Archive for the ‘Luis Castillo’ Category

Suckond Base

Thursday, August 5th, 2010

The offensive output from Mets’ second basemen has been pretty dreadful.  This should really come as no surprise to anybody who has watched a Mets game this year.  I’m not really going out on a limb by saying that Luis Castillo, Alex Cora, and Ruben Tejada have been bad hitters, this season.  The question I’m concerned with is, exactly how bad have they been in 2010?  How can we put their poor level of play in perspective?  Here’s an attempt to show just how badly they have hit this season.

After posting one of his best-ever line drive rates in 2009, Luis Castillo has crashed back down to Earth, hitting a career-high percentage of ground balls while hitting a career-low percentage of line drives.  The end result has been a .257 BABIP, which is about what you’d expect out of a player hitting line drives about 14.7% of the time. Castillo’s BABIP doesn’t usually stray too far from his batting average, as he pretty much always puts the ball in play; he rarely strikes out and never homers.  All told, Castillo has “produced” a .242/.336/.284/.620 line on the season.  This makes him the best hitting Mets second baseman by a fair margin this season.  For this production, Castillo will make $6 million this year.

Alex Cora is posting career-low totals in just about everything.  He’s struggling to hit above .200, he has provided no power to speak of (9 extra base hits in 187 PA), and he rarely walks.  This has produced a downright ugly .207/.265/.278/.543 line on the season.  His batted ball numbers are pretty consistent with his career lines, and yet he’s posted a career-low .226 BABIP, which does not vibe well with his line drive percentage, so it’s possible he’s due for an upturn in luck over the last two months. He’s still not going to get a whole lot better, and it’s borderline crazy that the team valued his contributions to be worth $2 million this season, with a vesting option for next season to add insanity on top of crazy.

I don’t want to rip Ruben Tejada, as he had no business being in the major leagues as a 20 year old.  He was overpromoted after injuries to Castillo and Jose Reyes forced the Mets to carry an extra middle infielder while Cora was forced into a starting role, which says more about the Mets’ depth issues in Buffalo than it does about Tejada’s own talents.  Still, it’s worth pointing out that Tejada has outhit Cora on the season with a .211/.297/.250/.547 line, though when there are several pitchers in the National League who have outhit Cora, I’m not sure if that’s anything worth bragging about.  

It is interesting to point out that despite a much better defensive reputation, it’s Tejada who has produced a negative UZR rating at second base this year, with a -1.5 in only 166 innings.  By comparison, Cora and Castillo have been about average defensively, with Cora producing a 1.3 UZR in 344 innings, and Castillo producing a 1.1 UZR in 438 innings.  Judging by my own eyes, though, I would like to see a larger sample size for both before conceding that either Cora or Castillo is a good defender.

Now that we’ve established that Castillo, Cora, and Tejada have been bad this year, let’s try to put thsi in perspective.  They are 26th in the majors in on-base percentage, thanks entirely to Luis Castillo’s batting eye, the one useful hitting skill held by a Mets’ second baseman. They are eleventh in walks, with Castillo leading the way (28 of their 42 walks came from him in roughly half their plate appearances). They are dead last in the majors in slugging percentage, ahead of only the sixth-best organization in baseball Seattle Mariners.  The Mets are the only team in baseball without so much as a single home run by a second baseman this season, and only two teams have fewer doubles this season than the Mets, which goes a long way towards explaining that league-low slugging percentage.

All told, Mets second basemen have produced a .232/.306/.289/.594 line on the season.  That .594 OPS is the worst in the major leagues at second base by over 30 points.  If you prefer more advanced statistics, their .273 wOBA, 8 points behind the 29th ranked Cubs.  That is a truly woeful wOBA.  Your eyes do not deceive you; Mets second basemen have been the worst hitting in the majors this season.  For the privilege, the Mets have paid $8 million, and are scheduled to spend another $8 million on the same cast of characters again next season.

To be fair, this isn’t the worst collective hitting performance by a team at a specific position this season.  The Mariners*, Nationals, Tigers, and Astros have had worse performances out of their catchers, the Mariners*, Astros, and Orioles have had worse performances out of their shortstops, the Mariners* and Angels have had worst performances from their third basemen, the Indians have seen their center fielders perform worse this season, and the Mariners* have gotten worse from their designated hitter spot.

