Every season for the last five years, I participate in a random ESPN public league, you know, in case my other leagues go terribly wrong. In a ten team league, I can usually navigate myself to the top half without much effort. It's really nothing to crow about considering half of the teams are either dead from the start or they decide to give up midway through the season.
I still find it fun. There are always a handful of owners, including myself, who take it semi-seriously and try their damndest to earn the title of Obscure Public League Champion. I won last year and celebrated privately with a $4 bottle of wine and a hangover, and although we public leaguers don't like to admit it, we really hate losing these things. It's embarrassing. And when we do lose, we drink a $4 bottle of wine.
This season, I've fallen from first to second over the course of a month thanks to injuries (Ryan Braun, A.J. Burnett), fast starts gone terribly wrong (Justin Upton) and the severely disappointing. And that's where I land at today: the severely disappointing, better known to fantasy owners this season as Starlin Castro.
Now I'm not entirely pinning my public league drop from the top all on Castro, but let's be honest, he's an easy scape goat for bitter fantasy owners who wasted a No. 36 overall pick, according to FantasyPros.com, on the 23-year old shortstop in the preseason. Among shortstops, only Troy Tulowitzki and Jose Reyes went higher, and, yeah, those guys have made life hard on their owners, too (if you count Tulo's latest injury).
Since debuting and setting Cubdom on fire, Castro has regressed to a below league average hitter, slashing .231/.266/.320 with three home runs, 34 runs, 24 RBI and six steals in 331 plate appearances. While never an on-base guy -- his career OBP is .326 and he has just 112 walks in 2,243 PA -- Castro at least hit himself on. In 2011, he famously became the youngest player in National League history to lead the league in hits with 207, and he backed it up with 183 more in 2012. This season, he's on pace for 156. Not terrible, but not great when it's your only means to the base paths.
And that's the obvious elephant in the room with Castro: A career walk rate of exactly five percent. This year, it's dropped from 5.2% to 3.6%, and the year before that, it wasn't much better at 4.9%. Even his strikeout rate is at an all-time high of 18.7%. Castro's season-long struggles recently led the Cubs to bench him for the first time in 269 games, just 2,363 games shy of tying Cal Ripken Jr.'s all-time record.
When you take a look at Castro's contact rates from the last three years, it's all downhill. Ditto for his swinging strike rate, which has risen, and that's not good. His O-Swing%, which isn't represented in the table above, has actually improved from 37.4% in 2012 to 34.5% in 2013, but it's still a ways off from the league average mark of 30.2%.
Pretty much everything you wanted to see Castro improve in -- his strikeout rate, his walk rate, his swinging strike rate and his contact rates -- has fallen near, at or below league average. In his age-23 season, there was hope for so much more. I haven't even discussed Castro's power numbers, which are also down (.147 ISO in 2012; .089 ISO in 2013). And steals...what steals? After swiping 25 bags last year, Castro is 6-for-8 this year. Yeah, you kind of need to be on base for that, too.
Castro's 2013 may go down as a cautionary tale in the dangers of overestimating a young rising star's numbers on the surface, like his runs, RBIs, home runs and steals, and not what his underlying numbers say, like his discipline at the plate.
Today, Castro is the 345th ranked player on ESPN's Player Rater. It's hard to imagine him falling any further than that, but I don't think his rest-of-the-season numbers are going to be fantasy-season-changing better. Keeper leaguers, stay the course. Redraft leaguers, if you play with no regrets like me, feel free to let Castro finally take a walk off of your team.
Alex Kantecki is a fantasy baseball writer for Fake Teams. He also writes the "Closer Chronicle" for Vigilante Baseball every Thursday, ranking and tiering all 30 MLB closers. You can follow Alex on Twitter at @rotodealer.