The Importance of Jason Castro
Image courtesy of © Erik Williams-USA TODAY SportsI 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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