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New Orioles catcher Welington Castillo has one big downside: framing

While Castillo is going to hit and provide the kind of slugging at a softer offensive position to make his bat noticeable, he’s got his issues as well.

MLB: Los Angeles Dodgers at Arizona Diamondbacks Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Amazingly enough, just as I started writing this, it took all of getting to the headline for me to type and erase the non-existent second “L” in Welington. Taking an L where one doesn’t exist? Welp. It’s gonna be a tough habit to break.

Even tougher a vice to kick would be Dan Duquette’s deep-burning desire to make the offseason as uninterestingly interesting as possible. He traded for spring training legend Logan Verrett and wouldn’t you know it, Logan Ondrusek, he of the 9.95 ERA a season ago, was wrangled by the only man who saw his beleaguered arsenal worth adding to the payroll.

He didn’t like his farm system being dissed, and he blurred reality by saying Jose Bautista’s douchebaggery would not be tolerated in Baltimore. Throw in the Sean Coyle’s, Adam Walker’s and a pair of Rule-5 picks, and you have the perfect Duquette storm. Say what you will about the size of his splashes, but you really never know what’s gonna hit the water.

In his latest act of Duquettery, it was believed the Orioles were no longer the odds on favorites to secure the services of free agent catcher Welington Castillo after a deal appeared imminent. Castillo wanted a three-year deal, but the Orioles rightfully refused to give ground on such a proposal. Instead, the sides compromised on a modest one-year, $6 million deal with a $7 million player option for 2018.

Given the availability of catching talent and the historical offensive threat Castillo is, the Orioles did pretty well to find someone whose bat will probably match or even exceed the levels of Matt Wieters at half the cost. It’s a solid pact as the Orioles wait for hitting savant Chance Sisco to hurdle his defensive lumps at Triple-A Norfolk.

Speaking of defensive ineptitude, Castillo’s name coincides with a reputation as an incomplete product behind the plate. And rightfully so.

The Orioles are fortunate to have Caleb Joseph, whose 7.2 adjusted FRAA (fielding runs against average) and 7.0 framing runs above average total put him among the top 18 big league catchers in both catching metrics. Joseph’s aberrational offensive output last season coupled with his outstanding presentation skills make him a very valuable platoon piece. Where Joseph exceeded, Castillo, like Wieters, struggled to maintain value as a pitch framer.

2016 Catching Metrics

Name FRAA_ADJ Framing Runs Throwing Runs Blocking Runs
Name FRAA_ADJ Framing Runs Throwing Runs Blocking Runs
Welington Castillo -7.3 -9.8 2.8 -0.3
Matt Wieters -2.7 -4.4 1.4 -0.1
Caleb Joseph 7.2 6.7 0.2 0.4

Notably, Castillo carries traits that more so align with Wieters, as both catchers are either unknowingly uncommitted to framing or it doesn’t exist in their skill-set. Their value is made up with strong arms across the diamond, and while that’s certainly valuable, evidence of the importance of pitch presentation is only starting to blossom.

Eerily similar to Wieters, we see in Castillo a catcher who simply hasn’t utilized or developed that subtle, yet vital craft.

Castillo, like Wieters, is a body receiver, meaning he allows the baseball too deep into the zone before he commits to catching it. As his catching arm is secured further into his chest, something like a 97 MPH Jake Barrett fastball disallows him to dominate the pitch. Instead, the fastball dominates him.

This pitch was eventually called a strike, but in terms of technique, he forces Barrett to throw a perfect pitch such as the one above, with little margin for error.

As Beyond the Box Score’s Zach Crizer so kindly laid out, Zack Greinke was the primary beneficiary to pitch framing ace Yasmani Grandal in 2015. As Grandal turned into Greinke’s go-to catcher, he managed to maneuver historic numbers while showcasing baseball’s sixth-lowest zone rate of 39.9%. Combined with the ability and confidence to work the perimeter of the strike zone, Greinke was piggybacked by Grandal’s commendable framing.

In Castillo, Greinke found Grandal’s alter ego.

Again we see Castillo receiving the pitch too close to his body, putting the curveball in control of its destiny. As the curveball is overtaken by gravity, the downward nature of the pitch takes command of Castillo’s glove.

By the time Castillo catches the baseball, the force of the pitch nearly rides Castillo’s glove into the ground. Greinke goes from possibly evening the count to being down 2-0 against one of the best pure hitters in baseball in Nolan Arenado. As Greinke found out, a shrinking number of favorable counts making way to more hitter’s counts is certainly a way someone’s ERA nearly triples over the course of single year.

To Castillo’s yin, there are certainly the yangs, and the yangiest is Buster Posey.

Having led all catchers in adjusted FRAA with a 30.0 mark, including a league-best 27.6 framing runs number, Posey is as equally potent behind the plate as he is standing beside it. One of the standout differences between Castillo and Posey is most noticeably the extreme range in the metrics, much to do with their inherent styles.

As Castillo fails to meet the baseball with haste, Posey, as we say in the business, “sticks” the baseball with authority. By greeting the baseball outward, Posey limits the natural impact such things as a Johnny Cueto fastball may have. With such a strong base and solid left arm, Posey puts on a framing clinic.

In what is such a small thing to emphasize, it’s small things such as this that, extrapolated over the course of 162 games, builds up into enormity. It would be cruel to think that Matt Wieters didn’t care or was simply picking his spots to disguise potential balls as strikes.

Wieters will be missed because he was forced to work so damn hard behind the plate. His given battery was so unique in its futility over the course of eight seasons. For that, Wieters will always be respected in that regard. But with Castillo, it looks to be more of the same. Borderline calls are unlikely to tip into the Orioles favor, because Castillo, like Wieters, just isn’t very good at leveraging the home plate umpire.

Castillo can hit, and 90% of the reason the Orioles wanted him was because he’s a thumper at a position of need where slugging is hard to find. The other 10% being the need for a decent body to put behind home plate. In his case, you have to accept his solidity with the bat while understanding where Castillo’s technique lacks, Orioles pitchers will suffer too.

Funny enough, we were already conditioned for such a thing.