Yankees second baseman Starlin Castro, left, and Red Sox great Manny Ramirez.
By Brendan Kuty
NEW YORK — A Red Sox legend may be behind Starlin Castro‘s hot start.
The Yankees second baseman pointed to offseason mentorship from Manny Ramirez when asked about how he’s been able to hit .368 — second-best on the team — after Wednesday’s 9-1 win over the White Sox at Yankee Stadium.
“We got a good relationship,” Castro said. “We always text.”
Castro and Ramirez talked specifically about how the 27-year-old could “stop getting myself out,” he said. That meant trying to swing at fewer bad pitches, Castro said.
“We were just talking about how to see the ball better, trying to be square in our stance all the time, swinging at only pitches for strikes,” Castro said, sitting at his locker.
Manager Joe Girardi said there would be few people better to learn from than Ramirez, widely considered one of the best right-handed hitters of all time. Ramirez has 555 career homers with a .312 batting average and 1,813 RBI.
The 44-year-old, who hasn’t played in the majors since 2011 and was twice suspended for using performance-enhancing drugs, signed a deal with to play Japanese independent ball this season.
“Manny didn’t chase a lot,” Girard said. “Manny knew what he could hit. He used the whole field to drive the ball to right-center. He was a great hitter. He’s a good guy to talk to.”
Castro’s free-swinging approach has been a help and hinderance to his career. He went to three All-Star games with the Cubs, mostly on the back of high batting averages with balls in play while drawing few walks. His down seasons have mostly come when he hasn’t recorded high BABIP averages.
Through 14 games and 55 at-bats this season going into Wednesday’s, Castro’s BABIP was .400 — much higher than the league average of .285, according to Fangraphs.
That doesn’t tell the whole story, though. While Castro’s swing rates at pitches inside and outside of the zone haven’t changed all that much from his so-so 2016 campaign, he had a much higher contact rate (94.4 percent) when he swung at pitches in the zone than the league average mark (85.7 percent). His in-the-zone contact rate was also substantially higher than it was last season (86.2).
Castro and Ramirez became close in 2015, when Castro was playing with the Cubs and Ramirez was hired as the team’s batting consultant.
“He’s using the whole field,” Girardi said. “You look at the double he had the other day, it bounced into the bullpen. He’s just using the whole field. When Starlin swings at strikes, he’s really good.”