* And you wonder why the #6org tag exists; that’s four separate positions where the Seattle Mariners have had worse offensive performances than 2010 Mets second basemen!

The front office simply cannot afford this type of production at second base again next season.  Most enlightened baseball fans felt that giving Luis Castillo $24 million over four seasons after the 2007 season was an unwise decision, as he was a no-power second baseman whose only skills at the time were legging out ground balls for base hits and batting eye, and he was gradually starting to lose his legs.  Today, his legs are gone and all that remains is the batting eye.  Whether it be Omar Minaya or (hopefully) somebody else, the team cannot afford to punt an entire position this badly next season.

Leave Castillo Be

Wednesday, August 4th, 2010

Luis Castillo shouldn’t be on this team. Three off-seasons ago when Ed Wade (who would’ve thought?) offered the then 32-year-old slap-hitter a three-year, $18 million to man the keystone in Houston, the Mets relationship with Luis should have ended right there. Say “thank you” and nab the compensation pick. Instead, Mets brass decided to not only match the offer, but enhance it by a guaranteed year.

Castillo’s profile was well-established at the time: outstanding contact hitter who uses speed to pile up infield hits; very disciplined at the plate; minimal power, but swings a stronger stick right-handed; an excellent bunter; a sure-handed second baseman with declining range. The Mets knew this and decided to lock him up anyway — until the age of 36! — when his knees threatened to deteriorate his already limited skills.

Still, I can’t help but feel sorry for Castillo sometimes — particularly, when he comes to the plate with a runner on second base. He takes his usual pitch or two or three, and generally finds himself ahead in the count. Almost on cue, one of Gary, Keith and Ron will complain about Castillo’s patience.

He takes the next pitch — either a ball or called strike on the corner.

“Luis has got to swing at that!”

Why? The man’s swung at 35.5 percent of pitches throughout his career. With that approach he’s hitting .291 with a .368 on-base percentage. That’s pretty good.

“With Castillo in the eight-hole, he’s got to look to drive in runs.”

Again, why? Luis often hits the ball so softly that he has a tough time driving in a runner in this instance. In 625 plate appearances in this situation, Castillo’s racked up 122 hits, yet has driven in just 52 runs. Meanwhile, he’s drawn 100 walks.

His mission in that situation, like in most, is to get on base. That’s what he’s always done. Castillo knows which pitches he can handle a lot better than Gary, Keith or Ron. Far be it for them, or anyone of us, to decide which pitches he should or shouldn’t swing at when he’s had a long, modestly successful career.

Look, Luis shouldn’t be on the team beyond this season. The Mets can’t suffer another year of his declining offensive production, speed and defense. But leave the man alone when he’s in the box. He knows what he’s doing.

Grading the Mets hitters

Wednesday, October 14th, 2009

Since grading the Mets’ hitters first half was such a rousing success, I thought I would grade their whole season now that it has mercilessly ended.  This is still a very, very hacky thing to do, but with the World Series possibly shaping up as an Alien vs. Predator-esque Phillies/Yankees finale, I need to distract myself from that impending doom somehow.  I will grade the pitchers tomorrow.

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The Chris Wilcox’s BlueAndOrange.net plan for 2010 – The Infield

Wednesday, September 30th, 2009

Second part in a series.  For my plan for the catcher’s spot, go here.

There aren’t as many decisions to make in the infield as there are at catcher.  The team is set at shortstop and third base, and likely second base as well.  First base is a different story, as they will not have a starting first baseman under contract for 2010.  I do think they have good options for the bench already under team control, but it remains to be seen if they view those options the same way I do.  Let’s take a look at what they have.

