Starlin Castro and Darwin Barney are both off to slow starts. Both players have had OBPs under .300 for most of the season and are hitting for much lower batting averages than they have in their careers. Needless to say, both players are struggling.
I wanted to know why. What was it that was keeping these players in a funk? I hope to look at some other odd seasons in the future.
.264/.295/.366 3 HR, 3 SB, 3.8% BB, 16.5% K
Castro is supposed to be a .300 hitter, but he’s been well under that mark for most of the season. He also isn’t walking much, which isn’t necessarily surprising, but is disappointing. After the All Star break in 2012, Castro’s walk rate improved to 7.3%, walking twice as much in the second half than in the first half in almost the same amount of plate appearances. I had hope that his progress would continue into this season, which it still might.
Castro has been wildly impatient in the first two months of the season throughout his career. In the first two months of 2011 and 2012 (in other words, his two full seasons), Castro drew 13 walks in 449 PAs for a 2.9% walk rate. In the rest of the season, his walk rate improved to 6.1%. It’s entirely possible that this trend continues again this season.
As for the batting average, there’s an explanation for that as well, and it’s surprising. Castro is hitting .287/.309/.408 against right handers this year, which is right in line with his career numbers against them: .288/.321/.413. What’s different this year is how he is performing again left handers. Castro is struggling to do much of anything against them so far, hitting a mere .214/.267/.271 against them. This is far, far away from his career line of .309/.361/.434 against lefties. That’s a 95 point drop in batting average and 163 point drop in slugging from his career numbers, which include this year’s numbers.
It’s extremely unlikely this will continue. Right handed batters do not typically stop hitting lefties, especially when they are still hitting against right handed pitching. Castro is striking out in 17.3% of PAs, which is much higher than his 13.2% in his career (if you remove this season’s numbers, his career K rate sat at 12.5%). All of this means that Castro should be ready for a bounce back, despite his BABIP sitting at a reasonable .308.
The rest of Castro’s game seems to be getting better as well. He is 3 for 4 in stolen bases, possibly meaning he is being more selective on the base paths. His defense is also improving, despite recording 7 errors thus far. In fact, Castro is actually on pace for a career low in that category with just 21 (his previous low was 27). Castro’s defensive WAR sits at .1 on Baseball Reference and -1.0 on Fangraphs (Fangraphs number isn’t actually defensive WAR, but UZR, which typically has a 10:1 relation to WAR. BR’s numbers are generally seen as being more accurate as UZR has its issues). Defensive WAR isn’t perfect and it needs a lot of data in order to be fully accurate, so given Castro’s past performance (1.3 BR, -8.0 FG), it’s safe to say he’s a slightly above average shortstop who is starting to cut out the errors in his game.
.209/.296/.343 2 HR, 2 SB, 9.2% BB, 11.1% K
When Barney was having his breakout first half in 2011, there was a lot of talk about the bright future of the Cubs’ middle infield by the national media. In particular, I remember FOX profiling the two in a game. I wasn’t so sure. I saw Barney as a singles hitter with little power at second base. In other words, not a guy that was going to keep the starter’s job.
Barney has proven that assumption wrong. He’s a very good defender whose bat has evolved over the last few years. Barney’s walk rate has steadily climbed from 3.9% to 5.6% to 9.2% so far this season while his strikeout rate has stayed the same. His isolated power (slugging percentage minus batting average, which tells you how much power a batter is hitting for) has climbed as well, from .078 to .100 to .134. Unfortunately, Barney’s batting average has dipped over that time from .276 to .254 to .209.
Barney is struggling against right handers this season, which is much more concerning than Castro’s weakness against lefties. He’s hitting a mere .177/.245/.281 this season while bashing lefties at a .289/.413/.500 clip. It could be a mere BABIP illusion though, as Barney’s BABIP against righties is a mere .200 (it’s .290 against lefties). He is hitting about half of his balls in play as ground balls, which certainly doesn’t help, but that matches his career numbers. He’s also been hitting fewer line drives, so while his BABIP should improve, it probably won’t get all the way to the league average of about .300 without improving on that number. If this continues, it wouldn’t surprise me if his adjusted batting average was closer to .250