Remember Matt Wieters? That's all we'll be able to do, now that the Orioles have bid him goodbye. With the acquisition of former Diamondbacks catcher Welington Castillo yesterday, Baltimore seems to have found a starter behind the plate for 2017, meaning the former fifth overall pick — the man of the incredible facts, the assassin of playoff base stealers, the returner from Tommy John surgery, the recipient of the last illicit pie, and the visitor of my alma mater — will no longer don the orange and black.
But enough about Wieters. He's old news! Castillo's taken his place now. The righty, who will turn 30 in April, has a career triple-slash of .255/.318/.416, translating to a 98 wRC+. He's accrued 9.7 fWAR over 1,904 plate appearances — although BP's WARP sees him as a 2.0-win player, for reasons the last item in this listicle will elucidate — and, like him or not, he's the probable 2017 starting Orioles catcher. With that in mind, let's break down what the brand-new Birds backstop brings to the ballclub. (Spoiler: not a whole lot.)
He doesn't have much plate discipline.
If the Orioles offense has one weakness, it's the strikeout: The club went down on strikes in 21.7 percent of its plate appearances this year, the ninth-highest level in baseball. They also didn't walk too often, with the 11th-lowest free pass rate at 7.7 percent. Castillo, you could say, is the quintessential Oriole — which isn't a particularly good thing.
Since he became a regular-ish player in 2012, Castillo has come to the dish 1,870 times. He's struck out in 24.8 percent of those and walked in 7.2 percent; the former is the 31st-highest* in the majors, the latter the 89th-lowest. In terms of bases on balls, he's not as bad as Jonathan Schoop or Adam Jones, and pitchers won't fan him as often as they will Chris Davis. Castillo's subpar production in both regards is nevertheless discouraging, reinforcing one of the more unsightly Orioles trends.
*Out of 241 players with at least 1,500 plate appearances.
As we'd suspect, this stems from a basic failure with pitch judgment. He's chased only 28.8 percent of pitches outside the strike zone, a respectable rate that's 102nd-lowest in that sample. The issue is that he's offered at only 60.0 percent of pitches inside the strike zone, which puts him 59th from the bottom. And to compound the issues, he places 77th from the top with a 10.1 percent swinging-strike rate.
Castillo has what appears to be a fairly common problem for hitters of his mold — he's a little too patient on outside pitches, for better or for worse:
When an adversary deals in the outer third of the strike zone, Castillo offers 59.4 percent of the time. On the area outside the strike zone, he swings at 31.4 percent of the pitches he sees. Plus, a whole ton of his whiffs are on pitches down and away, which is where a disproportionate amount of his pitches end up going. Unless he learns to judge these offerings a little better, Castillo will probably maintain his Oriole-esque strikeout and walk numbers, to the detriment of his new employer.
He hits the ball hard, but doesn't get much out of it — which could change.
Here's an interesting comparison. Recall that, since 2012, Castillo has a 7.2 percent walk rate and 24.7 percent strikeout rate. In that same span, Mark Trumbo did exactly as well in terms of free passes (7.2 percent), and slightly worse in terms of punchouts (25.7 percent). As the table below lays out, both hitters have very similar quality of contact numbers as well. Yet one of them has a superior ISO, which gives him the wRC+ edge:
So why don't their results match up? Why did Castillo sign for a maximum of $13 million over two years while Trumbo looks for $70 million over four? Well, putting aside defensive value — which I'll cover below — Castillo just seems to have gotten unlucky.
No, seriously! From 2012 to 2016, Trumbo hit 43.2 percent of his balls on the ground and 56.8 percent in the air; Castillo had a ground ball rate of 42.5 percent, and a fly ball/line drive rate of 57.5 percent. Trumbo made hard contact on 45.4 percent of those air balls; Castillo, on 44.2 percent. Trumbo pulled them to left field 28.4 percent of the time; Castillo, 28.1 percent. Yet Trumbo has a 272 wRC+ when he goes airborne (31st in the majors**), while Castillo languishes at 240 (82nd in the majors, and much closer to the MLB average of 210).
