Let’s be honest, it’s been a rough week and change.
The Orioles haven’t provided much of an escape from the real world, as the current upside down craziness of everything non-Orioles baseball has seemingly been humanized as a host with the face of Manny Machado.
The current morale of Birdland has predictably perched on the edge, and for good reason. Chris Davis is leading the world in the worst kind of strikeouts, the starting staff has been donating runs rather charitably, while Machado has yet to look like the player he really is.
At 25-20 with a 10-game gauntlet starting Friday in Houston, things could certainly be worse. If not for catcher Welington Castillo, the Orioles may be falling off a cliff rather than reaching for the edge.
Say what you want about Dan Duquette, but in another pretty solid move, Castillo has already been worth the $6 million the Orioles gave him in terms of Fangraphs WAR-to-dollar value. He’s added to the tradition of able-blocking Orioles catchers , while making an effort to steal strikes. Better yet, his entire game currently leads Orioles position players in fWAR at 1.1, despite not being qualified among the rest of the league.
Castillo has been really good, and a lot of it goes to him and his swing.
The 30 year-old catcher may only be about 5’10, but at around 220 pounds, Castillo puts a lot of easy power into a swing that’s pure business. As Jason Grilli learned, Castillo doesn’t need a big hack to hit a two-strike fastball for a 400-foot walk-off bomb. If you had to teach your kid how approach the fine art of hitting, Castillo would be one of the shades on the palette.
Though rare in today’s baseball, Castillo’s mannerisms aren’t exclusive. Not to say that Castillo is of the same quality as Daniel Murphy, but Castillo and the reigning NL batting champion share a number of similarities.
As well as Castillo, Murphy is all about getting the bat head from Point A to Point B. The two haven’t adopted the heavy leg kick trend that’s currently taking over not only Major League Baseball, but the younger levels of baseball as well. Instead, the pair rely on as little movement as possible to generate substantial pop. Without the big leg lift or unnecessary hand movement, the two load very naturally into the baseball.
For Castillo, this simple approach to hitting does a few things. Most importantly, it allows him to let the baseball travel, and when down in the count, it allows him to be quick to the baseball when absolutely necessary. Both of which have contributed to a current career-best 134 wRC+.
Hitting the baseball to right field at a current 28 percent— another career-high— Castillo for the first time as a pro is truly using the whole field. Between his four home runs, he’s hit two to left field and two to right field, while a split of Castillo’s singles have been deposited to right-center field, another indicator of his approach.
A hitter without an ego is more than willing to let the baseball travel on the outer-half of the plate and shoot a base knock the other way, and because Castillo very rarely over-swings with two strikes, he’s continued to have success to right field.
With a walk rate of only 3.8 percent, Castillo is still proving to be a bit of a free-swinger. Overall, he’s swinging more than he ever has, all the way up to 48.5 percent. Surprisingly enough, he’s making less contact away from the strike zone than ever before. A .330/.356/.510 slash isn’t often a consequence of swinging for quantity over quality, but Castillo has struck a nice balance.
While Castillo may be making outs off the plate, he hasn’t missed hardly any mistakes early on. Anything with two strikes that’s leaked into the strike zone, Castillo has pounced. This again is a testament to a swing that’s designed to be subtle, and as such, his success on the fringe of strike three has maintained.
Though the O’s seem eager to find new ways to lose with one weirder than the next, Castillo’s offensive surge has yet to fade. Castillo’s .408 BABIP, a personal best as of now, is destined to level out and he should see his numbers curtail a smidgen, but his approach to hitting has denounced any question marks that were due to come his way.
While I enjoy watching the Manny Machado’s and Adam Jones’s swing with flash, the laid back manner with Castillo takes to hitting has been a welcoming getaway.
If only some of the Orioles hitters adopted such a style...