Sans former Cincinnati Reds pitcher Aroldis Chapman, the biggest offseason acquisition for the New York Yankees was Starlin Castro. The Bronx Bombers nabbed the 26-year old infielder from the Chicago Cubs for the price tag of pitcher Adam Warren and journeyman infielder Brendan Ryan. The Yankees have needed a second baseman since superstar Robinson Cano fled New York for Seattle and left a gaping hole at second base behind.
The Yankees did their damnedest to fill that hole, but nothing seemed to work to the level that they may have hoped for. Per Fangraphs, only the Chicago White Sox had an fWAR that was worse than the Yankees' -1.1 at 2B. Their slash line was abysmal, checking in at .223/.277/.372, and tied for 24th in with the Braves in wRC+ (Weighted Runs Created Plus, which you can learn more about here). It's safe to say that the Yankees felt the loss of Cano in a big way and no matter who they trotted out there to play in the middle infield, no one was able to give them any sort of firepower.
Enter Starlin Castro. Castro is far from perfect and has had his ups and downs. The second baseman's efforts have been questioned at times, whether it's laziness, hustle, concentration or performance in general, while playing in the "Windy City." With that being said, apart from a rough 2013, Castro has always been a very good hitter for average. Two times in his career he has hit at or above .300, and four times over .280. He hit .265 in 2015 and steamrolled in the second half, helping the Cubbies get to the postseason for the first time since 2008 and win their first playoff series since 2003. He hit .295 in the second half, and a sparkling .369 in the final 27 games of the regular season.
The Yankees' second basemen averaged .223 for the last two seasons, so acquiring a career .281 hitter is a no-brainer. A change of scenery could do wonders for him too, though it's not exactly an easy transition to go from a Top 5 media market to the head of the class.
On Opening Day, Castro got off to a pretty great start.
Tasked with a two-out situation, Castro trotted up to home plate and dug into the batter's box. His welcome to the Bronx wasn't an easy one at all since he had to face Dallas Keuchel. Keuchel gave the Yankees all sorts of fits last year and especially so in the AL Wild Card Game last October. This matchup favored Castro. Over the course of his career in Chicago, Castro hit .295 against lefties, and .281 in 2015. This was the opportune time for Castro to get off to a great start, and on the second pitch of the AB, he did just that, lacing a double to left field that would score teammates Carlos Beltran and Brian McCann.
The Yankees would go on to lose 5-3 to the Astros and Castro wouldn't pick up another hit in his two other at-bats, but the takeaways from Castro's performance on Tuesday should make Yankee fans optimistic, if only for the first day of the season. Here's why:
1. Continuing to strike in 0-1 counts
In his six seasons with the Cubs, Starlin Castro was a very good hitter with an 0-1 count. It's worth noting this, as Castro wasn't fooled after looking at strike one from Keuchel, and picked up his two-RBI double. Per Baseball-Reference, Castro is a .346 hitter with an 0-1 count, tabbed with an .805 OPS on the side. It would be very good news if Castro continues to do damage even after falling behind in the count early in at-bats.
2. Delivering with two outs, RISP
Tying into that at-bat as well, it's calming to see Castro continuing to hit well even in a big spot. Castro's at-bat in the second inning came with two outs and a man in scoring position. It is not exactly a high pressure situation compared to a similar scenario happening later in the game, but Castro was still cool, calm and collected.
Why is this a big deal? Castro hasn't quite capitalized in this situation before. Going into this season, he had 429 plate appearances with two outs and RISP. Of those, Castro struck out 70 times, had an average of just .251, an on-base percentage of .319, and an OPS of only .676.
His career BABIP is just .291 with two outs and runners in scoring position, so it's possible that luck wasn't falling his way, or he was at the mercy of some of the aforementioned issues, or a little of both. With that in mind, it's fair to be pleased with Castro delivering in a pressure-cooked RBI spot with the end of the inning hanging over him. With a bit of consistency, the Yankees could have a threat in the lower tier of their lineup, something they have needed for quite some time.
Starlin Castro has not been the most patient hitter throughout his career. Over the course of his six seasons with the Cubs, Castro's BB% was merely 4.9 percent, with the highest mark being just 6.2 percent back in 2014. Castro wasn't exactly a free swinger - six different Cubs struck out at a higher rate than him from 2010-2015 - but he wasn't a patient hitter by any means, either, and oftentimes swung outside the zone.
Only three hitters - Alfonso Soriano, Marlon Byrd and Aramis Ramirez - swung outside the strike zone more times than Castro from 2010-2015. While he had the second-highest rate of outside contact behind Darwin Barney, it was frustrating, because Castro made contact inside the zone at a rate of about 90 percent.
On Tuesday, Castro avoided swinging at the first pitch and practiced patience. In his three at-bats, the second baseman saw 11 pitches. Seven of those came in one lengthy at-bat in the bottom of the seventh inning where Castro may have gone down swinging, but didn't make things very easy for the reigning AL Cy Young award winner at all. Castro was pretty relentless, taking three balls and fouling off two pitches before Keuchel won the battle.
It is only one game, of course. A lot could happen between now and the rest of the season. Regardless, Starlin Castro's debut in pinstripes went really well. What do you think of Castro so far?