What to make of Starlin Castro's hot start

I'm going to try my best to stay grounded here because my better judgment tells me to, but at the risk of jumping the gun a bit...is this the year Yankees' second baseman Starlin Castro finally puts it all together? 

I would like to begin by reminding everyone, myself included, that Castro did this to us last year too upon donning the pinstripes for the first time.  In his first month with the team, Starlin came out guns blazing, hitting at a .305 clip in April of 2016 with 12 runs batted in.  After two seasons of Brian Roberts, Dean Anna, Jose Pirela, Brendan Ryan and everyone's favorite Stephen Drew, Yankees fans could finally rejoice: we had a real, honest-to-goodness second baseman! 
 
Photo Credit: Getty Images

Of course, everyone knows what happened next.  Castro struggled mightily in May, was solid the rest of the year, but despite finishing the season with a career high 21 home runs, there were still some troubling stats about his 2016 season.   

For one, Castro walked just 24 times the entire season over 610 plate appearances (577 ABs), or once every 25 trips to the plate, roughly.  Eek.  Secondly, he showed a concerning lack of plate discipline aside from his already lack of patience at the dish.  To Castro's credit, he is a very talented hitter, and has the ability to put the bat on the ball regardless of it's location.  Sometimes this worked in his favor as he could scoop a ball in at his ankles down the line for a double, but he would also flail at pitches in the left-hand hitter's batters box.  In all, Castro's .270 batting average, 156 hits, 21 home runs and 70 RBIs suggest that he had a strong season, however, his OPS+ of 93 indicate he was slightly below average as a hitter last season. 
 
Photo Credit: AP Photo/Seth Wenig

Fast forward to 2017 and Castro is once again off to a hot start.  Going into Tuesday night's game, he was tied for the major league lead with seven multi-hit games.  Through last night's game against Chicago, Castro is hitting .364 with two home runs, seven runs batted in, a stout OPS of .924 and an OPS+ of 157.  It was also his ninth inning walk with the bases loaded – just his third of 2017 – that drove in the Yankees' only run of the evening in a 4-1 defeat to Miguel Gonzalez and the White Sox.  Starlin's work has earned praise from both hitting coach Alan Cockrell and manager Joe Girardi, and earned him a promotion in the batting order to the cleanup spot.  

Joe Girardi was quoted earlier in the week as saying the following about Castro: 
“Starlin is one of the guys we’ve relied on and who has really played well for us so far.  We’ve seen him go through stretches like this, and you hope he keeps it up.” 
 
Photo Credit: Jim McIsaac/Newsday

Castro has been effective swinging early in the count – Baseball Reference shows him facing an average of just 3.87 pitches per plate appearance – and his aggressive approach has led to many hard hit balls early in at-bats.  Interestingly enough, however, it's not always the first pitch of the at-bat that Castro is going after, as he has offered at just 27.8% of first pitches. Castro also has just seven strikeouts swinging in the early going, something Yankees fans became accustomed to from him in 2016. 

So what does all of this mean? 

I'm not yet ready to anoint Castro's hot start as the beginning of a breakout 2017 campaign, as I'm sure the inevitable slump will hit and I'll drive myself crazy watching him swing at pitches way out of the strike zone with men on base.  What I am willing to concede, however, is that Castro seems to be getting hits in bunches much more frequently this season, and is hitting the ball with authority while also seeing a decline in his strikeout rate (19.3% K/PA in 2016 vs 14.8% K/PA in 2017). 

Starlin Castro is occupying arguably the most important spot in any team's batting order right now and is a key contributing factor for a team that just ripped off eight straight wins.  Whether he is able to maintain this throughout the season still remains to be seen, but if he can, I don't think it's unrealistic to expect a .280, 20 HR, 80 RBI season from the second baseman – particularly with a healthy Gary Sanchez and locked in Greg Bird setting the table in front of him in the coming weeks. 

Article by: Andrew Natalizio 

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