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Grading the hitters’ first half

Monday, July 13th, 2009

Yes, I am doing the hackiest of hack ideas, the first half “grades” for each and every player.  It will give me a chance to sort through the damage, and figure out exactly how we got to this point and if there is anything we can do about it (the answer: probably not, no).  I will start with the hitters today and tackle the pitchers tomorrow.  In order from A to F…

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Luis Castillo

Monday, February 23rd, 2009

Spring training has begun, and with it a wave of optimism has run through the Mets camp in Port St. Lucie, Florida.  Everybody looks better than ever.  There is everlasting hope that lays before the Mets, because the season has yet to begin.  We don’t know exactly what lays ahead of us, so we have every reason to hope that this will be the season where everything breaks the Mets way and they win that elusive World championship.

Nowhere has this been more apparent than the articles written about Luis Castillo this spring.  He’s dropped 17 pounds!  He’s playing with a new-found intensity!  He’s got something to prove!  The hop is back in his step!  Maybe, just maybe, he’s back to being the old Luis Castillo!

Well, I hate to be the turd in the punch bowl, especially this early into spring training, but I would be slow to jump on the Luis Castillo bandwagon.  The fact of the matter is, while it’s fantastic that Castillo decided to show up for spring training in shape this season, he still has a lot of fundamental flaws in his game.  Simply being in shape for the first time since signing his large contract extension with the Mets will not make these flaws go away.

First, there is Castillo’s lack of power.  This isn’t new, obviously; Luis Castillo has never been a power hitter.  He has fewer home runs for his career than were hit by David Wright and Carlos Delgado last season.  He’s also not much for hitting line drives; over the past five years, only once has Castillo hit higher than 20% of his balls in play for line drives.  Basically, when Luis Castillo hits the ball in the air, it is more likely than not to be caught.

What has made Luis Castillo a .300 hitter for much of his career is not his power, but his speed.  Castillo’s value has been tied to his ability to beat ground balls for singles.  If Castillo can’t beat out a grounder, he can’t be a good hitter.  Unfortunately for the Mets, he had double knee surgery shortly before he signed with the team, which has helped to sap him of much of that speed.  Even in better shape this season, he can’t regain the mobility lost in those knees.

Then there is Castillo’s defense.  This is an area that has dropped off significantly the past few years.  Frankly, if Luis Castillo can’t play a passable second base, he can’t play in the major leagues.  His bat is not nearly good enough to play any other position, and if he can’t handle second base or shortstop, he has no role in the majors anymore.  Last year, his glove played worse at 2B than anybody who played significant time there.  If he is in shape, and his knees aren’t bothering him, best case scenario means he’s passable as a second baseman.  Anything less, and he’s an expensive sinkhole.

What I don’t understand is why the Mets never got involved on Orlando Hudson.  I can understand their reluctance on Manny.  He’s very very expensive, he’s getting old, and while I think his personality issues have been grossly exaggerated, that issue is on the table too.  He would be awesome in this lineup, no doubt, but there are enough legitimate red flags to where I could see passing him up, especially at $25 million a season.

But Orlando Hudson just signed for one year and $3.4 million!  That contract is not going to put this team over the luxury tax threshold even if he hits all of his bonus clauses.  While I went back and forth on him this offseason, my biggest problem with a Hudson signing was that I figured he would command too many years for the production he would be worth.  But for one season?  To make Luis Castillo irrelevent?  Why not get involved?

That said, I do think that moving Castillo to the leadoff position could benefit him.  The Mets blogosphere has seemed pretty cold to this move, as have the media, but it makes sense if you look at the numbers.  Castillo still possesses a keen batting eye, and is very capable at drawing walks.  While Reyes has made improvements in this area, Castillo still has the better batting eye, and getting more walks from the leadoff spot would benefit the team.

In addition, Castillo’s offensive game is ill-suited for a #2 hitter, because he hits a high percentage of ground balls.  More than 60% of the balls he hits are on the ground. If Jose Reyes is on first base, Castillo’s high percentage of ground balls becomes a severe detriment, opening himself up for double plays, or forceouts.  The best possible result in this scenario is an error.  Even if Castillo’s knees are fully operational, his high percentage of ground balls makes him ill-suited to bat behind Reyes, or really anybody.

Are the benefits of moving to a Castillo/Reyes/Wright top of the batting order that great?  Probably not, although it would line the players up in a more ideal fashion and maximize the team’s run scoring potential.  It would have been nice if the team understood that Luis Castillo is a sunk cost, that they have wasted $24 million on a player who will return little if any benefits.  It would have been nice if they had made the call to upgrade a position where they received nothing last season, and earned themselves an extra win or two just by having competency at second base.

