15 December 2016

What To Know About Welington Castillo

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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:

Player     Soft%         Hard%         ISO         BABIP         wRC+    
  Castillo   15.6% 36.0% .161 .314 98
Trumbo 16.8% 36.1% .222 .291 112

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    
2012 4.1 -4.0 2.2
2013 8.3 -3.0 -2.7
2014 -1.8 -0.7 0.1
2015 -0.8 -3.3 3.5
2016 14.3 -9.3 -3.9
Data via FanGraphs' Pitch Type Linear Weights

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.


Pip said...

Please say at least he's better than Nick Hundley? Please say at least he's better than Nick Hundley?

Anonymous said...

And, he's just as good as our previous catcher, and he will never be referred to as "Switch-hitting Jesus", thank the Lord, no pun intended!

tony2302 said...

and he's the best the Orioles could manage? smh :(

Matt Kremnitzer said...

He's better than Nick Hundley.

Anonymous said...

But not Todd Hundley!

Unknown said...

To be fair, Wieters had most of the same weaknesses, a very similar set of career hitting numbers, and is a little bit older with a more frightening injury history. I think if anything it represents a small upgrade from what we dealt with last year, even if it's not a dream scenario.

Roger said...

And cheaper than Wieters.

Jimbob said...

This is a pretty pathetic analysis... So he can't frame pitches, big whoop.

He's a moderately better hitter than Wieters, slashing .264/.322/.423 compared to .243/.302/.409 in 2016.

According to Baseball Info Solutions, he was +2 DRS last season. He blocked more pitches than anyone in baseball, and did so at the 8th highest rate. I believe he is also similar in his ability to throw out runners.

Castillo had 2.4 bWAR and 1.7 fWAR, compared to Wieters' 1.7 from Fangraphs and Baseball-Reference.

He is also a year younger, lacks the injury history of Wieters, and has a platoon split that favors left-handed pitching (something the Orioles desperately need).

Most importantly, he's only making $6 million for one year! Sisco will probably be ready by next year, so hopefully Castillo plays well and opts out of his player option. If he has a down year and accepts the option, he can still split time with Sisco while only making $7 million...

So compared to Wieters he is better, cheaper, younger, less injury-prone, and we are committed to him for a shorter period of time. Winters has always been vastly overrated because of the 'potential' he never reached.

Explain to me again how this could be characterized as a bad deal? Very lazy, biased, and uninformed post.

Jon Shepherd said...

Well, include what he is in his entirety. If we do not include pitch framing, then his WAR values look wonderful and one would sit there and be completely perplexed how a guy who would rate as an average starting catcher could be untradable, nontendered, and then paid as a very good backup catcher. One might stop and consider that. Why would the way he was treated be possible given his performance metrics? Well, framing is not included in them. Framing drops him into the 0 to 1 WAR range. He is terrible at it, so it takes away his value by 1 to 1.5 WAR. Knowing that bit of information, everything makes sense.

Comparing him to Wieters is an unneeded comparison. It really should not guide the conversation. The actual contention would be are there replacement level catchers available who cost less than 6 MM? That answer is yes.

Roger said...

So who's a better framer among the remaining candidates now that Castro is off the market. Jon, I think you're mistaken on the comparison and the choice because that O's were really choosing between Castillo and Wieters, so what jimbob says has some merit. Castillo is the only other guy that's as good in a non-framing atmosphere as Wieters. IF the O's use their catchers well, for example, letting Joseph be Tillman's personal catcher then Gausmann and Bundy may not be as susceptible to poor framing issues. Gallardo and jimenez are lost causes and Miley may benefit from Joseph some. Honestly, with the exception of Tillman, I'm not sure the other pitchers will be affected that much by framing. Maybe that's another analysis someone could do. Who benefits and/or is hurt by framing? Can't that be measured? If you have a pitching staff that is immune (for better or worse) to framing then doesn't it make sense to buy a catcher that can hit, block, and throw out baserunners???

