Saturday, October 19, 2013

Exit Music (For A Player): Jason Castro

We're taking a look at the Astros who are still on the 40-Man Roster as part of our off-season Exit Music (For A Player) recap of 2013. Read the archive here. Today we take on Jason Castro.

Acquired: Drafted, 1st Round (10th overall), 2008

120 games played, 491 PAs, .276/.350/.485, 130 OPS+
Baseball-Reference WAR: 4.5
FanGraphs WAR: 4.3
Walk Percentage: 10.2%
Strikeout Percentage: 26.5%
2013 Salary: $496,000

Jason Castro was a revelation this season - the player for which we had held our breath, but didn't actually envision happening. His 4.3 WAR (via FanGraphs) was the best on the team by 3.0 WAR. It was the 2nd-highest WAR season by an Astros catcher (behind Joe Ferguson's 4.6 WAR in 1977). His 18 homers were the most ever by an Astros catcher. Among catchers who played in more than 100 games for the Astros, Castro's 2013 season ranked 2nd in wRC+, with 130. Basically, it was statistically one of the best seasons by an Astros catcher in team history. Among 2008 1st Round picks, Castro ranks tied for 3rd in career WAR, at 5.6. Buster Posey (#5 overall) is your leader at 17.5, and Brett Lawrie is 2nd at 10.2.

Castro ranked 4th among all MLB catchers in WAR, behind Yadier Molina (5.6), Joe Mauer (5.2) and Buster Posey (4.8). Among catchers with 450+ PAs, he's one of three catchers with a positive Baserunning rating (via FanGraphs), and his .485 SLG was only one point behind Colorado's Willin Rosario for the MLB lead. Jason Castro is 26 years old. 

High-Water Mark:
August 24 vs. Toronto. Castro goes 3x4 with a double and two home runs (3RBI) in an 8-5 win.

Honorable Mention:
July 31 @ Baltimore. Castro goes 3x4 with two doubles, a home run, and 4RBI in an 11-0 win.

What Went Well:
*Castro learned how to hit left-handed pitching. In 2012, Castro got 57 PAs against LHP, and it's easy to see why: he hit .148/.175/.185. Apparently over the winter, he sold his soul to the left-handed devil, and in 111 PAs hit .242/.324/.414 - an OPS swing of 378 points.
*There's no place like Minute Maid Park for Castro, who hit .284/.360/.544 in 61 games at home. He hit a respectable .268/.341/.427 on the road, but those home splits are fancy.
*For the first time in his career, Castro posted a positive rating against Fastballs. Where he was -13.0 and -3.2 vs. the fastball in 2010 and 2012, respectively, Castro had a nice +16.0 rating against the fastball in 2013.

What Didn't:
*Dat knee. The knee injury that caused Castro to lose the entire 2011 season played tricks on him in September, limiting him to four games before having a cyst drained off the knee and shutting him down for the season. It's not a structural issue, so that's good, but the Astros are going to have to handle him softly down the road to make sure he holds up.
*Passed balls, man. Castro allowed ten passed balls in 2013, good enough for 3rd-worst in the AL. The Astros were 0-8 in games where he allowed a passed ball (which means they were 51-103 when he didn't, so whatever.) He did turn six double plays at catcher, which was 3rd-most in the AL, but Castro needs to tighten up that glove.
*Strangely enough, Castro made far less contact in 2013 than he did in 2012. When swinging at pitches outside the strike zone, Castro made contact 59.1% of the time (compared to 63.5% in 2012); he made contact when swinging at pitches inside the strike zone 79% of the time in 2013, compared to 89.9% in 2012, and he made contact 72.1% of the time overall, compared to 81.7% in 2012. Of course the contact he did make in 2013 was louder than in 2012, but his Swinging Strike rate rose to 12.4% in 2013, compared to 7.6% in 2012.

2014 contract: 1st-year arbitration-eligible. It's reasonable to think that he'll make between $2.2 and $3m in 2014, though the Astros could decide to pull the trigger on a long-term extension, buying out his arbitration years if they think that 2013 Castro is the real one. They may wait another year to see how his knee holds up.
2014 outlook: I can handle the passed balls if it means that Castro is one of the premier offensive catchers in the league in 2014.