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February 3, 2014 posted by Matthew Dewoskin

2014 Fantasy Baseball Lies, Damn Lies and Advanced Metrics: Castro and Rizzo Edition

2014 Fantasy Baseball Lies, Damn Lies and Advanced Metrics: Castro and Rizzo Edition
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In 2013 the Chicago Cubs had two young stars that everyone was pegging for either a breakout or a mini-breakout. Both did little to help fantasy teams and one of them actually appeared to go out of his way to murder every fantasy team he was on. The question fantasy GMs are facing is, “Should we allow these guys back on our rosters?” That’s a question almost as hard to answer as any of the Millenium Prize Problems, but like the Poincare conjecture, it’s a problem we can solve if we put in the work..

Starlin Castro has been around seemingly forever, but he’s only entering his age 24 season. Before 2013, Castro had a reputation as a guy who relied on putting balls in play to generate production. He would rarely walk, strikeout often and rely on ground balls and line drives to get on base. Well, he was basically the same guy in 2013, albeit a more extreme version.

Castro posted his highest K % (18.3%) and lowest BB % (4.3%) of his career while posting a 1.73 GB:FB ratio with a 19.9% LD %. He was who he’s always been, but it came with a career low .102 ISO and a .290 BABIP. Castro wasn’t even nice enough to get hurt. He played 161 games and amassed 705 PA’s. Not only was he bad, but he went out of his way to be bad as often as possible.

On the surface, it would make sense for Castro to have hidden an injury and played through it. He couldn’t hit for average, power or steal a base, but he sure did get a lot of playing time. The “hidden injury” is a nice theory, but it doesn’t make it past the hypothesis stage in this proof.

He’s a hard player to try to predict in 2014. His balls in play numbers suggest that he’s likely to bounce back, but the swing data suggests a much larger issue. Castro’s whiff/swing percentages were worse in 2013 than in his previous two and a half seasons against almost every single type of pitch he faced.

Castro had always been a competent breaking ball hitter. From 2010 to 2012, Castro hit .257 against sliders and .274 against curves. In 2013, Castro hit like a man trying to answer The Hodge Conjecture, pitches with any kind of movement were unsolvable for him. He couldn’t hit any pitch with any kind of deception to it. He hit .213 against change ups, .208 against sliders, .217 against curves and .125 against cutters. It honestly looks like Starlin Castro swapped bodies with the immortal Andy Gonzalez.

It’s easy to look at Castro’s numbers and age and declare him a sleeper, but he’s looking more and more like a possible landmine. Unless there’s a drastic change to his approach, he looks like a guy fantasy GMs should want on other people’s rosters and not their own. Having Castro on your roster in 2014 will be a lot like taking “Applications of Linear Operator Theory” class in college. It’s not something the average person should get into if they want to succeed.

Anthony Rizzo is much more Circular Law than he is Riemann Hypothesis. Rizzo’s issues don’t run nearly as deep as Castro’s and his puzzle is infinitely more solvable.

Rizzo came into 2013 after a slightly overbaked and overhyped 2012 half season. He posted a .285/.342/.463 slash line in 368 PA’s in his rookie year. The problem is that those numbers came with a .310 BABIP and a 18.1% HR:FB ratio. Rizzo didn’t come close to those numbers in 2013 and posted a mere .258 BABIP with a 12.6% HR:FB ratio.

The reason for the BABIP drop is simple enough; Rizzo’s LD % dropped from 24.4% in 2012 to 19.6% in 2013. Why did his LD % drop? That’s a tougher question to answer, but it’s not nearly as hard as the Yang-Mills existence and mass gap.

The biggest issue that Rizzo faced in 2013 was the change up. The change up was as difficult for Rizzo as the Birch and Swinnerton-Dyer Conjecture is for non-mathemagicians. Rizzo’s LD % against change ups plunged from 19.05% in 2012 to 7.14% in 2013. He also hit .000 when thrown a change up with two strikes. How he only faced 54 change ups with two strikes, we may never understand.

What did Rizzo get right in 2013? Well, his swinging strike percentage dropped (9.6% in 2012 vs 8.8% in 2013), his walk rate increased (7.3% in 2012 vs 11.0% in 2013) , his fly ball rate increased (30.2% in 2012 vs 37.9% in 2013) and his ISO was actually higher in 2013 (.186) than it was in 2012 (.178). He had a mediocre year statistically and didn’t live up to his 5th/6th/7th round draft status, but he did make some positive strides and seems to be developing some parts of his game in a positive direction, but there’s also a much bigger problem that will limit Rizzo’s upside in the future.

Rizzo can’t hit lefties. His struggles against lefties could be written off as small sample size in 2012 (.260 wOBA in 107 PA’s), but he was exposed in 2013. Rizzo posted a .282 wOBA against lefties in 2013 with a woeful .189/.282/.342 in 216 PA’s. Yuck. It’s hard to recommend taking Rizzo until he proves capable of not looking completely foolish against lefties. Should his one-sided success continue, he’ll likely end up as a Brandon Moss 2.0. A useful player in fantasy baseball as long as his team realizes his limitations, but not a guy fantasy GMs should be spending a early/early-mid round draft pick on.

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