What do the Reds have in Luis Castillo?

The Cincinnati Reds can’t pitch.

That’s not just my opinion, it’s the unfortunate reality. The 2018 Reds finished 27th in FIP, a stat that aims to produce an ERA-like value based on the outcomes a pitcher controls (strikeouts, unintentional walks, hit-by-pitches and home runs). Yikes.

I wrote in December that Alex Wood, acquired in the Yasiel Puig trade, instantly became the Reds’ best starter and I stand by that. He’s not incredible (153 innings, 3.53 FIP in 2018) but he’s good, and good goes a long way when you’re at the bottom. Winning teams carry pitchers like Alex Wood.

The other glimmer of hope for Reds fans is young Luis Castillo. Acquired in the 2017 trade of Dan Straily to the Miami Marlins, Castillo debuted that same season and has fairly electric stuff. He’s working with a good frame for a pitcher (6’2″, 190 pounds) and that fastball certainly looks the part:

Castillo fastball.gif

And the change, wow:

Castillo change.gif

Pair that sucker up nicely with the fastball and you’re in for many delightful strikeouts. Castillo has the arsenal to be a serious major league starter, obviously. In 2018, he gobbled up 169 innings at a 4.32 FIP. Not bad, but hardly exciting.

Why? His walk rate isn’t hateful (8.9%, worse than average but not egregious). He generates plenty of strikeouts and likely will add more as he matures (23.3%, better than league average). For Castillo, the issue is clear: he gives up a lot of bombs, 28 to be exact (14 apiece home and away, surprisingly enough). The league average for home runs per fly ball was 13.1%. Castillo ended up at 17.9%, second-worst in the sport. Yikes.

So how do we process this? Castillo has electric stuff but gets hit hard sometimes. Why? Well, let’s not forget that he’s only 26 and there’s something to be said for learning how to get outs. It’s hard to consistently sit Major League hitters down.

But if we try to dig into the numbers a bit more, it seems two things are true:

  1. Luis Castillo has a filthy, swing-and-miss changeup
  2. Luis Castillo has a hard but hittable fastball

Why do I say that? The changeup rated as 5th best in baseball among starters with enough innings to qualify, according to Fangraphs. He gets a lot of swings and misses with it out of the strike zone, as evidenced not only by the numbers but the eye test. Just watch that gif a few more times like I did and you run the risk of being mesmerized. That change is no joke.

However, among starters who averaged more than 95 MPH on their fastball, his fastball was the worst. It’s a small group, but alas. I’m a huge fan of tunneling — the idea that all your pitches look the same out of the hand. I’m not a scout, but might his delivery be tougher to repeat? I’m not in a position to say, but it crossed my mind. Given that there were stories last season about issues with release point and overall mechanics, this could have just been an issue with his delivery.

Look, young pitchers struggle with this. Castillo is hardly alone, but don’t let that frustrate you too much. He has a lot to work with and could be on the precipice of a breakthrough. Castillo is starting off on third base, so to speak — it might only take a small tweak to unlock an All-Star. Given the stuff and the early results, Castillo is a darn good candidate to turn in some electric outings along the Ohio River in the coming years.

Feel free to be excited, Reds fans.

 

 

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