Monday, October 19, 2015

Exit Music (For A Player): Jason Castro

Hey, the wounds are still fresh, so it seems like a fine time to do some evaluating. This is the Exit Music (For A Player) series. Check out other Exit Music (For A Player) posts here

Acquired: 1st Round pick (10th overall) in the 2008 draft out of Stanford University

Age: 28. Castro will be 29 next June.

Contract Status: Arbitration-eligible. Castro will be a free agent in 2017.


Castro made his minor-league debut for the Tri-City ValleyCats in 2008, hitting .275/.383/.384 in 39 games and made his full-season debut in 2009, playing 56 games in Lancaster (.916 OPS) and 63 games in Corpus (.747 OPS). At the 2009 Futures Game, Castro threw out a runner and hit a three-run homer.

Prior to the 2010 season, Castro was Baseball America's #41 prospect with BP rating him at #100. He played 57 games for Round Rock, hitting .265/.365/.355 before getting called up to Houston and debuting on June 22, 2010, when he went 1x4 against the Giants, singling off of two-time reigning Cy Young winner Tim Lincecum.

For the 2010 season, Castro played 67 games, hitting .205/.286/.287. He injured his knee running to first base in a Spring Training game against the Tigers and missed the entire 2011 season - his Age 24 season. Upon his return in 2012, Castro hit .257/.334/.401 - showing a little promise of the breakout season to come in 2013.

2013 Jason Castro was a revelation. Dude hit .276/.350/.485 in 120 games and served as the Astros' lone All-Star on the 111-loss team. How did he do this? Mainly because he learned how to hit lefties. 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, and he posted a 4.4 WAR - the 2nd-highest fWAR posted by an Astros catcher. This was all on the back of a .351 BABIP, mind you. 2014 Jason Castro came back to earth offensively, hitting .222/.286/.366 on a .254 BABIP.  


Coming into 2015, it would have been great to see 2013 walk in to camp, instead, we got 2014 Castro redux, hitting .211/.283/.365 with 115K:33BB in 375 PAs. As a matter of fact, since that 2013 season, Castro has made 887 trips to the plate and posted a .217/.284/.365 slash line - an 81 OPS+, and 2.7 fWAR total.

How did Castro put up such a monstrous 2013, only to see his numbers fall back to below average? A lot of it has to do with how he has hit the ball. In 2013, Castro went up the middle a lot more - 38.2% of the time, with 27.8% of his balls in play going to the opposite field. Only 34% of his balls in play were pulled. Compare that to 2015, when he pulled 47.6% of the balls, and only 28.4% up the middle. He also struck out in 30.7% of his plate appearances in 2015.

Also, he's just not making solid contact. FanGraphs says that 7.4% of the balls he hit were softly hit in 2013. Compare that to 15.7% in 2014 and 10.7% in 2015. And when he did swing the bat in 2015, he didn't make contact all that often, either - swinging and missing at a career high 14.6% of the pitches he saw.

Overall, Castro is an average catcher - with above average defense and pitch framing, and below average with the bat. FanGraphs' Offensive Rating of -10.3 ranked 15th out of 24 catchers with at least 350 PAs. That said, his Defensive Rating of 10.6 was 5th, just behind Yadier Molina's 10.7. This evens out to a 1.3 WAR.

Castro provides value - his arm is pretty good and he calls a decent game. He caught half of Keuchel's 34 starts, 21 of McHugh's 33 starts, and 13 of McCullers' 22 starts. Castro has one more year of arbitration, and I fully expect the Astros to bring him back simply for his defense. Now that some hitters arrived, the Astros aren't as dependent on Castro's bat like they were in 2013.

Franchise Marks:

*Castro's .485 SLG in 2013 ranks 3rd among Astros catchers in a single season.
*His 129 wRC+ in 2013 ranks 2nd among franchise catchers
*Castro holds the three highest K% in a single season in franchise history for catchers
*Castro's 7.7 career WAR in 2nd for an Astros catcher, 2.0 WAR behind Alan Ashby in over 1400 fewer Plate Appearances.
*Castro's 51 home runs are one home run behind Cliff Johnson for career homers by an Astro catcher, and 18 behind franchise leader Alan Ashby.


And here's the rub. Max Stassi is the most likely internal candidate to take Castro's place, in the unlikely event that the Astros part ways with Castro.

In a great 2013 season (76 games/323 plate appearances), Stassi hit .277/.333/.529 for Double-A Corpus, and even got three games behind the plate in Houston before the Ramgers' Tanner Scheppers hit him in the face and ended his season. Stassi opened 2014 at Triple-A, taking a step back by hitting .247/.296/.378. He did get seven games in Houston in 2014, and again found himself at Triple-A to open 2015. This time, things were even worse, hitting .211/.279/.384 in 84 games (328 PAs) before getting another 11 games in Houston at the end of the season, where he even hit his first home run - off Oakland's Dan Otero in the bottom of the 8th on September 19th, a rare game in mid-September that the Astros actually won. Stassi will turn 25 in March.

Tyler Heineman - the other catcher at Fresno this season - will be 25 in June, and is coming off a 2015 in which he hit .271/.312/.370 and only threw out seven of 35 baserunners.

Jacob Nottingham would have been a fine addition to this list, but now he's in the Oakland organization thanks to the Scott Kazmir trade.

Oh, so you want a free agent catcher? O k a y. But here's the list (as of October 19, 2015) of free agent catchers this winter:
-Alex Avila (29 years old)
-Jordan Pacheco (30 years old)
-Matt Wieters (30 years old)
-Jarrod Saltalamacchia (31 years old)
-Dioner Navarro (32 years old)
-Chris Iannetta (33 years old)
-Geovany Soto (33 years old)
-Brayan Pena (34 years old)
-A.J. Pierzynski (39 years old)

The only name that makes a remote amount of sense to me from that list is Saltalamacchia. He hit .251/.332/.474 and hit lefties to the tune of .293/.370/.610 in an admittedly-small 46 plate appearances. Overall, though, the Venti Saltalamacchiato is a replacement-level catcher who does everything, and will certainly cost more than another year of Jason Castro before he hits free agency, and then the Astros can figure out what to do from there. For what it's worth, MLBTR projects Castro's 2016 arbitration salary at $4.6m.


Did Jason Castro Just Finish The Greatest Season For A Catcher In Astros History (September 2013)
Is Stanford To Blame For Castro Not Hitting For Power? (June 2010)