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The Importance of Jason Castro

I have seen complaints about many Twins players so far across our comment sections and Twitter. Even Nelson Cruz, who’s been almost unanimously admired by the fan base and maybe the team’s most threatening bat. It happens. No one is to tell you how you should think, no matter how statistically unusual your opinion might be. But there’s one particular take that has spread quickly all over Twins Territory and it puzzles me.
Image courtesy of © Erik Williams-USA TODAY Sports
I don’t think there is any Twin who has been more complained about this season than Jason Castro has. Even though I don’t agree with the large number of fans (at least that I have seen so far) that have been vocal about wanting him gone from the Twins, it’s completely understandable. After all, Minnesota’s offense has been amazing, especially after this past weekend’s series in Baltimore. Castro, very obviously, hasn’t been nearly as productive as his teammates. But ditching him might be too simple of a solution and, in my opinion, not the wisest of choices.

Castro is in the last year of his three-year contract with the Twins, signed in late 2016. Per Baseball Reference, he is the third-highest paid position player on the roster this season, in which he is owed $8 million. At 31 and with two very hot bats battling him for the position of catcher, it’s very unlikely that Minnesota will renew its commitment with Castro after the season is finished. But that doesn’t mean he serves the team no purpose this season.

Since the start of the 2017 season, the Twins haven’t won more games while starting any other catcher than Castro. Here’s the team’s record with each starting catcher since then:

Jason Castro: 70-63 (.526)
Mitch Garver: 38-49 (.436)
Chris Gimenez: 32-29 (.524)
Bobby Wilson: 24-21 (.533)
Willians Astudillo: 10-8 (.555)
Juan Graterol: 2-0 (1.000)

Whether you associate the team’s record with Castro’s presence or not, the numbers don’t lie. The Twins have been a winning team with him behind home plate. But, of course, this could be highly circumstantial and it’s too hard of a connection to make. But, wait. The list of perks from having Castro on board goes on.

The biggest point used by the anti-Castro party so far is how bad he’s been on offense, not only this year, but ever since he came to Minnesota. And that becomes a much stronger point when you have Mitch Garver blossoming into one of the best offensive catchers in the game and also the Willians Astudillo phenomenon captivating our hearts more each day. A lot of folks label Castro as dead weight on offense. But, is he?

Well, he isn’t, for sure, as prolific as the remainder of the Twins lineup. But, to be fair, neither are two thirds of all MLB lineups right now. But that doesn’t mean Castro hasn’t done his part. Right now, he holds the team’s fourth-highest OBP at .375. Other than that, such OBP would have Castro tied for MLB’s sixth best among catchers (min. 32 PA). Technically, he has a .355 OBP while playing only as a catcher, as he has one PA as a pinch hitter. Still, that’s good for 11th best among all catchers in MLB (min. 31 PA). One doesn’t just throw away a Joe Mauer-like occupation of bases just like that.

Besides that, Castro’s .400 OBP and .789 OPS as an eighth batter rank, respectively, second and 10th in MLB among all such hitters (min. 25 PA). This may sound like very little, but when you look at the fact that Minnesota has one of the league’s best bottom parts of the lineup, you can tell how important Castro’s contribution really is. Currently, when taking into account the positions seven, eight and nine of the lineup, Minnesota has a .281 AVG (second in the league), .346 OBP (second), .487 SLG (third) and .833 OPS (third). Say what you want about how Byron Buxton is the biggest responsible for such productivity. You’re right. But you can’t realistically say that Castro hasn’t done his part.

Then, one might point out that Garver and Astudillo have been incomparably more productive on offense and one would definitely be right. They both have been raking, especially my former UNM colleague. If offense was the only aspect on the table, there wouldn’t be a lot of reasons to start Castro over the other two much more than Ehire Adrianza over Jorge Polanco. It wouldn’t make any sense. Well, it isn’t.

At the same proportion that Castro’s offense is not as good as his competition’s, his defense is similarly better than his competition’s. And I’m not just talking about widely explored pitch framing stats, Castro’s biggest upside. Twins pitchers have performed much better while being caught by him than by Garver.

