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2017 Yankees Season Review: Starlin Castro

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The Yankees second baseman got off to a hot start, but injuries and ineffectiveness hampered his second half.

MLB: ALCS-New York Yankees at Houston Astros Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

When the Yankees acquired Starlin Castro, they saw him as a buy-low player with high upside. “I like that he’s athletic,” Brian Cashman said following the trade. “I like his age. Between the youth, the flexibility, the right-handed bat, he’s got a history of hitting left-handers.” His first season in pinstripes proved disappointing, but several encouraging signs existed. Would he put it all together in 2017? Despite flashing signs of brilliance, the Yankees second baseman turned in another lackluster campaign.

If I had to describe Castro’s season with one phrase, I would go with top-heavy. It’s difficult to oversell how well he played in the first half. He stormed out of the gate in April, hitting .352/.398/.549 on the month. His five home runs trailed only Aaron Judge for the team lead. That included this monster shot against Brad Brach and the Orioles:

Now that’s a swing. The Yankees saw a few more of them in the first half, too. Castro slowed down, but still posted a respectable .296/.326/.458 with seven home runs between May and June. That worked out to a solid but unspectacular 106 wRC+. Nobody expected him to hit like Willie Mays for the rest of the way, so this level of production would do just fine.

Unfortunately Castro’s season cratered when he went down with a series of hamstring injuries beginning in late June. He returned for a brief stint following the All-Star break, but aggravated the strain after just six games. That forced Castro back on to the shelf for another month.

When healthy in the second half, the numbers were a far cry from his early season success. He managed a subpar .275/.319/.389 with four home runs. His 87 wRC+ over this stretch indicated a player with well below league average offense. He especially struggled with pitch recognition over this period.

“I don’t really trust my hands now,” Castro told reporters. “I feel in between right now. I’m trying to hit the curveball and fastball at the same time and it doesn’t work. I need to look for one pitch and react to the other one.”

Castro’s offensive woes continued into the postseason as well. He owned a meager .220/.264/.280 batting line over the course of the playoffs. In addition, he also struck out 14 times, representing a microcosm for his season-long struggle with pitches off the plate.

Credit: FanGraphs

For his part, Castro recognizes the limitations in his game. “I try to not get myself out and to see more pitches, but that’s baseball,” he explained to the New York Times. “Some guys have the ability to take a lot of walks and have an ability to not swing at bad pitches, but everybody is different.”

His free-swinging ways will likely prevent him from ever reaching superstar status. He’s the type of player who has to hit close to a .300 average in order to maintain a respectable on-base percentage. At this point in his career, Castro represents a flawed but useful complimentary player. He will have stretches that make you think he put it all together, but those are just mirages.

There’s also the matter of defense. After a solid year at the keystone last season, Castro became a defensive liability in 2017. All of the metrics confirm the eye test. He graded out as a below average defender according to UZR (-5.9), DRS (-6), and Total Zone (-4). In short, Castro cost the Yankees on both sides of the ball.

Castro remains under contract through 2019 with a team option for 2020. He is scheduled to make $10.8 million next year. That’s not an onerous contract, but not cheap either. He figures to remain in the lineup next season, but how for long after that? Gleyber Torres is progressing in his recovery and should be waiting in the wings in no time. If he doesn’t shore up his game, Castro could be the odd man out.