Numbers say that Starlin Castro’s patience won’t improve as he ages
BY JOHN GROCHOWSKI For Sun-Times Media March 10, 2014 9:37PM
Updated: April 12, 2014 6:22AM
Patience is a virtue for hitters, but it’s not a trait that’s learned easily. Older hitters tend to be more patient than younger players, but impatient hitters don’t suddenly become walking men.
Starlin Castro, who dropped to a .245 batting average and .631 OPS in 2013 after posting .300/.755, .307/.773 and .283/.753 in his first three seasons, has never walked much. He had 30 walks in 705 plate appearances in 2013, compared to 36 in 691 in 2012.
Castro took more pitches early in the count last season. Only nine percent of his plate appearances ended in one pitch, compared with 14 percent in 2012. One result was that he started behind in the count more often. His plate appearances with an 0-1 count rose from 48 to 51 percent.
Walks weren’t the main goal when the Cubs urged Castro to be selectively aggressive, targeting pitches he could drive, but they’re a beneficial byproduct of taking more pitches. Castro found neither primary nor secondary benefits as he dropped from line drives on 20.6 percent of batted balls in 2012 to 19.9 percent last year, had his batting average on balls in play drop from .344 to .315 and struck out a career-high 18.3 percent of PAs, up from 14.5. At the same time, walks dropped from 5.2 percent of plate appearances to a career low 4.3 percent.
Still, players who have had similar career starts typically have had long careers, though without big increases in bases on balls.
Castro was up at age 20, has 2,617 PAs in his first four seasons, 37 home runs, and 130 walks making up 4.96 percent of his PAs. Parameters were set to mirror those traits — in the big leagues at age 20 or 21, at least 2,000 plate appearances in their first four seasons, no more than 60 home runs and walks in no more than six percent of PAs — and 13 players in addition to Castro qualified, and all had staying power. Only former Yankees shortstop Tony Kubek, who retired after nine with a back injury, and Buck Weaver, who played nine seasons before he was banned with the Black Sox, fell short of 10 seasons.
All remained below league average in walks. Only five added one percent or more to their early walk rate, with the biggest jump by Harvey Kuenn. He walked 5.6 percent of the time in his first four Tigers seasons starting in 1952. His 7.8 percent for his career approached the league average of 8.7.
Five members — Weaver, Kubek, Lloyd Waner, Ozzie Guillen, and Joe Tinker — improved by 0.3 percent or less. Cristian Guzman stayed even at 4.6 percent for his career. Carlos Baerga (5.6 to 4.9) and Everett Scott (4.6 to 3.8) walked less overall than in their first four seasons.
Castro has plenty of room for growth. A long career is normal for a player of his caliber, but with only a modest increase in patience.