As we look for candidates to regress in 2014, a popular choice is Houston catcher Jason Castro for it seems the Astros backstop has two targets on his back: a high strikeout rate last year of 26.5% and a high BABIP of .351. Steamer and Oliver both project a steep drop in BABIP that will drag his batting average from a solid .276 to the .250s. As Brett Talley wrote, Castro screams regression.
Or does he?
Talley points to Castro’s strikeout rate that has been topped only 61 times in the past decade, and only four times the player matched or bettered a batting average of .276. But that measure may miss the mark. No one is suggesting Castro’s strikeout rate will worsen. When it comes to batting average, the critical question, then, is whether he can come close to maintaining a high BABIP.
On that question the evidence is more promising. In the last decade, only 38 of 1,509 batters have had an infield-fly rate lower than Castro’s 1.8%. Only 47 had a line-drive rate higher than Castro’s 25.2%. Taken together, those two select groups actually have 10 matches — players who managed both a lower infield-fly rate and higher line-drive rate. Here they are along with their BABIP, batting average and strikeout rate:
Player, year, BABIP, Avg., K-rate
Joe Mauer, 2013, .383, .324, 17.5%
Joey Votto, 2011, .349, .309, 12.9%
Howie Kendrick, 2011, .349, .297, 17.3%
Matt Carpenter, 2013, .359, .318, 13.7%
Michael Young, 2007, .366, .315, 15.5%
Joey Votto, 2013, .360, .305, 19%
Adam Kennedy, 2006, .313, .273, 14.3%
Bobby Abreu, 2006, .366, .297, 20.1%
Michael Young, 2011, .367, .338, 11.3%
Chris Johnson, 2012, .354, .281, 25%
What might we gather from this evidence?
(1) All but one of the players topped .276.
(2) The skills involved seem somewhat repeatable: Votto and Young each appear twice and as a group they generally in their careers combined a high LD rate, low IFFB rate and a high BABIP.
(3) We wouldn’t expect a player who whiffs a quarter of the time to have a batting average as high as someone who strikes out half as much while putting up similar LD and IFFB rates. Castro is unlikely to approach the median average of this group of .307.
(4) Castro doesn’t need to approach the median average to avoid significant regression. He is more likely to hit closer to last year’s mark than he is to hit in the .250s.