Kicking Poor Starlin Castro When He's Down

Setting aside the millions of dollars Major League Baseball players make to play a game, things have been tough for Starlin Castro. Suffering through some miserable Cubs' seasons early in his career, Castro was traded away just as the Cubs were ready to win it all. He goes to the Yankees, clearly has fun playing for the team,  the team seems poised for great things and the bottom falls out for him again. Naturally, you have to expect a report like today that Starlin Castro would prefer to be traded rather than ever wear a Marlins' uniform. Who would want to play for a broken up team with no hope and a slashed payroll?

Also setting aside the fact that his departure along with the acquisition of Giancarlo Stanton was received here as second to winning the lottery, one can hardly blame Castro for his feelings. After all, he has already been there and done that and does not want to do it again. Who would not understand such feelings? A player competes to win and is traded from a chance to do so to a team that probably will not have a chance for some time.

But maybe there has to be some sort of realization that Starlin Castro is not the type of player that helps get a team to the promised land. We have to surmise that the Cubs felt that way when they traded him and the Yankees did as well. Castro would never really understand (and how could he?) that he is rather ordinary as a player and at times a negative.

Please understand that this conversation is about Castro as a baseball player and not as a person. From what could be seen, Castro was a good guy who had fun with his teammates, was part of the "Toe-Night Show" and there have been no negative stories about him as a person.

The point here is that perhaps Starlin Castro is not a player that will help the team get over the hump and yet still had enough value to be able to get a dream player like Stanton into the fold.

To try to be fair, the Cubs moved Castro from his natural position at shortstop to second base and the Yankees kept him there. The move to second has never really worked out. Castro's defensive ratings as a Yankee second baseman were not good. He was particularly underwhelming on double plays where he was rated well below average (-2.8 in 2016, -1.6 in 2017). His range at second was also quite a bit lower than league average.

Starlin Castro was a decent shortstop. His numbers defensively at that position hovered around league average, so perhaps he still has value at that position. That was never going to happen as a member of the Yankees.

If you think about Starlin Castro, the thought was always that he was a good offensive player. But was he? He did have a positive season in 2017. Baseball-reference.com and Fangraphs.com have similar statistics called OPS+ and wRC+ respectively. Both measure a player's batting adjusted to ballpark conditions and other factors. His 107 OPS+ and 110 wRC+ for 2017 were above league average when you figure 100 as average.

But Castro did miss about 25% of the season. Would those results have been the same? Perhaps, perhaps not. According to wRC+, Castro was right on average in 2012, way below average in 2013. a good clip above average in 2014 (his best season), below average in 2015 and 2016 and at the 110 mark as stated for 2017.

If we look at B-R's OPS+, with 100 being league average, then the same time frame's numbers go: 102, 73, 115, 84, 93, 106. Both systems project his career nearly identically with OPS+ coming in at 98 and wRC+ at 97. All of this means that Castro's overall offensive effectiveness is middle of the road to slightly negative.

Starlin Castro has trended slightly up in home run production. Both his ISO (isolated power) and home runs per fly ball have risen, but so has all of Major League Baseball so it really does not jump out at you. It seems like every player is hitting from 16 to 21 homers a season now.

Not surprisingly, along with the home runs, and consistent with MLB trends, Castro's strikeout rate has increased as well from around 16% in the past to over 19% now. The one consistent to his game has been a horrible walk rate. And the walk rate is what truly lowers his offensive value.

Only forty players with at least 450 plate appearances swung at more pitches out of the strike zone than Starlin Castro. But he got away with it a little bit more earlier in his career. His contact percentage on pitches swung at out of the strike zone used to be 70% and slightly higher. The last two seasons, that percentage has dropped to 64.8% and 64.1% respectively. So he is swinging, like always, at pitches out of the strike zone, but is hitting them less often when he does. He has developed that Alphonso-habit of swinging at strike three on a pitch in the dirt, two-feet outside.

This post is not trying to kick old friend, Starlin Castro, when he is down, but it is now a fact that two teams on the cusp of what could be great things have felt the team could survive and even thrive more without him. In these days of front office decisions being dictated by advanced statistical analysis, that is no small thing and is, in fact, quite telling.