After Robinson Cano left the Yankees via free agency, the club went through two seasons of vacant offensive production without spectacular glove work from a slew of players at the keystone. The 2016 season brought stability and an offensive uptick with Starlin Castro, but it can be argued the soon to be 27-year-old infielder has yet to attain his ceiling. Can he reach it in 2017?
How Castro fared in 2016:
There were positives, yet some results left something to be desired concerning Castro's performance last season. It is difficult to get upset with 51 extra-base hits from a second baseman, but Castro has room for offensive improvement after hitting .270 with a .300 on-base percentage and a .433 slugging percentage (.734 OPS, 93 OPS+ and 94 wRC+). In his first full season as a second baseman, Castro wasn't awful at the position, but the club hopes he can improve in the department in which advanced metrics cast an ill light (-8 defensive runs saved).
Castro's OPS was significantly higher than the collections of players from 2014 (.693) and 2015 (.683), so in that respect, the Yankees received improved production from the position without spending an exorbitant salary (just under $8 million in 2016 and $10 million in 2017). Better, the Yankees ended up receiving Adam Warren, whom they traded for Castro, back in the Aroldis Chapman deal last summer, so the move was more or less like signing a young free agent.
What to expect in 2017
With seven years of major-league experience under his belt, if Castro is going to turn into an elite player, the time should be now. Unfortunately, Castro's inability to be more selective at the plate will likely deter him from turning in the monster season that he could with a different approach at the plate.
Castro has averaged just 3.67 pitches per plate appearance in his career (league average during the time frame was 3.83) and his career contact rate at pitches outside the zone is 66.9 percent (league averages have sat between 62-64 percent during his career). I'm not suggesting that Castro try to work more walks -- that's completely out of his comfort zone (his career-best walk rate is 6.2 percent in 2014; the league average was 7.6 percent). However, he might benefit from swinging at better pitches in an effort to increase the potential balls he contacts result in base hits. Castro could further work to reduce strikeouts, in which he set a career-high rate (19.3 percent) in 2016.
In his early seasons with the Cubs, Castro benefited from an inflated batting average with balls in play (BABIP) which elevated his on-base percentage. As his BABIP dropped in subsequent seasons, so has his on-base percentage. Castro getting on base just 30 percent of the time is a hinderance to the lineup and something he has the capability to remedy.
It is safe to assume that Castro can minimally attain 50-plus extra-base hits again in 2017. The upside with Castro is 60 extra base hits -- think 35 doubles and 25 home runs. The frustrating part with Castro is that he continually leaves people wanting more. The talent certainly exists, but whether Castro has the necessary drive to push himself enough to elevate his game is questionable.
In the field, any improvement would again come from Castro putting in extra effort. Castro has the benefit of having a full season playing second base under his belt, so the growing pains should be diminished. While Castro has the ability to turn in the fantastic play, the mind lapses and being a poor position for routine grounders drag his performance and metrics down.
Castro is a fine player. The Yankees are not breaking the bank to employ him and at the moment he is not blocking any minor leaguers. However, while Castro flashes spurts of brilliance at the plate and in the field, the knock is taking his talent and matching it with full-blown effort through an entire season. Until Castro improves his approach at the plate and his all-around focus, he will be viewed a nice piece, not the elite star he has the potential to reach.