Jason Castro (80.0 innings) - 4.16 ERA, .755 OPS, 64.1% strikes
Mitch Garver (75.0 innings) - 5.88 ERA, .794 OPS, 61.7% strikes

Astudillo’s numbers currently are better than both, with pitchers posting a 3.69 ERA when being caught by him, but his sample size is smaller too. He’s caught pitchers for only 39.0 innings this season so far. And it’s also important to note that Castro’s current CERA went up from 3.57 before the Houston series, in which last game he caught recently promoted Kohl Stewart and Fernando Romero, who ended up giving up seven earned runs combined. So we might be talking about abnormal numbers for him at this moment.

Finally digging into the somewhat popular pitch framing stats, by using Baseball Prospectus’ Framing Runs metric, we can notice that Castro is the 15th-best catcher at it in the MLB, with +0.6. Garver ranks 52nd, with -0.3 and Astudillo (again, with a smaller sample) ranks 50th, with -0.2. This is not a hit at Garver, whom I absolutely enjoy seeing play and am sure is going to be the team’s main catcher for years, but he is still not on the same defensive level as Castro is. But, hey, that’s not even a bad thing, because now we get to Castro’s biggest importance for the Twins.

It’s obvious that Garver can hit. We’ve known this since he was a minor leaguer. But picture this: what if we could get Garver’s offense and combine it with Castro’s defense? That, ladies and gentlemen, could be Jason’s biggest contribution for Minnesota. We have no access to their clubhouse relationship, thus, we can’t say for sure how and if Castro has been helping him. But we do know that Garver has reached out for help on that area, as we saw on this Phil Miller’s story in January. By mentoring Garver, especially defense-wise, Castro could lead him into the Twins best catcher since … well, you know who.

Once again, let me make it clear that I’m not trying to change anyone’s opinion here. But I do give a piece of advice. Instead of getting angry and vent over how bad Castro’s bat is, why not look at him as a source of improvement for one of the Twins biggest hopes for the future? I don’t believe it’s good to take his help for granted. Besides, like demonstrated in the beginning of this article, the Twins are a winning team with Castro on board. It has been like that in 2017, culminating in their first playoffs appearance in almost a decade. They were dreadful without him last year. Now, they are back, at least momentarily, at the top of the Central. This can’t be a coincidence.

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42 Comments

Great take Thieres. Thanks for the write up.

    • Thieres Rabelo likes this
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IndianaTwin
Apr 26 2019 06:30 PM

Good article.

 

I simplify it this way. How much better would the Twins be with Cave active compared to Castro? Little, if any.

 

How much of a hurt would the Twins be in if they DFAed Castro and either Garver or Astudillo would get hurt, necessitating calling up Sawyer or Telis (and it's very likely one would get hurt -- few teams make it through a whole season with two healthy catchers)? Quite a bit.

 

Don't cut Castro.

    • Danchat, Sconnie, CUtomorrownight and 3 others like this
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yarnivek1972
Apr 26 2019 06:52 PM
Until this year, most of Garver’s starts were vs LHP. The current core of Twins, despite some big righty bats, has been bad vs lefty starters.

I would also point out that the Twins have a better record with Astudillo behind the dish than Castro.
I think the important takeaway here is don’t listen to Twitter
    • Brock Beauchamp, PDX Twin, gagu and 2 others like this
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jorgenswest
Apr 26 2019 07:15 PM
The Twins need Castro. He three catchers are all valuable and have a role on this team.
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jorgenswest
Apr 26 2019 07:19 PM

Until this year, most of Garver’s starts were vs LHP. The current core of Twins, despite some big righty bats, has been bad vs lefty starters.
I would also point out that the Twins have a better record with Astudillo behind the dish than Castro.


I don’t think it was true last year that most of his starts were against lefties. In fact his ratio of left to right was reasonably normal last year. He did better against right handed pitching.

The Twins did platoon him for much of last year. He caught Odorizzi and Lynn with Wilson catching Gibson and Berrios. The platoon wasn’t based on the opposing pitcher.
    • ScrapTheNickname likes this

Time will resolve this issue.But, I would prefer to see more Garver-Tortuga as the season moves on. 

I don’t have a big issue with Castro. But it seems like he’s been given more starts with better pitchers i.e. J.O. Berrios. Comparing era for catchers without considering who’s pitching seems unfair.
That being said. Castro is an asset. If all 3 catchers stay healthy and on track, he could be traded for a more needed asset later.
    • Thieres Rabelo likes this
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Aerodeliria
Apr 27 2019 08:01 AM
I'm not advocating dumping Castro (at least for the present), but the data here are skewed. The Twins were a bad team last year and Garver and Wilson had the misfortune of being the catchers for most of the year. If Castro had been healthy would the Twins have won many more games? Not very likely, so his numbers would have dropped precipitously.