They failed to do that.  I understand trying to find hope when the season seems so far away, but there’s a difference between hope and foolishness.  Luis Castillo should be better than what he was last season, but that’s because he was the worst everyday player in the majors in 2008.  The Mets should be expecting more out of second base, particularly if they really do have dreams of competing this season.

The Mets Offseason – The Summary

Thursday, October 23rd, 2008

Last in a series

So what exactly should the Mets do this offseason?  I have gone over their open and problem positions:  second base, left field, most of the bullpen, and two starting pitcher spots.  I’ve thrown out some suggestions as far as free agents who will be available who the Mets should consider pursuing.  What sort of game plan would I pursue if I were Mets General Manager Omar Minaya?

First, after having time to think about it, I would stay away from Orlando Hudson.  His home/away splits and drastic defensive drop scare me.  Plus, he’s not particularly young, and will require a 4-5 year contract.  He would definitely be better than Luis Castillo in 2009, 2010, and 2011, but not by a significant enough margin to where the team should think of acquiring him.  I have a feeling Hudson will be a lemon wherever he lands, and could go down as one of the worst contracts awarded in the 2008 offseason.  The Mets need to stay away.

Instead, if the Mets can’t acquire Hudson, they should inquire about Brian Roberts from the Orioles.  Roberts has long been an underrated player, who would bring good speed and on base skills to the top of the Mets’ lineup.  His career stolen base percentage is 80% (226 of 283 attempts), and would slot in nicely between Jose Reyes and David Wright in the Mets’ lineup, particularly since he’s a switch hitter.  His defense has steadily declined the past three years, but nothing like the sudden drop-off experienced by Hudson.  I’m not sure what the Orioles would want in return here, but I would at least make a call and listen, because Roberts is better than any second baseman who will be available on the open market for the Mets.

Should a Roberts trade look infeasible, I would seriously think about some sort of job sharing arrangement between second base and left field with Fernando Tatis, Daniel Murphy, and a spare outfielder or infielder.  Murphy’s bat profiles really well at second base, though he may not be able to handle the position defensively.  While stories have been positive coming out of the Arizona Fall League, I haven’t heard much about what sort of range he has at second there.  Tatis might not be any better, and it might behoove the Mets to find a good defensive second baseman who can OPS better than .700 (hint: not Argenis Reyes).  I’ve liked Felipe Lopez for a long time, although he’s not great defensively, so he might not fit here.  But it looks like the Mets’ cheapest alternative would be to bring back Tatis, bring up Murphy full-time, and find a super-sub type who can play LF or 2B capably, either via trade or free agency.

If the Mets do decide to spend money on a strict LF, the choice I’d go for is Pat Burrell, but only if Endy Chavez is brought back as a fifth outfielder/Burrell caddy.  Burrell would slot very well into the 6th hole in the Mets’ lineup, between Beltran and Church.  He’s a right-hander, which would improve a lineup that seems a bit too left-handed, and his numbers against left-handed pitching would keep teams from bringing in a lefty to face Delgado and leaving in that lefty until they face Church.  He would also add another 20-35 home runs to a team that finished 7th in the NL in home runs in 2008.  Just as important to what he would add to the Mets, bringing Burrell to New York would also take away a pretty big part of the Phillies’ offense as well.  There is an issue with defense, and for that, you would have to keep Endy around to play the later innings.  But considering some of the left fielders the Mets started in 2008, defense clearly is not a huge priority for them in left.

As far as the starting rotation goes, I would like to see the team make a play for Derek Lowe in free agency.  He’s not going to blow you away with anything he does, but he doesn’t miss starts, he gets ground balls, he doesn’t allow a lot of home runs, he doesn’t allow a lot of walks, and he strikes out a fair number of batters.  He is about as good a #3 starter as you will find.  The problem with Lowe is, he turns 36 next year, so signing him long-term would be a mistake, and plus it looks like several teams will bid on his services.  But he’s a guy I’ve always liked, and I’d like to see if the Mets could figure out a way to add him to the rotation.

