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Numbers show why Starlin Castro is struggling

CHICAGO IL - MAY 15: StarlCastro #13 Chicago Cubs hits an RBI single during seventh inning against Colorado Rockies May

CHICAGO, IL - MAY 15: Starlin Castro #13 of the Chicago Cubs hits an RBI single during the seventh inning against the Colorado Rockies on May 15, 2013 at Wrigley Field in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by David Banks/Getty Images)

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Updated: June 10, 2013 11:03PM

With Cubs shortstop Starlin Castro in a deep slump, a by-the-numbers approach can’t tell you anything about the swing mechanics reported to be a concern of manager Dale Sveum and the Cubs’ hitting coaches. But the numbers can pick up on things beyond his fall to a .243 batting average and .622 OPS through Sunday:

◆ Castro is seeing more pitches per plate appearance. The Cubs would like to see Castro be more selectively aggressive, waiting for pitches he can drive. This season, he has seen 3.85 pitches per plate appearance, which is just about the major-league midpoint. Among those with enough plate appearances to qualify, he ranks 84th on a list that runs from leader Mike Napoli of the Red Sox at 4.57 through 163rd-place Vernon Wells of the Yankees at 3.31. That’s an increase for Castro, who saw 3.63 pitches per plate appearance when he hit .300 with a .755 OPS as a rookie in 2010, 3.67 in his .307/.773 season in 2011 and 3.46 in his .283/.753 season in 2012.

◆ His strikeouts are up. In 2012, Castro struck out once per 6.91 plate appearances for a total of 100 times. In 2013, Castro has struck out once per 6.16 plate appearances. Projected over the 691 plate appearances he had in 2012, that would be 112 strikeouts. For a hitter who doesn’t walk much, has a career home-run best of 14 and derives most of his offensive value from balls in play, an increase in strikeouts is troublesome.

◆ His walks and homers are down. In 2012, Castro drew 36 bases on balls (one per 19.19 plate appearances) and hit 14 homers (one per 49.36 plate appearances). In 2013, his walks are down to one per 24.09 plate appearances and his homers are down to one per 88.33 plate appearances. In 691 plate appearances, that would project to 29 walks and eight homers.

◆ His line-drive percentage is down. shows that in Castro’s career, 20 percent of his batted balls have been line drives, right on the major-league average. His career high was 20.5 percent in 2012. That has dropped to 18.9 percent in 2013.

FanGraphs estimates that line drives produce 1.26 runs per out, while fly balls produce 0.13 and ground balls 0.05. In its 2012 book Extra Innings, Baseball Prospectus reported that during the previous five seasons, major-leaguers had hit .238 on ground balls and .141 on non-home-run flies but .729 on line drives. A drop in line-drive percentage will drive overall numbers down.

◆ His batting average on balls in play has dropped. Excluding his walks, strikeouts and homers to focus on balls in play, Castro’s BABiP has fallen to .286 this season — nine points below the league average — after BABiPs of .346, .344 and .315 in his first three seasons. The drop in line-drive percentage accounts for part of that.

As a 23-year-old who showed he could handle major-league pitching at 20, Castro remains far more likely than not to come back strong. But for now, with the decrease in line drives, drops in BABiP, homers and walks and an increase in strikeouts, the slump is as broad as it is deep.

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