2016 In Review: Starlin Castro

Preseason Expectations

The Yankees acquired Starlin Castro with the idea of the 26 year-old becoming the long-term solution at second base, an opening created because of the departure of Robinson Cano after 2013. Before joining the Yankees, the former Cubs shortstop finished his career in Chicago with his second down season in the past three. Nonetheless, the Yankees undoubtedly felt they were acquiring a talented infielder who had not only showed great promise in years prior, but also in the second half of 2015.

Before the season began, it was difficult to peg precise expectations for Castro’s first year in the Bronx. Would he play as poorly he did in 2013 and most of 2015? Or could be a above average lineup contributor and +3 fWAR player he had been in 2011, 2012, and 2014? The potential was tantalizing despite the volatility of likely outcomes.

Dan Szymborski’s ZiPS model landed somewhere in the middle of those two questions I posed in the prior paragraph. The system projected a .274/.310/.405 (98 OPS+) batting line and +2.2 WAR, which seemed fair, perhaps even optimistic. In the two years without Cano, Yankees’ second basemen posted a 77 wRC+ and -1.0 fWAR. Even though the ZiPS forecast wasn’t exciting, it depicted Castro as a massive upgrade over what the team had previously trotted out at the position.

What Happened

Castro stormed out of the gate, hitting safely in seven of his first twelve trips to the plate in the opening series against the Astros. His hot hitting continued throughout the month, in which he batted .305/.345/.488 (123 wRC+). Who could have chalked up a better start?

It’s a good thing Castro had such a hot start, because his next few months were putrid. After April ended, Castro struggled through the All-Star break. In that span, the second baseman hit .240/.277/.364 (70 wRC+). Yuck. It seemed like Castro was swinging out of his shoes and chasing every slider out of the zone possible. This was exactly what we feared about Castro: that 2013 and 2015 were bad omens. At least he provided us with one particularly fun moment during that awful stretch:

Maybe Castro needed some downtime in July to clear his head. Because after the break, he started hitting proficiently again. From that point until the end of the season, he posted a solid batting line highlighted by some newfound power: .295/.315/.494 (112 wRC+). Indeed, his .199 ISO in that time was easily the best power display of his career. The OBP certainly could have been better, but Castro has never been a patient hitter. In total, Castro finished his Bronx debut with a career high 21 homers and a .270/.300/.433 (94 wRC+) triple-slash, not far from what ZiPS anticipated. The only deviation from the preseason projection was his unsuspected power surge.

In the field, Castro was passable as far as the eye is concerned. Considering that second base was a relatively new position for the longtime shortstop, I don’t think anyone expected anything special in his new spot. He was mediocre (at best) defensively at short, anyway. Per advanced fielding metrics, Castro was one of the worst with the glove at second base in 2016. Don’t read too much into a one year sample of DRS and UZR, but it’s worth keeping in mind.

The various WAR metrics are in consensus regarding Castro’s value in 2016, about one win above replacement. His poor defensive metrics are what caused him to fall roughly a win short of his ZiPS estimate. I think we all hoped for better, though it was an improvement over what the Yankees’ have fielded at his position in the previous two seasons.

Looking Ahead

The Yankees control Castro for the next three seasons and have a club option for a fourth year. At $31M over those guaranteed seasons or $46M over four, the young infielder comes at a fairly reasonable price. That said, a few Baby Bombers could be out to take his position in the coming years, namely Gleyber Torres, Jorge Mateo, and Tyler Wade. None of those three, nor anyone else in the system, are capable of immediately taking over for Castro in 2017, so his job should be safe for now.

With those prospects coming, Castro could slide over to the hot corner. The Yankees experimented with third base back in March in hope of adding versatility, but found that it was more important to focus on honing his skills at second base. Now with a full season at second base under his belt, he should have more time to get his bearings at third base this winter and when camp begins.

Offensively, the Yankees have to hope that his second half power surge is a good sign, because he looked downright awful at the plate for a good two and a half months of the season. With 2017 being Castro’s age-27 campaign, it’s plausible that there is still some room for growth with the bat. Or, at least the ability to produce an average to above-average batting line over a full season, rather than in spurts. After all, Castro had already posted four league average or better batting lines through his age-24 season. He was already impressive then, and at 27, he should still be able to improve in theory. Then again, there are his glaring 23 and 25 year old seasons that allow for some concern.

Going forward, Castro should at least be able to serve as a more than serviceable stopgap option until the (younger) kids are ready. Castro is sort of a kid himself, of course. He may not become the star he appeared destined to become while in Chicago, but he should be able to deliver league-average performance while under contract, which is more useful than it sounds.

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