Just imagine if we'd had the internet in 1989 to have this argument over Tim Laudner vs Brian Harper. :P

 

Fortunately, Astudillo has plenty of positional flexibility and even Garver can slot in to other spots on the field (he's ok at 1B and can survive in RF if needed) so its not like we're wasting a roster spot by holding three catchers and not being able to get them all time.

 

Castro doesn't hit well, but he does a lot for the staff and the team. I have no problems with playing out his contract, especially because we have some hitters on the team. But moreover, I don't believe in overreacting to 20 games. There's a reason you rarely see deals in April.

    • Joe A. Preusser and howieramone2 like this
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stringer bell
Apr 27 2019 08:14 AM

Castro is OK. Yes, I agree it is unlikely the Twins will want him back next year, but for right now he belongs on the team. With three viable catchers, all of them will be underworked, but they probably can stay fresh into the heat of the season. I like that he has a lefty bat in the bottom of the order. 

    • gagu and Thieres Rabelo like this

 

Until this year, most of Garver’s starts were vs LHP. The current core of Twins, despite some big righty bats, has been bad vs lefty starters.

I would also point out that the Twins have a better record with Astudillo behind the dish than Castro.

228 PA against right handers, 107 against LH. Started 82 games,appeared in 102. I don't think the numbers would begin to support your statement

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nicksaviking
Apr 27 2019 09:03 AM
I don’t mind keeping Castro, my problem is how many starts he’s getting.
    • Dman and Thieres Rabelo like this
Don’t buy any of the numbers and I think his defense is overrated. That said I would keep him unless they are out of it at the trade deadline
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Hosken Bombo Disco
Apr 27 2019 09:51 AM
If we are going to argue that the Houston series skewed his fielding/defense numbers, then we can also argue that the Houston series inflated his offensive numbers.

In any case, good article. My beef with Castro was never so much about Castro, than it was with other people claiming Castro was a league average hitter. Castro is good behind the plate and anything he gives us at the plate in 2019 is a bonus.
    • Thieres Rabelo likes this

I wouldn’t release or trade Castro... I wouldn’t even consider it. He’s a decent baseball player with value. but right now I’d play Garver more.

As for the winning percentage comparison. I was driving my car on interstate across the plains in the North Dakota countryside and I got 40 MPG. My friend from Knoxville bought the exact same car and drove up and down the hills in the city exclusively towing his boat and he got 20 MPG and he thinks there is something wrong with his car and is now complaining to the factory because he knows I got 40 MPG.

In other words: it sure helps the fuel economy when you don’t have to drive up and down the hills pulling the boat that was last year in Twins Territory. His injury and subsequent lack of playing time in the sinking ship last year is gonna help those win percentages. 

    • Thieres Rabelo likes this

My beef with Castro was never so much about Castro, than it was with other people claiming Castro was a league average hitter. Castro is good behind the plate and anything he gives us at the plate in 2019 is a bonus.


I think the term “league average” sometimes needs more context. Actually, Castro’s been slightly better than league average during his career...and very near league-average even in recent years...if you compare him to other catchers...which is probably the only relevant context. If you also buy that he’s at least average defensively, he’s a player you can win with at the bottom of the lineup. I like that the Twins seem to have better offensive options at the position. It’s a good problem to have.
    • Dman and howieramone2 like this
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KirbyDome89
Apr 27 2019 12:20 PM
  • Teams wins while Castro is behind the plate are about as relevant as pitching wins, i.e. they're not.
  • 32 PAs isn't a SSS? 39 innings caught apparently was for Willians.
  • It's convenient that the minimum PAs for catchers in determining these rankings was set at 32, that just happens to be the exact number Castro has on the year. 
  • Castro can't hold Mauer's jock when it comes to handling the bat, there's no need to even mention the two in the same breath. 
  • His OBP as the 8th hitter is the ultimate SSS, but even worse his numbers are being mashed together with far more productive hitters in the bottom third and he's being given equal credit for the aggregate stats. 
  • Pitcher ERA while each guy is catching doesn't really tell us anything. That point was made clear when Castro's rising CERA was excused due to Stewart and Romero tanking the rubber match in Houston.
  • Yes, he's a superior pitch framer. That's never been questioned. 

