Coming into the 2013 season, Starlin Castro seemed to be a player on the rise. Just 23 years old, he already had made two All-Star Game appearances and amassed more than 500 hits. His power was developing and he had improved his subpar defense. All signs pointed to a player who was trending upward, who was only going to get better until he reached his superstar ceiling in a few short years.
Well, so much for that.
Rather than continuing to progress, Castro’s cratered. According to Baseball-Reference, he’s been worth nearly a full win below replacement this year. He’s hitting an anemic .241/.282/.342. His strikeouts are up, way up, and his walks are down. His season-long slump has sapped his confidence, causing Castro to look worse with each passing day.
Those offensive struggles seem to have followed him to the field, where he’s regressed into the defensive disaster he was before last season. He’s shown poor decision-making on the basepaths as well, getting thrown out in six of his 14 steal attempts.
In short, everything that could go wrong has gone wrong. And on top of that, his Chicago Cubs are wallowing in last place, playing out the string in what will become their fourth consecutive losing season and, more importantly, 105th consecutive year without a World Series championship.
But Castro was supposed to be one of the few bright spots for the Cubbies in 2013, a building block for a rebuilding franchise. Instead, he’s unraveled. His numbers have flatlined to the point where he has been the team’s least valuable position player per bWAR.
As is usually the case with such dramatic drop-offs, some of the blame can be attributed to bad luck. Castro’s .287 BABiP isn’t crazy low compared to the league average, but it is nearly 40 points below his career norm. His batted ball distribution hasn’t changed much, so declining contact rates, especially on pitches within the strike zone, appear to be the culprit for his struggles at the plate. As for his issues on the bases and in the field, those have more to do with his Hanley Ramirez-esque mental lapses than anything else.
Castro’s better than this, and I have to believe he’ll bounce back next year. He showed far too much promise in his early 20s to be written off. Players who succeed at such an early age (i.e. Mickey Mantle, Alex Rodriguez, Albert Pujols) tend to thrive, if not get better. Even the best young baseball players struggle, as we’ve seen with Jason Heyward, Justin Upton and Eric Hosmer.
Growing pains are part of the game, and it’s clear Castro still has some growing up to do.