Short of signing Lowe, I would stay away from the high bid guys like Sabathia and Burnett and I’d like to see the Mets bring in two low-cost, one year contract types who might be looking for another shot.  Another solution is picking up a guy in a salary dump for Castillo.  Sometimes a lousy player just needs a change in scenery, and the Mets would seem to offer a good one; good defense on the left side of the infield and in center and right fields and a likely pitcher’s park in Citi Field.  The benefits of good defense and a ballpark conductive to pitching could help a pitcher who struggled last year turn things around in a hurry.

Also, as I have said before, I would like to see the team try one more time with Heilman in the starting rotation.  At this point, what do they have to lose?  He has talent, he has pitched well in the past, and he was injured for most of last season.  To trade him now would be to sell low; they would surely get nothing back in return.  Perhaps changing to a new role, a role he has wanted to perform for the past several years, would be very beneficial to Heilman.  I think they need to at least let him compete in spring training for a spot in the rotation.  At the very least, Heilman’s biggest opponent for becoming a starter, Rick Peterson, is gone; what’s the problem with giving him a shot with some other guys?

As for the bullpen, while I would personally argue that spending big bucks on a closer is a bad strategy, I realize that because of how last year left a bad taste in everybody’s mouth, it will probably be necessary here as a public relations move.  That said, I am really wary of giving K-Rod a five year contract.  His strikeout totals have declined the past three years, which is a bad sign, and he blew 7 saves in 2008.  Contrary to what 62 saves says, he was NOT the best closer in baseball last year.  He’s good, but I wouldn’t pay $75 million for a meaningless saves record.

I will say, I really like Brian Fuentes the more I look at him.  He gets ground balls, which is good when you have good infield defense behind you, and it means he avoids home runs.  He’s a guy who will ring up a lot of strikeouts; despite getting older, his strikeout rate has improved over two years ago.  His ERA is artificially inflated by Coors Field, meaning he might not come as expensive as one would expect a guy who has pitched as well as he has; move him to Citi Field, and I think he’s getting a lot of recognition as being a great reliever.  This is the guy who I’d want to throw some money at to fix the bullpen; he will be a better buy for the money required to sign him.

Juan Cruz is another guy I would take a look at, perhaps as a set-up man.  Again, my own personal preference would be to stay away from costly bullpen solutions, but for the purposes of PR, going out and spending big bucks on short-term solutions for the pen while working to fix the systematic problems that have plagued the Mets the past few years.  Cruz is another high strikeout guy; unfortunately, he doesn’t bring the ground ball success that Fuentes has had, and he’s a guy who can get rocked from time to time.  Still, he throws hard, he gets strikeouts, and he is more reliable in throwing complete innings than anybody currently on the team.  I don’t want to spend this money, but if you’re going to do so, this isn’t a bad place to spend it if you can sign him for under 3 years.

After that, it becomes a matter of finding guys out there, freely available, who will take a one year contract or minor league contract/spring training invite.  Much like with the rotation, find guys who have lacked success, see if they can be refound in the bullpen.  Some terrible starters make for good relievers.  Don’t be afraid to take a chance on a guy who hasn’t had success before; guys fighting for a spot in the majors are sometimes desperate enough to work out.  Think out of the box here; the Rays’ bullpen didn’t rebound from the worst in the majors to one of the best by spending huge money, but by going on virtual casting call and bringing some castoffs to Tampa and watching their careers rebound.  That’s what the Mets need to do.

In summary, I would target either Pat Burrell or Brian Roberts (because the team probably can’t get both) as an addition to the Mets lineup, with some flexibility at second base and left field to help out Tatis and Murphy.  Pick up a Derek Lowe or a few different innings-eater types and let them fight for some spots in the rotation, shipping the rest to the bullpen.  Make a splash with a Fuentes signing, but then go after low-cost alternatives to players already under contract to rebuild the rest of the bullpen.  Think smart more than think big bucks.  That’s where the Mets have lost their way in the past, but they can get back to a smarter way of acquiring talent and make this team a playoff team again in 2009, without going too crazy.