Luis Castillo

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.

4 Responses to “Luis Castillo”

  1. tjv101 says:

    Ahhhh…Luis Castillo. The most talked about second baseman in NY baseball right now maybe in baseball. Well for one thing, I am not on the Luis Castillo bandwagon. I am pleased he has lost nearly 20 lbs since last season and looks like he can run much easier than last year judging by highlights of him in Spring Training. However, I am skeptical about what to expect from him this year. I do believe that he will be much improved than from last season and if healthy should bat near .300. I also am against moving Castillo to leadoff despite your theory that he will probably be able to draw walks unlike hasty Reyes. My opinion is wy fix what’s not broken? Why fix a Met lineup that has worked in the past. Reyes leading off has worked for the Mets just as Beltran batting third, Wright 4th, and Delgado 5th. Let’s not forget this team scored a heck of a lot of run last season without Castillo. In theory, Reyes should leadoff the 1st with a walk or single then steal second. Castillo slaps a grounder and gets Reyes to 3rd followed by a Wright sac fly. That’s small ball Met baseball and that’s how you begin to win games. Oh yeah…that and not having your pen blow 27 leads throughout the course of a season.

    I’d be aghast on Opening Day to not see Reyes batting first and Castillo batting second no matter what the media and Manuel says. Now getting to Orlando Hudson. Yes, he signed a relatively cheap $3.4 million dollar one yr contract and deeply wanted to be a Met. I do, however, think that the Mets are paying double for enough players and managers and don’t want to do it at second base also. Let’s not forget that the Mets are paying for two closers right now (really 3 if you think about it) with K-Rod and Wagner. Also, they are still paying Willie. They are giving Castillo one more chance this year and if he doesn’t come through, I clearly believe they will pay next season for a new second baseman and try to dump Castillo and his final 2 years whatever way they can.

  2. Chris Wilcox says:

    Smallball baseball is not how the Mets score runs. The Mets scored runs the past three years because Wright, Beltran, and Delgado will give you 80-100 homers from the middle of the order, with good (not great) on-base and extra base hit totals out of Reyes in the leadoff spot. I hate giving away outs in the 2 hole, which too many Mets fans have seemed OK with in the past. The Mets got lucky in ‘06 that Lo Duca hit over .300 because otherwise that team would not have scored as many runs.

    My theory on Castillo batting leadoff isn’t just about walks, it’s about avoiding the double-play. If Reyes singles or walks, but can’t get a good lead at first and can’t get in position to steal second, you open yourself up for the double play far too often because of all of the ground balls Castillo hits. Castillo pretty much has two spots in this lineup; 1st or 8th. Reyes can hit out of the 2 or 3 hole because his game is suited for it; in fact, he might be even better suited to bat 2nd than leadoff. Just because you’re fast doesn’t mean you’re a natural leadoff hitter.

  3. tjv101 says:

    Lets not forget the last time the Mets played “small ball” baseball in 2006, they made it to the NLCS and were the best team in baseball (without the ring). Playing small ball baseball in the 1st inning is ok. The Mets have the power and pop in the middle of their lineup to not need to do that night in and night out. That pivotal first inning is when I mean the Mets should play “small ball” or any inning where Reyes leads off. Castillo belongs batting second.

  4. Chris Wilcox says:

    The idea that the 2006 Mets succeeded with small ball is patently false. Carlos Beltran hit 41 homers, Carlos Delgado hit 38 homers, and David Wright hit 26 homers. Plus they had 19 homers out of Reyes, 18 homers out of Jose Valentin in roughly 2/3 of a season, 14 homers out of Xavier Nady in half a season…tell me, where is this small ball coming from? They had the 4th most homers, the third most doubles, and the third highest slugging percentage. Overall, they had the most extra base hits in the National League. That’s not winning with small ball, that’s winning with slugging.

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