game that has not improved is his defense. A year ago he had defensive ratings ranging from 1 (DRS) to -12. This year it ranges from -11 to -17. He hasn’t been that different a fielder. The differnece is in the type of balls in play that he’s had, but I feel we can safely say at this point that he’s a poor fielder and will be moved away from SS at some point.
Only 70 players since 1901 played 80% of their games at SS and played in at least 150 games through their age 22 season. Only Wil Cordero (-35) and Sonny Jackson (-40) have been worse in Total Zone than Starlin Castro (-26). Derek Jeter is just above Castro at -19. Expanding the group by including 2nd basemen and 3rd basemen, we now have 196 such players. Castro ranks 190th. Castro also ranks 466th among 476 players in Total Zone through the age of 22 at any position. Interestingly, Ron Santo ranks 465th and we know he turned out to be a fantastic fielder.
The point I’m making is that Starlin Castro, as measured by Total Zone at least, is one of the worst fielders through his age in baseball history. In fact, 258 players played in at least 120 games through the age 21 season. Castro’s Total Zone ranks 256th. Only Robin Young, another guy who improved considerably, and Jose Guillen were worse.
There’s still plenty of time for Castro to improve and the error in Total Zone is quite large, but coupled with scouting reports I don’t think anybody is surprised he’s played well below average on defense.
Moving positions doesn’t matter anyway. If Castro moved to 2nd base, he’d lose .5 wins in defensive adjustments, but his defense would be 5 runs, or .5 wins better. it’s not a big deal if he is forced to move psotions. He doesn’t become a less valuable player than he currently is.
Overall with Castro, there are some really good signs. His offense has certainly improved. He’s definitely hitting the ball with more authority than he did a year ago. Despite the number of walks being down and the OBP also being down relative to his batting average, he’s not taking any fewer non-intentional walks. The difference is 6 IBB and 5 HBP.
I said entering the season that we should probably expect Castro’s season to be very similar to his rookie season. I expected his BABIP to regress toward .300 so having similar numbers would have meant he wasn’t relying on balls in play so much. His BABIP is actually slightly higher this season and he’s been better at the plate in most aspects. The baserunning also seems to have improved. The one area I was hoping we’d see improvement would be defensively, but it’s not there yet. There’s still plenty of time and no rush to move him away from SS, but it’s not the end of the world if they do.