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Starlin Castro Hits Rock Bottom

Starlin Castro had a down year. A really down year.

Fantasy Pros’ No. 3 shortstop — and No. 36 player overall — in the 2013 preseason rankings was simply abysmal, slashing .245/.284/.347 with 10 home runs, 59 runs, 44 RBIs and nine steals in 705 plate appearances. The 23-year-old regressed in every major offensive category, leaving Cubs’ coaches and front office staff searching for answers. Just two years earlier Castro was the best young player in the game; now, he looks like the most lost.

Despite Castro’s struggles, general manager Jed Hoyer is on the record of backing his All-Star shortstop:

“We’ve always gotten hits on him,” Hoyer said on Monday. “People see him as a guy who was one of the best young players in the game a couple years ago and he still has all that talent…Listen, we’re excited to have Starlin. We obviously gave him a significant contract because we believe in him. We still believe in him.”

So while the Cubs still believe in Castro, the question for dynasty-league owners becomes, “Should you?”

The Cubs made an effort to improve Castro’s plate discipline this season, but it backfired in a big, slap-you-in-the-face kind of way. The shortstop saw his strikeout rate go up from 14.5 percent to 18.3 (a career worst), and his walk rate go down from 5.2 percent to 4.3 (another career worst). Essentially, the Cubs’ team-wide philosophy of a see-more-pitches approach took away Castro’s most valuable asset: his aggressiveness, particularly on the first pitch.

To Castro’s credit, he was listening to what the Cubs were preaching. Overall, he took 327 more pitches than the year before, including 3.9 pitches per plate appearances (up from 3.5), and the number of one-pitch plate appearances decreased from 14 percent to nine. Unfortunately, this didn’t help Castro’s walk rate, which now sits at a modest five percent in his career.

You can also see the results of Castro’s more laid-back approach in his Z-Contact% (percentage of times a batter makes contact on a ball thrown inside the strike zone), which decreased from 92.4 percent to 89.2. This didn’t come with a lower percentage of pitches that Castro saw inside the strike zone, however; that number stayed true to a 49.4-percent career rate. So, in summary, while he was seeing the same number of pitches inside the strike zone, he was making contact at a much worse rate (in fact, at a career-worst rate).

After being a consensus top-five shortstop this season, Castro’s 2014 ADP (Average Draft Position) will be an interesting one to monitor. Off the top of my head, shortstops who could — and probably should — go ahead of Castro include Troy Tulowitzki, Hanley Ramirez, Ian Desmond, Jose Reyes, Jean Segura, Elvis Andrus and Everth Cabrera. Where it gets cloudy is around the Ben Zobrist and Andrelton Simmons tier. I prefer Castro, but arguments can be made in all cases.

In dynasty leagues, Castro should remain a top-five shortstop, with a 162-game average of a .283 BA with 10 home runs, 75 runs, 61 RBIs and 18 steals, according to Baseball Reference. Realistically, that’s the kind of line anyone who owns Castro should be hoping for in 2014. For what it’s worth, Steamer projections has Castro hitting .277/.320/.411 with 11 home runs, 75 runs, 57 RBIs and 14 steals in 2014. It remains to be seen what kind of base-stealing tendencies new manager Rick Renteria brings to the North Side, but Castro still possesses 20-steal upside despite stealing just nine bags in 15 chances this season. He had 22 and 25 steals in 2011 and 2012, respectively.

The area I’ve always disagreed with others in regards to Castro is his power. Through roughly four full seasons, the shortstop has a very-low .121 ISO, including a .102 ISO this season. His home-run high is 14 (2012), and it’s very difficult to project anything more than 15 going forward after just recording a 29.4-percent fly ball rate and sub-20 percent line drive rate. He’s still young enough to develop more power, sure, but the 25-home run upside many projected down the line is starting to look less likely.

If Castro is to become a force at shortstop once again, his batting average will need to come up significantly (somewhere in the .300-BA range). If the Cubs let him become the free-swinger he once was, I’m confident that his batting average will rebound to that level; Castro had a .300 BA in 2010 — his rookie season — and a .307 BA in 2011. In the minors, he owns a .299 BA across four levels. Additionally, his .290 BABIP this season was a career low; in four years, he has a .323 BABIP, including two seasons of .340-plus (2010 and 2011) and one of .315 (2012).

If there’s a panicky Castro owner in your league (and I’m sure there is), this is the absolute best time to acquire the shortstop’s services. Castro turns 24 one week before Opening Day, and if his old hitting ways return in spring training, his owner might be less willing to deal. It’s going to take some serious belief on your behalf to go all-in on Castro, but one bad year shouldn’t completely knock him off the top perch of shortstops. The good news is the price won’t be as steep anymore.

Alex Kantecki also writes for Fake Teams and Vigilante Baseball. You can poke him on Twitter at @rotodealer.

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Alex Kantecki

Alex Kantecki

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