Rodolfo Castro has stepped up for the Pittsburgh Pirates big way in Oneil Cruz's absence, but the switch hitter is still struggling to hit from the left side
When the Pittsburgh Pirates lost Oneil Cruz to a fractured ankle on Easter Sunday there was a lot of doom and gloom around the team. Well, that is from the outside. In the team's clubhouse they kept their heads high and became baseball's biggest surprise in April finishing the first month of the season with the best record in the National League.
A big reason why the Pirates have the best record in the NL is the way Rodolfo Castro has stepped up in Cruz's absence. Through his first 91 plate appearances of the season Castro hit for a .286/.385/.468 slash line to go with a 134 wRC+ and a 133 OPS+.
There has been one issue for Castro, and it's an issue that has plagued him throughout his still young MLB career. That issue is the switch hitter's ability to hit right-handed pitching. When batting from the left side of the plate Castro has struggled.
Entering play on Sunday, Castro was hitting just .213/.315/.255 with a 66 wRC+ as a left-handed hitter this season. While he's walking at a 9.3% clip from the left side of the plate, he is striking out at a 31.5% rate. He had two doubles and no home runs as a left-handed hitter.
These struggles continue the trend of Castro's career. In 307 career PAs agaisnt right-handed pitching Castro has hit just .203/.280/.322 with a wRC+ of 70. His career walk rate as a left-handed hitter is 8.8% and strikeout rate is 31.3%.
This raises the question, due to his struggles, should Castro give up switch hitting? Obviously, that is not a question that will be easy answer. Nor is it something that Castro and the Pirates have even likely discussed.
When you dig a bit deeper on Castro's numbers, the drastic difference in performance between batting right-handed and left-handed does not make a ton of sense. He owns a career 49.1% ground ball rate as a right-handed hitter, while his ground ball rate as a left-handed hitter is slightly better at 48.9%. Additionally, he has a better line drive rate (18.5%) as a left-handed hitter in his career than he does as a right-handed hitter (15.2%).
Castro's hard-hit rate does drop from 32.3% against left-handed pitchers to 24.3% against right-handed pitchers, while his fly ball rate drops from 35.7% to 32.6%. These numbers, however, are not enough to raise concern.
If Castro was making poor contact or putting the ball on the ground too much against right-handed pitching this could be a different discussion. The biggest issue appears to be a 31.3% strikeout rate, which is substantially higher than his 17.6% strikeout rate that he owns against left-handed pitching.
It is obviously easier said than done, but Castro improving his contact to cut down on his swing-and-miss against right-handed pitching could go a long way toward fixing his problems from the left side of the plate. If Castro can do that while maintaining the contact he currently makes against right-handed pitchers he should improve against righties.
Do Castro's issues stem back to a problem with hitting right-handed pitching? Or is it a problem wiht batting left-handed? Either way, it is an issue that Castro and the Pittsburgh Pirates will need to find a way to address. Potentially, the answer could be Castro giving up switch hitting. But, it does appear that Castro should have the ability to improve as a left-handed hitter. It's up to Castro and the coaching staff to tap into whatever it will take to make those changes.