Jon Shepherd said...

Framing is an issue with Castillo and moreso than Wieters. And no, we are not limited to those two. Again, the issue is whether it makes sense to throw 6 MM at a near replacement level player.

The only pitcher who would be immune to framing would be one who had insane whiff rates in the zone. That does not describe any Orioles pitcher or perhaps any pitcher.

Fred-Nuñez said...

fans usually tend to not care for framing pitches but this is going to be a big hit to the starters, specially a young staff, I expect the O's pitchers to rank among the worst from the AL thanks to Castillo. Yes he has a good bat.. but for a team with inconsistent pitching from the starters this is going to be killer. Look at the Diamondbacks staff, they have some good talent with miller, greinke and colbin i am sure they are excited to have him gone. Greinke went from one of the best framers to one of the worst and just look at the numbers .......

Unknown said...

I find it interesting that no one seems to be commenting that Dan Duquette essentially gave Castillo an opt-out after one year, although it's being called a "player option." After his pious bleating about the disadvantages of opt-outs in the wake of the Dexter Fowler negotiations, I would have thought Duquette's hypocrisy would have been pointed out.

Matt Kremnitzer said...

Joe, that's been a popular topic among some fans on Twitter. Jon Meoli also covered that here: http://www.baltimoresun.com/sports/orioles/blog/bal-how-the-welington-castillo-signing-could-inform-the-rest-of-the-orioles-offseason-20161216-story.html

Maybe he's only comfortable with offering this type of contract for 1+1 deals, but it does seem a bit odd. Hopefully it means they're relenting somewhat.

Pip said...

I point it out all the time. Dan has very few of the virtues of consistency. He is quite happy to say one thing on Monday and do exactly the opposite on Tuesday.
Of all the holes that the Orioles needed to fill, catcher was the smallest priority, and they have hired a player who is less valuable than the ones they already had, and much more expensive

Matt Kremnitzer said...

While I agree that you should take what Duquette (or any coach or GM, really) says with a grain of salt, we aren't talking about a long-term deal here. Maybe that's what the Orioles are mostly against, but maybe not. The important thing is they should be more flexible. Besides, unless there's some kind of opt-out involved, they probably won't re-sign someone like Manny Machado anyway (however small of a chance there is of that happening).

You might not like Castillo a whole lot, and the deal doesn't seem like a superb one. But it's more than fair. Of all the things to criticize about Duquette, this is not near the top of the list.

Anonymous said...

Sorry if I came across a bit harsh in my critique of the article.

I think its very important to compare Castillo to Wieters since he would've been the only other logical replacement.

Honestly, I was under the assumption that pitch-framing was included in at least one of the WAR calculations through its' defensive evaluation. If not, that paints a different picture. However, I stand by my opinion that Castillo is, at minimum, relatively similar in value to Wieters. His value will just be more reflected in the bat than in the more discrete framing.

Also, while I am clueless to this, I would think that framing is easier to teach, practice, and improve than hitting. Even if thats not the case I hope the Orioles drill Castillo hard all spring with this.

The main value in this deal is the minimal commitment, meaning the Orioles can hopefully use their resources in other areas instead of wasting it for minimal returns at one position. This is especially true with the hope of Sisco coming up.

Another small caveat is that Castillo will still essentially be playing in a contract year, compared to Wieters who would have a longer deal. For some reason (I could be very off-base here) Wieters seems like a player that would become complacent after getting a fat contract (I am suspicious of ANY player's motives/actions when they have Boras as an agent).

I really hope Angelos reallocates saved resources here to another need (SP, Machado extension). The potential catastrophe of this deal is that the Orioles pitching plummets even harder with terrible framing. All deals have potential downside, but I think this deal is a classic, shrewd Orioles move from the last few years that tends to payoff better than expected.

I was also never a fan of Wieters, he always seemed disappointing and overrated by most (especially Bordick, Palmer, and Thorne). Let's hope Angelos puts this saved $$$ to good use!