Is Starlin Castro’s Hot Spring a Sign of Things to Come?

The Starlin Castro acquisition was perhaps GM Brian Cashman’s most polarizing move of the winter for Yankees fans. Not only did the team have to surrender valuable swingman Adam Warren, who was New York’s best starter for long stretches of 2015, but their incumbent second baseman Rob Refsnyder is projected by ZiPS to produce nearly identical value (95 wRC+ and 1.7 WAR for Refsnyder vs. 92 wRC+ and 1.9 WAR for Castro) next season without Castro’s $40 million price tag. Castro’s resume is undeniably impressive for a 25 year old. He’s been named an All Star in three of his first six seasons, received a few MVP votes, and accumulated almost 1000 hits. On the other hand, his 80 wRC+ in 2015 was tenth worst among all qualified batters. That was hardly a fluke, as in 2013 he was even more futile offensively. His 74 wRC+ that year was the fifth worst in MLB. By WARP, he has been an above average regular in three seasons (4.4, 3.9, 3.6), average or slightly below in two (2.1, 1.5), and exactly replacement level in one. So the question is, which version of Starlin Castro did the Yankees acquire?

PECOTA predictably expects him to settle somewhere in the middle. It projects a .277/.316/.418 line and 2.8 WARP in 2016. While the Yankees would probably lock that production in in a heartbeat, Castro’s hot spring combined with his insane September after switching to second base are teasing the possibility of much more than a solid regular. In his final 27 games of 2015, Castro hit .369/.400/.655 (185 wRC+) with five home runs. The fact that the strong finish corresponded almost exactly with his position switch is likely a coincidence, but is still worth noting. Especially interesting is that Castro remains locked in during the first few weeks of the Grapefruit League while continuing to play second. He’s batted .417/.440/.750 with two home runs in 25 PAs this spring, including this mammoth shot off the batter’s eye in Pittsburgh’s McKechnie Field:

While a number of players have reacted badly to the intensity of New York’s media glare after being acquired by the Yankees, that doesn’t seem to be an issue for Castro. Following years of being asked to be the star of the Cubs, he may benefit from being just another guy on the Yankees. He’s hitting in the bottom third of the lineup. He seems to have had no problem fitting in, developing a quick rapport with middle infield partner Didi Gregorius. What are the odds Cashman fleeced Theo Epstein out of a superstar this winter? Not great. But the early returns are at the very least encouraging that the Yankees will be seeing the above-average version of Starlin Castro in 2016 rather than the replacement level model.

5 Responses

  1. Daniel Moscovitz

    I’m still skeptical but I’d love to be proven wrong. I find it hard to believe he’s somehow unlocked an inner talent he couldn’t find after 3500 plate appearances. What’s the over/under on the number of walks Castro earns in 2016. 31? Really though, a somewhere between replacement level and average level bat is not going to be a major factor in the Yankees season. More important and more unknown is if he can play second base well. If he’s an above average defender it’d be a huge plus. If he’s anything at second like he was at short, I do not understand why the guy is worth starting over Ackley and Refsnyder.

    I look at Howie Kendrick who has a track record as an average defensive second basemen with a well above average bat. He’s worth 2/$20m and the yankees basically committed 4/$40m to castro AND gave up Warren. Refsnyder playing time aside, Castro’s marginal value given his contract is ZERO. Considering the money and the talent the yankees gave up they have to view Castro as a better player over the next 4 years than either free agent Kendrick and Zobrist. Considering the Cubs immediately signed Zobrist you have to figure there was some clear difference of opinion on one or both of those guys. Maddon’s coached both and the yankees haven’t so I tend to think they knew enough to make a better decision.

    As we get deeper into spring training with 7 healthy starting pitchers the pain of not having Warren seems to be subsiding. Brian Mitchell seems a very similar talent and even without him the Yankees are carrying a lot of pitchers these days. Maybe the yankees know more about Warren too. They clearly didn’t want him as a starter in 2016. He led baseball in value out of the swingman roll in 2016 with 2.7 bWAR and had two pretty successful years before that as well.

    • saa

      I live in chicago, trust me castro has talent that people are sleep on. When you are 20-24 years old and one of the worst lineups on baseball around you it could make you try and do to much. I don’t know why people don’t talk about it but his numbers shot up mainly because he moved closer to the plate and closed his stance. If you look at his stance years before and in the first half last year he had an open stance. Zobrist is in the decline because of age, so trading castro could come back and haunt the cubs if castro puts it together. There are a number of players that found themselves later in there career you talk to some scouts on different teams they say the kid has a lot of talent and he is not in his prime years.

      • Titan

        Goot point on Zobrist. That’s something I have also said before. Anyone can see it. Let’s see Zobrist’s declined, and Castro’s advanced.

    • Rumpelstilskin

      I thought it was the Cubs who are taking a risk. The Yankees are replacing a rookie 2nd baseman with a player who has played in 3 all star games. At worst, Castro can substitute in 3 positions in the infield. The Yankees were fortunate the Cubs are loaded with potential at the middle infield positions.
      I just hope the Cubs haven’t made a Brock/Broglio type trade for another pitcher with a bad arm.

  2. Daniel Moscovitz

    If the cubs believed that at all the play they would have made available was Javier Baez. He could get a king’s ransom. I’m sure the yankees would have parted with Warren AND Jorge Mateo, probably throw in Aaron Judge as well.


Leave a Reply