 

I don't see many arguing that Castro isn't a major league catcher. The point being made is that he brings far less offense to the table than either Astudillo or Garver, and a majority of his defensive value is tied to pitch framing. Castro's m.o. isn't that of a guy who's going to gun out runners or smother balls in the dirt. If Astudillo falls off or Garver gets hurt than of course having Castro would be great. The versatility of Marwin and Willians allows Castro to take up an active roster spot without putting the team in a bind. I won't cry if he finishes the season with the team, but I'd like to see more of Garver/Astudillo, andif the Twins get a decent offer, and the duo of Garver/Astudillo continue as they have, then I certainly wouldn't lament a trade. There are a lot of reasons the 19' Twins are playing better than their 18' counterpart, Castro is way down on that list. Yeah, it's a coincidence more than anything.  

 

    • Dman likes this
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Thieres Rabelo
Apr 27 2019 07:06 PM

 

Great take Thieres. Thanks for the write up.

I really appreciate your comment, mate! God bless you!

    • Riverbrian likes this
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Joe A. Preusser
Apr 27 2019 07:10 PM
Castro's OPS is awesome.
    • Thieres Rabelo likes this
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Thieres Rabelo
Apr 27 2019 07:13 PM

 

I'm not advocating dumping Castro (at least for the present), but the data here are skewed. The Twins were a bad team last year and Garver and Wilson had the misfortune of being the catchers for most of the year. If Castro had been healthy would the Twins have won many more games? Not very likely, so his numbers would have dropped precipitously.

Neither of the scenarios will ever be answered, but, the same way that you feel like the team wouldn't have won more games, I think the opposite. I do believe that pitchers perform better with Castro. If that's true, it's plausible to believe that instead of 78 wins, this team could have won some more games. Not enough to make the postseason, but still.

    • gagu likes this
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Thieres Rabelo
Apr 27 2019 07:16 PM

 

If we are going to argue that the Houston series skewed his fielding/defense numbers, then we can also argue that the Houston series inflated his offensive numbers.

In any case, good article. My beef with Castro was never so much about Castro, than it was with other people claiming Castro was a league average hitter. Castro is good behind the plate and anything he gives us at the plate in 2019 is a bonus.

 

If we are going to argue that the Houston series skewed his fielding/defense numbers, then we can also argue that the Houston series inflated his offensive numbers.

Hi, Hosken! Not really. I posted a version of this article on my blog on Sunday, just before the Houston series. His offensive numbers didn't change as much as you think after the games against the Astros. You can check them here: http://twinsdaily.co...ance-of-castro/

    • Hosken Bombo Disco likes this
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Brock Beauchamp
Apr 27 2019 08:00 PM

I'm not advocating dumping Castro (at least for the present), but the data here are skewed. The Twins were a bad team last year and Garver and Wilson had the misfortune of being the catchers for most of the year. If Castro had been healthy would the Twins have won many more games? Not very likely, so his numbers would have dropped precipitously.

The Twins won 78 games last year. They weren’t exactly terrible.
    • howieramone2 likes this
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Brock Beauchamp
Apr 27 2019 08:02 PM

If we are going to argue that the Houston series skewed his fielding/defense numbers, then we can also argue that the Houston series inflated his offensive numbers.

In any case, good article. My beef with Castro was never so much about Castro, than it was with other people claiming Castro was a league average hitter. Castro is good behind the plate and anything he gives us at the plate in 2019 is a bonus.

Is anyone claiming Castro is a league average hitter or are they claiming he’s a league average hitter for a catcher?

Big difference there.
    • ashbury, howieramone2, gagu and 2 others like this

As a hitter for a catcher... I have no issues with Jason Castro at all. He hits like a Catcher. Bobby Wilson couldn't even hit like a catcher so I had issues with Wilson. 

 

Now if you compare how Garver and Astudillo are hitting "For a Catcher". 

 

No matter how good Castro is defensively. The offensive numbers have to be strong consideration for surpassing the defensive benefits. 

 

But again... I'm not moving Castro... we are not deep enough behind the plate to move him. 

    • Brandon and KirbyDome89 like this

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