**Out of 273 players with at least 500 air balls.
It's not like Castillo played in ballparks that heavily favored pitchers. Chase Field is a bandbox, and Wrigley tends to play fairly neutral, particularly during the years Castillo spent there. The answer might just be, as mentioned, dumb luck — Castillo hasn't received all that much playing time, so the sample here isn't too big. If he can continue to get good wood, maybe he'll start to see his mediocre BABIP and ISO rise, and his shoddy plate discipline won't matter as much. Hey, it worked out pretty well for Trumbo!
He took the heat in 2016, but not the soft stuff.
In the same division as Aroldis Chapman and Craig Kimbrel, Orioles hitters need to be able to keep up with fastballs. The fear surrounding Hyun Soo Kim before the season was that he'd flounder against MLB's harder offerings, but as my colleague Matt Kremnitzer noted, he actually fared fine on fastballs while struggling against breaking and offspeed pitches. Based on Castillo's 2016 results, it looks like he might share that trait:
|Year||Hard Runs||Breaking Runs||Offspeed Runs|
Brooks gives us even more clarity on this disparity. In 238 at-bats ending with a fastball this season, Castillo hit .332 and slugged .550. By contrast, he had a sickly .175 average and .254 slugging percentage in the 177 at-bats ending with a slower offering. And the difference goes down to plate discipline, too. Castillo struck out 52 times and walked 27 times against fastballs; versus offspeed and breaking pitches, he racked up 69 Ks (nice) to a meager three BBs.
The issue seems to stem from Castillo's approach. When pitchers serve him a heater, he's more inclined to swing if it's up in the zone...
...whereas with slower pitches, he'll offer more frequently when they're lower:
As a power-ish hitter, Castillo does most of his damage up in the zone, where he can elevate the ball. That's the area where a good amount of fastballs head...and also the area that pretty much all breaking balls/offspeed pitches avoid.
Hitting hard pitches obviously has value — not many players can replicate that .332/.550 line. It won't make him a great hitter alone, though, and after a while, that hole will start to grow bigger as opponents exploit it. Back in April, Castillo told the Arizona Republic's Nick Piecoro he was "having rough moments recognizing the breaking pitch," which was evidently something pitchers started to pick up on:
So if Chapman decides to bust out his slider, or Kimbrel reaches back for a two-strike curveball, don't expect Castillo to accomplish much.
He really, really can't frame.
Why did we expend so many words in this post on Castillo's offense? Primarily because it's a lot more interesting than his defense. Earlier this month, Dan Duquette swore the Orioles would take pitch framing into account when selecting their catcher, yet they settled on this guy to replace Wieters:
During his five full seasons and 3,947.2 innings behind the dish, Castillo has cost his teams 62.1 runs via poor framing; on a rate basis, he's been worth -15.7 runs per 1,000 frames (i.e. innings). That makes him roughly the polar opposite of Caleb Joseph, who over the past three years has saved the O's 29.5 framing runs in 1,854.1 innings, averaging out to 15.9 per 1,000. As Jeff Sullivan explained at FanGraphs yesterday, Castillo's offensive respectability can't compensate for his defensive ineptitude, and Joseph's probably the better option going forward.
Really, I don't feel like dwelling on Castillo's defense. The Diamondbacks sure didn't — that's why they non-tendered him in favor of Jeff freaking Mathis. We know the O's will give him the lion's share of starts instead of Joseph; we know his deficiencies will mean Kevin Gausman, Dylan Bundy and co. will have a harder time snagging strikes. The farm system doesn't offer much hope for replacement receivers, so it looks like Baltimore will be stuck with a lot of strikes-turned-balls in 2017.
While there's some other stuff I haven't touched on here — Castillo has a significant platoon split, and he does a decent job at throwing out runners — this sums up his profile pretty well. For $6 million, the Orioles got themselves a possibly heavy-hitting, free-ish-swinging, slow-pitch-missing, non-framing catcher. Would they have been better served making Joseph and/or Francisco Pena the substitute for Wieters? Probably! They decided to take this route, though, so here we find ourselves.