Starlin Castro in Just a Few Pictures

Starlin Castro has spent a lot of his career being frustrating, and he’s spent a good chunk of it being disappointing, but a player can’t be either of those things unless he has a certain amount of ability. Fans have to like you before they can later be frustrated by you, and so Castro’s time in Chicago was a bit of a roller-coaster. His time in New York will also have its ups and downs, but in the earliest possible going, it’s been all gold stars. Castro has two homers and seven hits in 12 trips to the plate, so gone are the concerns about how he might adjust. Yankees fans haven’t been let down yet.

You know what time of year it is. This is when we make too much out of everything, because we’re just excited to have new data. By the end of the season, Castro’s slugging percentage is probably going to look more like .400 than its current 1.250. This much I can assure you, though: Castro is showing that he’s carried over his late-season adjustments from 2015. It got kind of lost, but Castro finished last year strong. Then he had a good spring training. Now he’s off to a hot start. Castro isn’t going to finish as the best hitter on the Yankees, I assume, but he’s a better hitter now than he was for a lot of last summer. Pictures are going to help with this.

The Yankees, I’m sure, have helped Castro, and Castro has helped himself, but the work began with Cubs hitting coach John Mallee. In the second half, he worked with Castro on trying to close him off. As a hitter, Castro had been open, so he was pulling off too many hittable pitches. It took commitment, but Mallee got Castro thinking about going back up the middle. Keep this in mind as we look at some pictures. Obviously you can’t learn everything you need to know from individual screenshots, but let’s do the best we can. I’ve gathered four picture pairs, each showing Castro going after similar pitches. Half the pictures are from 2015, and half are from Castro’s brief time in New York.

Let’s get started!

Pair No. 1



I notice now it’s not easy to spot the baseball, but we’re looking at an inside pitch, about thigh-high. Now, the most conspicuous change has been to Castro’s stance: He used to stand completely open. But I don’t care about stances as much as I care about swings, and, look at this swing. In particular, look at Castro’s feet. We’ll be doing a lot of that. After his leg kick, Castro lowered his front foot such that he stayed open. From the feet up to the hips, Castro is poised to try to turn on this. Which can work out! He could square a ball up and really drive it out to left. But it doesn’t make it easy for Castro to adjust mid-swing.



Same pitch as above. Look at the feet. Castro took a shorter stride, and he put his front foot down in front of his back one. The feet are more aligned with the mound, and Castro has good balance to go with a straight front leg. Castro pulled this — it’s not like he can’t pull the ball anymore. It’s just that he has options.

Pair No. 2



Pitch away, around the belt. Castro is swinging and slightly open. That makes him likely to hit the ball off the end of the bat. If he wants to barrel the ball up, he’ll have to throw his hands at it, which saps any power.



Pitch away, just a little lower than the belt. Castro’s more closed off. It’s definitely a subtle thing, relative to the previous image above, but staying closed gives Castro better coverage of the outer half. He’s still not going to hit this pitch for a home run, but he could drive something toward right-center.

Pair No. 3



Low-away breaking ball. Everything about Castro’s body wants him to yank the pitch to left, but it’s too far away and breaking in the other direction. So Castro’s left looking helpless. He’s just throwing the bat at the ball, and he has no prayer of hitting this with authority.



See how much better that looks? Castro stayed closed, stepping toward the mound instead of toward the shortstop. This way, Castro could stay with the pitch, instead of being pulled away from it, and he ultimately extended his arms and swatted a dinger. Castro didn’t have to bail on the pitch. It’s funny — in the earlier swing, Castro just wanted to pull the ball with power. But here, he could actually do it.

Pair No. 4



Nothing good happened here. Castro flailed at a low-away breaking ball. You see how helpless he looks. He’s way too open — it’s like an exaggerated version of the previous pair.



Castro struck out here, too! Sometimes, he’s just going to flail. And in this screenshot he looks ridiculous. That swing is never going to work. But you can still see him sticking with his mechanics. In the 2015 picture, Castro opened up. Here, he didn’t do it so much, so he at least had a better chance of getting a piece and staying alive. Castro gets to have better bat control, and you can see how close he came to nicking the ball.

So that’s Starlin Castro! He’s left the Cubs, but he’s kept his late-season instruction. He’s still moving mostly parallel to the pitcher-catcher line, instead of stepping in the direction of the shortstop, and by staying closed, Castro should better cover the outer half. He shouldn’t roll over on pitches away, and while this could open up a vulnerability inside, there are some indications that Castro’s hands are quick enough to still drive those pitches, too. He doesn’t need to sell out for pull-field power. He’s plenty strong as is, and he’s shown that in New York. He can pull home runs without trying to pull home runs, and as a function of the same approach, he could be better away and up the middle.

It’s definitely a real change that Castro’s made, and the fact that it’s lasted through the offseason suggests it’ll stick. Pitchers will have to adjust to this new Castro, and that could mean fewer soft pitches away. If it turns out he’s exploitable now with inside heat, well, so it goes. There’s a downside to everything. But it seems like Starlin Castro should make fewer easy outs. His plate coverage should be a little bit better, and that’s a way to keep the fans happy and loyal.

Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.

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6 years ago

I’m happy for Castro and hope he is successful in NY. He was enjoyable to watch in Chicago and he will be missed.