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The Yankees need Starlin Castro to have another hot start

In light of the Didi Gregorius injury, the second baseman needs to come out of the gate hitting.

MLB: Spring Training-New York Yankees at Philadelphia Phillies Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Earlier this month, Didi Gregorius suffered a shoulder sprain in the World Baseball Classic. The Yankees don’t expect to have their shortstop back until May. While this could have created a roster headache, the team has enough middle infield depth to cover such a blow. Ronald Torreyes figures to start at shortstop, while Pete Kozma and Rob Refsnyder will battle for the backup position.

Losing Gregorius for any period of time, however, hurts. He’s emerged as a two-way threat since joining the Yankees, pairing stellar defense with a 93 wRC+. Torreyes and Kozma can pick it at shortstop, but their bats leave plenty to be desired. Add in the fact that Chase Headley is the walking definition of average, and suddenly the Yankees have a light-hitting left side of the infield.

That’s where Starlin Castro comes in to play. The second baseman could ease concerns with another hot start to the season. He had a memorable introduction to the Yankees last year. He hit .305/.345/.488 with three home runs in April. That’s good for a 123 wRC+. He even lined an RBI double against team nemesis Dallas Keuchel on Opening Day.

It turns out that Castro’s strong start wasn’t unique to 2016. He has a habit of hitting well right out of the gate.

In every season since he’s debuted, Castro began the year with an above average OPS+. In some instances, like 2014, it’s steadily climbed after the opening period. Most of the time, however, it experienced a steep decline, only to rebound later in the season. We saw that play out dramatically last year. He hit just .265/.293/.424 the rest of the way.

The Yankees need Castro to repeat his hot hitting this April. Ideally he would maintain that level of success for the rest of the season, but for now the strong start is critical. Castro could stabilize the lineup while the club waits for Gregorius to return. He doesn’t need to carry the team offensively, just provide some cover.

Recent seasons have shown how important it is to have a deep lineup. A collection of below-average hitters can sink a team. One doesn’t have to look too far back in the history books to see this in action. The Yankees featured a myriad of subpar batters from 2013-2014. Those seasons didn’t end well.

Last year also serves as a testament to the critical importance of April baseball. The Yankees floundered in the opening month, posting an 8 - 14 record. That proved too much to overcome and resulted in the team selling at the trade deadline. While the season turned out fine, it wouldn’t be prudent to repeat that opening.

The Yankees find themselves in a unique position in 2017. They’re a quasi-rebuilding team, but one where a few breaks could rapidly accelerate the time table. If they want to contend this season, they’ll need a competitive April. Losing Gregorius is a setback, but a strong start from Castro could help the Yankees tread water. Anything less puts the team in uncomfortable territory.

Data courtesy of Fangraphs and Baseball Reference.