Castro Has it Covered

The plate, that is. The Chicago Tribune featured a story on the hot start by young Cubs shortstop Starlin Castro. One of the youngest regulars in baseball, Castro is known for his often spectacular glove and slap hitting. Starlin started 2011 with some great offensive results, picking up 4 extra base hits (2 triples, 2 doubles) and even a pair of walks in his first 25 plate appearances. Castro managed just 29 walks all of last season.

The walks are indeed noteworthy, but not as interesting as one factoid noted in the Tribune piece: Castro did not swing and miss at a single pitch until his 22nd at bat of the year. 22 at bats! Does this mean Castro has developed plate discipline the likes of Chipper Jones or Marco Scutaro? Hardly. Follow me after the jump for a look at what Castro’s doing at the plate.

The image you see below is plot of all the pitches throw to Starlin Castro in 2011. Via the magic of the pitch f/x system (laser-guided cameras positioned around every big league ballpark tracking the spin, speed, and location of each pitch. Here’s a good primer), we can see exactly where the pitches cross the plate.

The good people at Major League Baseball use this technology for their Gameday pitch tracking and, ever so sweetly, make the data freely available to nerds like me. Well, other people (like the saintly Joe Lefkowitz) take the data and allow people like me to dump it into Excel, where I make the “magic” happen.

For the purposes of this image, you are the catcher or the umpire – our perspective is from behind the plate, looking out at the pitcher. The orange box is a superimposed strike zone, set to Castro’s specific height to provide the top and bottom of the zone. Starlin is a right handed batter, so he stands on the left hand side of the image – meaning everything on the right side of the graph is outside and so on and so forth.

As you can see by the legend, blue circles are balls, green squares are called strikes and purple diamonds were balls put into play. The larger red circles cover the two – 2! – pitches Castro swung through so far in 2011.

Judging by the swings on pitches all over the map, I am going to go ahead and say Starlin Castro hasn’t developed ideal plate discipline quite yet. He fouled off a pitch that nearly hit him!

Pitchers seem to work Castro inside hard, believing they can jam the lanky youngster. Castro seems to be fighting off these pitches, fouling off nearly 20% of the pitches he’s seen. As we’ve long heard, the longer an at bat goes, the more likely a pitcher is to make a mistake.

While that sounds like an empty truism, Castro’s making the most of his new found bat control. The extra base hits and patience are a real change from the singles based, BABIP-attack of a year ago.

Impressive as it is to read that Starlin Castro didn’t swing and miss for 22 plate appearances, let’s not go all the way and anoint him a future batting champ quite yet. He can clearly handle the bat but laying off a few of these pitches off the plate can only help the young stud improve his offensive game.

Gameday data acquired via Joe