It’s safe to say that injuries have had a pronounced effect on the Yankees this year. They haven’t wounded them as much as their crosstown rivals, the Mets, who have seen their talented rotation and lineup torn to shreds. That said, numerous key contributors have been missing from the Bronx for weeks at a time. Aaron Hicks, CC Sabathia, Masahiro Tanaka, Aroldis Chapman, and Matt Holliday, among others, have seen at least some time on the disabled list.
Count Starlin Castro among the others. He’s made a pair of trips to the disabled list this year, each time for a hamstring injury. He initially injured his leg in late June, returned a couple weeks later in mid-July, then hit the shelf again for nearly a month after re-aggravating the strain.
Castro clearly didn’t look like himself during his short return from the DL in July. He was compromised on the field, limited in his mobility, and his play suffered for it. Since taking a longer time to recuperate, Castro has been back at his best, picking up where he left off in the first half in submitting one of the finest seasons of his career.
His results leave little doubt that Castro is back in form. Here is a top-down look at how Castro has performed, during the first few months, during his week-long initial return from injury, and since coming off the DL a second time:
Castro Throughout 2017
The difference has been night and day. Castro was a shell of himself during July, as the Yankees appeared to rush him back from injury before he was entirely ready. His second DL stint was nearly twice as long as his initial one, and it seems to have been for the better. There’s obviously some noise in these small samples, but it’s clear that Castro has been a different player after taking a more substantial amount of time off.
Beyond just pure results, though, Castro has looked much more like himself recently than he did during his initial return. He is an aggressive hitter. That aggression can cut both ways, as he has a well-known tendency to go fishing on pitches down and away. Even so, he is generally at his best when he manages to be selectively aggressive, swinging hard and frequently, just not so much that he’s expanding the zone too often.
That wasn’t Castro when he first came off the DL. He was a muted version of himself, swinging at 46% of pitches he saw according to FanGraphs. That’s compared to 51% and 50% during the start of the season and in recent weeks, respectively.
Castro’s batted ball profile also suffered post-injury. He has always hit more groundballs than the average hitter, generally running groundball rates in the upper-40’s, but that rate shot to 58% during mid-July. His groundball rate was 48% prior to injury, and he’s returned to hitting 46% groundballs in recent weeks.
Most importantly, Castro simply hasn’t been visibly hampered when moving. He’s been capable of lateral movement in the field and baserunning. That wasn’t the case back in July. He just looked like he wasn’t healthy.
It goes without saying that the Yankees — and all MLB teams —- have an incentive to ensure their rosters’ health. Yet the Yankees have demonstrated an odd inability to let players heal this year, choosing to not put themselves and their talent in the best position to win.
Greg Bird’s ankle problems went unaddressed for days, as the young first baseman was left to make outs game after game back in April. Aaron Judge has seemingly been playing through shoulder issues for a while now, in spite of an awful second half slump. The inviting embrace of a 10-day DL, created for the sole purpose of providing a short-term breather to players who could use a bit of rest, went unaddressed.
Castro is just another example of a player that wasn’t given adequate time to heal. His performance later in the season, juxtaposed with his miserable initial return from injury, illustrates what’s to be gained from simply letting players’ bodies get to the point where they can perform without pain. A Castro that isn’t limping about with a bad hamstring is a Castro that can help the Yankees in the final stages of a tight, mulit-front playoff race.
Maybe Judge would be better equipped to contribute if his shoulder was given time to rest. Maybe it wouldn’t change a thing; it's impossible to make definite conclusions from our vantage point. The Yankees appear to have handled a few injuries this year in a curious manner, though, and it may have hurt their chances in the end. If Castro is any indication, letting a player get his body right is the best thing the Yankees can do for themselves and the people that put on the pinstripes.