At 25 years old Starlin Castro has experienced all levels of success and failure with the Chicago Cubs. At 21 years old he had 207 hits, and was poised to take the league by storm. At 25 he had already lost his starting Shortstop job to another 21-year-old, and was splitting time with Javier Baez at second base.
He's now a New York Yankee, and is manning the keystone in the Bronx. His value has plummeted recently, mainly due to his average and steals taking a dive after 2012. In 2015 he posted a 52R, 11 HR, 69 RBI, 5 SB, .265 line for 5x5 leagues. This made him the 21st most valuable SS, and 28th best 2B in fantasy according to ESPN's player rater.
Obviously, being a top 20 option in the middle infield is essentially worthless to most leagues, but is there a chance that he improves going forward? Steamer has him pegged at a .267/.308/.397 slash line with 11 HR and 6 SB in 2016. That line would lead him to raise his wRC+ from 80 in 2015 to 90 in 2016. A rather uninspiring line for a player who has yet to hit his "peak years", and previous success.
So what has caused Castro's demise? Last year Castro saw his plate discipline, and batted ball rates both get worse. Castro chased pitches outside of the zone at a much higher rate (36.2%) than league average (31.3%), but actually swings at strikes (65.9%), at a below league average rate (66.9%).
So he has the unenviable claim to fame of being a guy who swings at balls and takes strikes. Then you have to look at his contact rates, which haven't changed much over his career. He peaked at 85.9%, but was at 82.4% last year. His skills haven't deteriorated; pitchers have just learned that he's going up to the plate hacking regardless of pitch location. This is particularly evident when you see that last year his walk rate was down to 3.6%, the lowest of his career.
The second problem is that his batted ball profile is getting worse and worse. In 2015 he became a worse hitter to all fields, becoming more of a pull hitter, while hitting fewer line drives, and trading those liners for ground balls. Lastly he has seen his hard his rate drop significantly, making weaker contact in 2015 than he ever had before.
In 2015, he located his mostly on the left side of the field:
While from 2013-2014 he sprayed the ball to all fields
and in 2010-2012 he was lining the ball all over the field:
Like most hitters, he has pulls more ground balls, but if it isn't obvious, from 2010-2014 he was hovering around 20% line drives. In 2015, he dropped down to 17%, by far the lowest of his career. It seems like Castro has not made any approach changes while in the major leagues, and has instead decided to supplement educating his pitch selectivity issues, with mechanical adjustments. For example when you look up his hardest hit balls by exit velocity during his 3 seasons as an average or better MLB hitter, and also his hardest hit ball in 2015, you see adjustments he made to his swing, year to year.
2015: 107 MPH homerun off Yusmerio Petit
2014: 110.1 MPH homerun off Jared Hughes
2012: 110.7 MPH homerun off Jared Hughes
2011: 109.4 MPH homerun off Randy Wolf
In 2011 Castro still had the pronounced bat wiggle, and step, but he also had a pure one hand follow through. In 2012, his best season, he had basically eliminated his high kick, taking a shorter more direct step to his loaded position, and only releasing the bat at the end of his follow through. In 2014 his high step was back, but he was using a two handed follow though. Now in 2015, he is using a less open stance, but with the high kick, and was only using a two handed follow though. His bat wrap has become less pronounced over the years as well, so its clear that he's tried to make adjustments on his swing to keep up with how pitchers pitch to him, but the consistently poor plate discipline has become his undoing.
Hopefully a change of scenery can give him the wakeup call he seems to need. I don't like throwing out the "million dollar body with a ten cent head" line on players, but to this point Castro seems worthy of it. For a player to consistently make the same amount of contact, but fail to learn how teams are attacking him shows a lack of game plan on the mental side. The see ball, hit ball mentality got him to the MLB so I understand why he is reluctant to change if that's his process, but, at this point the only thing he is lacking at the plate is the ability to become more selective on balls, and more aggressive on strikes.
Lastly, I felt like ignoring the drop off in steals from Castro would be wrong, but he's had a few leg injuries the past few years which have resulted in him being put on the DL, or just playing while hurt. Next year I wouldn't be surprised if he had 15 steals as a Yankee if he played the whole season healthy, but he hasn't managed that lately.
In 2016, Castro will be a gamble. There's a chance the Yankees can improve his discipline, as they have a nice history of having hitters hit well with them. His Steamer line is interesting because it only projects 122 games and 520 PA, a number lower than anything he has ever produced before. Excluding his rookie year, when he was brought up midseason, he has averaged 153 games played. If you were to take he current Steamer projection and stretch it to a 153 game projection it would be this.
153 games, 652 PA, 69R, 14 HR, 87 RBI, 8 SB, .267 AVG
I think this is a fair projection for Castro, and I expect him to be around that in 2016. If he can get back to hitting closer to .300, obviously he can threaten for many more RBI hitting somewhere between 6 and 8. So next year, I wouldn't suggest investing with confidence, but if you put Shortstop off in your draft, this is the high risk, high reward player I would want to target.