For Cubs fans, Starlin Castro was always an enigma. He had great potential and showed it by making three All-Star teams, but he was often prone to long offensive slumps and had a history of infuriating mental lapses in the field. 2015 was a typical Starlin Castro year for Starlin Castro, filled with plenty of ups and downs. Following his trade to the Yankees, he spoke with Meredith Marakovits of the YES Network about some of the adjustments he made after being benched in August. Here is an important snippet from that conversation:
"I think my front leg was too open. [I] just tried to pull every ball at the beginning of the season and just hit a lot of groundballs to third and to short... That's not the type of player that I am. I always hit the ball to the middle or right field. I closed [my front leg] a little bit more and that helped to drive the ball the opposite way."
The data backs up Castro's analysis. Take a look at his numbers before and his stint on the bench:
|4/5 - 8/6||15.8%||56.9%||27.3%||41.4%||37.2%||21.4%||.236||.271||.304|
|8/11 - 10/4||20.2%||46.2%||33.6%||39.2%||42.5%||18.3||.353||.373||.588|
In the last couple of the months, he hit fewer groundballs, but he had somewhat of a pull/up-the-middle hybrid approach for the whole season. He mentioned keeping his front foot closed longer to go the other way, which might provide some interesting insight to fans about the science of hitting. Looking at a couple of swings, it might have been the other way around. In other words, his new mental approach to go up the middle might have been what fixed his swing mechanics. Here he is on Opening Day, hacking at a cutter left down the middle by Adam Wainwright:
In this clip, Castro tries to hit the ball to Lake Michigan, and he almost loses his balance flailing at a mistake pitch from the Cardinals' ace. During a September matchup, Phillies reliever Hector Neris made the same mistake, hanging a slider against Castro. Neris didn't get off so easy:
To the untrained eye, it doesn't look like Castro kept his front leg closed that much longer in the second clip. Then again, there is a reason why good hitting coaches are so desired. Still, Castro doesn't seem to be swinging out of his shoes as much as he was in the first clip. Castro's swing features a high leg kick, and he appears to put every ounce of strength he has into the generation of bat speed.
With such a relatively violent motion, keeping his balance becomes even more important, which could explain the drastic peaks and valleys throughout his career. By reminding himself to use all fields instead of just trying to pull the ball to the moon, Castro could be essentially tricking his body into keeping his violent swing under control.
The second GIF is especially exciting, considering the fact that Yankee Stadium rewards right-handed hitters who can drive the ball the other way. Two players by the names of Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez could attest to that. Another reason to be excited about Castro is that he is very good at making contact despite his high leg kick. As Pirates infielder Jung-Ho Kang made the jump from Korean pro ball to the MLB, the pronounced stride in his swing scared off teams who were worried about his ability to keep up with big league pitching. Kang ended up hitting .287/.335/.461 with 41 extra base hits and a 130 wRC+ in 126 games, erasing almost all concerns.
With a revamped approach at the plate and a position that is better suited to his athletic profile, Starlin Castro could be a huge factor for years to come. For now, the only thing to do is predict what nickname Joe Girardi will give him. Feel free to use the comment section to weigh in on the nickname discussion or anything pertaining to Castro's future with the Yankees.
*Data is courtesy of FanGraphs.