Young Cubs bounce back in 2014

July, 2, 2014
Jul 2
1:17
PM ET

AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast
Anthony Rizzo (left) and Starlin Castro (right) are proving their 2013 numbers are a thing of the past.
Starlin Castro, Anthony Rizzo and the Chicago Cubs will go for a three-game sweep of the Boston Red Sox on "Wednesday Night Baseball" at 7 p.m. ET on ESPN.

Castro and Rizzo have turned things around after a rough 2013 season. Let’s analyze what went wrong last year and what is going right this year.

Castro

The 24-year-old Cubs shortstop had a triple-slash line (BA/OBP/SLUG) of .297/.336/.425 through 1,912 plate appearances entering 2013. Castro followed that up with a .235/.284/.347 line in 2013. The .284 on-base percentage ranked fourth-worst among 140 qualified batters.

Castro still is not taking many walks (5.8 percent of plate appearances in 2014, 5.1 percent career average), but he has returned to his hitting ways.

The 2014 batting average is at .286 for Castro entering play Wednesday, including a .324 batting average on balls in play (BABIP). Castro’s career BABIP in nearly 3,000 plate appearances is .323 (career-low .290 in 2013), suggesting his 2014 resurgence may not be a fluke.

While the batting average is back on track, the power is something new for the young shortstop.

Castro entered this season with a home run percentage (HR/PA) of 1.5 percent, good for 346th out of 454 qualified batters from 2010-2013. The MLB average during that time was 2.8 percent.

Castro surpassed his 2013 home run total when he hit his 11th of 2014 off a Charlie Morton curveball June 20. Castro has a home run in 3.4 percent of his plate appearances this season.

One thing to keep an eye on in the second half of the season is whether or not Castro can keep up his huge spike in home runs per fly ball. Those numbers rose steadily during Castro’s first few seasons, but he has more than doubled his previous best through 82 games in 2014.

Rizzo

The 2013 season was Rizzo’s first as a full-time starter. In 690 plate appearances, he logged a triple-slash line of .233/.323/.419 with 23 home runs. Rizzo’s batting average of .233 ranked 132nd among 140 qualified batters.

Rizzo really struggled against same-handed pitchers. He hit .189 against lefties in 2013, the fourth-worst mark among qualified batters. Rizzo’s BABIP against lefties (.207) was worse than every qualified batter except Andrelton Simmons (.197).

Rizzo has been a completely different hitter against lefties this season, making better contact while showing more patience. Rizzo missed on 26 percent of his swings against lefties entering 2014, but he has cut that down to 20 percent this season.

The higher contact and home run percentages have Rizzo on pace for a career-high in home runs. Rizzo’s 17 home runs trail only Jose Abreu and Edwin Encarnacion among first basemen.

Like Castro, Rizzo’s home run-to-fly ball percentage has taken a huge leap from last season to this season (12.9 percent to 20.5 percent). Unlike Castro, Rizzo has shown the ability to hit for average with solid power numbers in the past. In 2012, he hit .285 with home runs on more than 17 percent of his fly balls in 368 plate appearances.

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