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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

 

The Twins won 78 games last year. They weren’t exactly terrible.

 

We had to finish the season 11-3 to get to 78-82. 

 

We may not have been exactly terrible... but I wouldn't have tried to correct anyone who used the adjective "terrible" to describe it. 

    • Danchat likes this
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Brock Beauchamp
Apr 27 2019 08:36 PM

We had to finish the season 11-3 to get to 78-82.

We may not have been exactly terrible... but I wouldn't have tried to correct anyone who used the adjective "terrible" to describe it.

Yet Castro wasn’t a part of any of it past the first ~25 games so it doesn’t really matter how they played the stretch or if they finished strong.
    • gagu likes this

 

Yet Castro wasn’t a part of any of it past the first 17-18 games so it doesn’t really matter how they played the stretch or if they finished strong.

 

According to that winning percentage data.

 

It's all Garver's Fault. 

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Brock Beauchamp
Apr 27 2019 08:43 PM

According to that winning percentage data.

It's all Garver's Fault.

I don’t agree with the usage of win percentage data for a catcher but you’re barking up the wrong tree here. I simply replied to a statement the Twins were a bad team in 2018; they were not.
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Hosken Bombo Disco
Apr 27 2019 08:44 PM

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.

Catchers. Straw man not intended.

Even among catchers, however, the data doesn’t really support him being near mid-point or average, at least as I interpret it. Here is the list, sorted for 500 PAs and OPS since 2017. Castro rings in about 28 out of 40, and glancing up the list you might be reminded there are a lot of good hitting catchers in the league. However, I’m not trying to change anyone’s mind because I think he’s the right guy for the right moment and he’s off to a good start in 2019, and the team is winning.

https://www.fangraph...ers=0&sort=10,d
    • Sconnie likes this

 

I don’t agree with the usage of win percentage data for a catcher but you’re barking up the wrong tree here. I simply replied to a statement the Twins were a bad team in 2018; they were not.

 

And so ends the conversation. 

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Brock Beauchamp
Apr 27 2019 09:15 PM

Catchers. Straw man not intended.

Even among catchers, however, the data doesn’t really support him being near mid-point or average, at least as I interpret it. Here is the list, sorted for 500 PAs and OPS since 2017. Castro rings in about 28 out of 40, and glancing up the list you might be reminded there are a lot of good hitting catchers in the league. However, I’m not trying to change anyone’s mind because I think he’s the right guy for the right moment and he’s off to a good start in 2019, and the team is winning.

https://www.fangraph...ers=0&sort=10,d

That seems about right to me. Castro had an atrocious start to 2018 before getting injured and in today's game, catchers are often platooned favorably. Castro was an everyday catcher who didn't get platooned hardly at all. His career L/R splits are .739/.568.

Do I want Castro as a traditional "starting catcher"? Hell no.

But he's a good defensive catcher who can teach some pretty bad/mediocre defenders the ropes while also providing a good platoon split on the strong side of the platoon.

Frankly, the "get rid of Castro" crowd seems to be treating catcher as if it’s just another position on the diamond and not a highly specialized defensive position that can sink a team. Castro is a capable hitter from from the strong side of a platoon, he's a good defender, and he has the capability to teach some defensively questionable younger catchers (who also hit from the other side of the platoon) how to catch in the modern game.

So, yeah, let's just get rid of that guy.
    • gagu and Thieres Rabelo like this
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jorgenswest
Apr 27 2019 10:31 PM
A catchers defense can have a huge impact. They are involved with calling and receiving every pitch. A difference in 40 points of on base percentage is about 1 extra time on base for a full week of play. There are so many opportunities for a good defensive catcher to make up for that deficit and much more in a week of play.
    • Brock Beauchamp, Dman, gagu and 1 other like this

Giving catchers the credit for winning games based on pitch calling is pure BS. A lot of pitches are called from the bullpen and relayed to the catcher and a lot of pitches are shaken off by the pitcher. Most pitchers know what they want to throw and when. The majority of the time the signs from the catcher are just to get both he and the pitcher on the same page so the catcher knows what is coming.

By showing winning records by catcher this article is tacitly assuming that catchers are the most valuable players in baseball. Fine, but we can't use win-loss records to prove this. We need a CIBB stat, catching independent batted balls, similar to FIP for pitchers. The catcher can't control what happens once the bat hits the ball.

 

Get on this and let us know if this proves your hypothesis.

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

If Castro moves any deeper, the umpire will stop giving the borderline calls, on the grounds that he can not see.

 

The importance of Castro lies almost entirely in the rules, namely how guys without minor-league options can not be treated the same way as those who do still have them. Had we dispensed with Castro earlier in 2019, we'd be feeling uncomfortable now, with Astudillo dinged up. Had Astudillo been optioned (the other main alternative if that spot on the roster was needed), and then got dinged up at Rochester, we still have two MLB-caliber catchers - and if one of the other two catchers was dinged instead, likewise with a quick call-up.

 

It boils down to not doing the irreversible roster move until you have to.

 

 

    • Riverbrian and Sconnie like this

Castro is miles and miles better behind the plate than either of the other two Twins catchers. That's why he will continue to get a large percentage of the playing time.

 

Garver isn't this good a hitter, either.

    • Brock Beauchamp likes this
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KirbyDome89
Apr 28 2019 01:40 PM

 

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. 

I think this is where a vast majority of us are at, the only difference being varying degrees of comfort with moving on from Castro. 

    • Riverbrian likes this

 

If Castro moves any deeper, the umpire will stop giving the borderline calls, on the grounds that he can not see.

 

The importance of Castro lies almost entirely in the rules, namely how guys without minor-league options can not be treated the same way as those who do still have them. Had we dispensed with Castro earlier in 2019, we'd be feeling uncomfortable now, with Astudillo dinged up. Had Astudillo been optioned (the other main alternative if that spot on the roster was needed), and then got dinged up at Rochester, we still have two MLB-caliber catchers - and if one of the other two catchers was dinged instead, likewise with a quick call-up.

 

It boils down to not doing the irreversible roster move until you have to.

 

Agreed

 

And this is coming from the guy who was more than willing to banish either Astudillo or Garver to Rochester to start the season to preserve that depth knowing they were a phone call away.

 

I just never saw all 3 of them on the roster and especially not this long.

 

 

And I really didn't see Garver improving so much defensively and hitting two home runs every AB.:)

    • ashbury and gagu like this
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Brock Beauchamp
Apr 28 2019 03:16 PM
It shouldn’t be lost on anyone that had the Twins (pointlessly) discarded Castro, their backup catcher would currently be a waiver wire pickup.

And this is why you don’t throw away MLB catchers.
    • Sconnie likes this

 

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.

The Turtle blames you....

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Aerodeliria
May 06 2019 01:11 AM

 

The Twins won 78 games last year. They weren’t exactly terrible.

 

i consider bad and terrible as not being exactly identical. I said 'bad.' I think the Twins were a bad team. The Royals were a terrible team.


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