Buck Showalter was on MASN’s All-Access show yesterday afternoon, and it took about two seconds of him talking about pitching for me to realize how much I’ve missed him.
He was jokey, and really loose. For a guy that has a reputation for being gruff, he had fun. Though it was a little tough to hear him talk about personnel, it was classic Buck.
One of the issues Showalter was pressed on was the ever-lingering need for starting pitching. As every manager tends to do, he praised the players currently rostered by the Orioles, including Nestor Cortes and Hunter Harvey, who were among his more enthusiastic talking points.
The second half of Showalter’s brief media tour took place on 105.7 The Fan, where the question of Miguel Castro’s immediate future was discussed. Showalter was pretty adamant that Castro would be given every opportunity to start this spring and potentially earn a place in a starting rotation not only needing quality arms, but literally just arms.
Castro is an interesting dude. Scouts always have time for a 6’6-ish (try saying that five times fast) 23-year-old with the wingspan of Tayshaun Prince. Naturally, he has one of the liveliest arms the Orioles have had in some time, making you wonder why the Rockies were unable to find a place on the 40-man for him. Because, well, it’s hard not to like him.
In Castro’s first full-time major league stint, he pitched to a 3.53 ERA in 66.1 innings over only 39 games. Take away one six-inning appearance, and you start to realize that Castro wasn’t a one inning, see-where-the-fastball-goes kind of reliever. He was asked to do a lot early and eventually often.
After July 30, Castro pitched at least two innings in 11 of 18 appearances, and over that span, Castro was hit with a 4.08 ERA in 39.2 innings. Though, Castro’s opponents only managed a wOBA of .288, as he held batters to a .235 BABIP. Even crazier was Castro supplying a 2-1 ground ball to fly ball ratio. There’s enough there to say that Castro wasn’t getting hit hard often, but when he did, he looked like he fit in.
Still, for a 22-year-old to pitch multiple innings effectively more often than not, and to show off the kind of stuff he has, Castro certainly spiked some eyebrows.
When he’s on, this is what Castro looks like. His wipeout slider ran parallel with a .181 opponent batting average, as hitters only managed a .121 ISO hit off the pitch. Castro’s slider is an attribute of a unique arm slot, long arms and a wonky delivery, and he’s able to produce 11 mph in subtraction from his fastball. He’s all sorts of weird, and in Castro’s case, weird works for him. The most coveted aspect of said weirdness is what it does to his fastball.
Mikie Mahtook gets a fastball that misses its spot by more than a foot, and it never really mattered. Castro is able to generate not only arm side tail, but sink too. There’s no other way to put it than to say he has a nasty fastball, and it just so happens to average out at 96 mph. That’s one way to generate a lot of ground balls and avoid baseballs being hit safely into play.
Castro has a lot of tools, and the Orioles, despite their inefficiencies, did well to add him to the franchise. The thing is, can Castro really make it as a starter? Because there is reason for doubt.
Castro did pitch to a solid ERA, but his FIP bloated to a 4.90 mark, making you ask where all the extra runs could be coming from. Well, Castro did walk more than 10 percent of his opponents, while only striking out hitters at a rate of 13.2 percent. Perspectively, Zach Davies struck out 15.2 percent of the hitters he faced, which was the fourth-worst mark of qualified starters.
Castro should average more strikeouts, but he doesn’t, and that’s been an increasing problem as he’s climbed three farm systems. Someone that looks like Castro and throws the way he does should be able to independently produce more outs, so does that mean his mostly two-pitch mix isn’t enough to cut it over 5-6-7 innings?
It’s hard to say. He produced free baserunners at an Ubaldian pace, and he struck out hitters far less frequent than Jimenez did a season ago. It forces you to wonder if that’s where we could be headed yet again.
But, Castro did thrive in tenser moments, something Jimenez never could accomplish. Castro’s 1.30 win probability added ranked 45th in baseball among relievers, a figure higher than Brad Brach, Mychal Givens and Darren O’Day as the best in the Orioles bullpen. When the Orioles needed big outs, Castro tended to deliver. As much as Danny Woodhead would like, there is no way to quantify grit, but Castro is a tough cookie.
Then again, do you think his fastball-slider combo to righties and fastball-changeup pair to lefties is enough to mask his bouts with command?
It’s amazing how a pitcher that walked as many hitters as Castro did was also able to finish the year with a heatmap that looks like this. Throwing strikes isn’t a problem, it’s more so an issue of finishing at-bats. All of which becomes an issue of command.
Length is a plus for Castro, but it’s also hard to maintain. As tall and as expansive as he is, Castro is already dealing with the complications of his path to the mound. There’s only so much the Orioles can do to tweak a delivery that is long engrained as ritual.
As we’ve seen, Castro’s stuff can pass him along once or twice through the batting order. The third trip is where the Orioles are probably going to need help yet again, and that’s where Castro thrived a season ago.
He showed his worth going multiple innings, and he undoubtedly has enough oomph to work his way out of a jam. The evidence also proves why the Orioles and their fans are eager to see Castro win one of the three vacant starting pitching roles. But without the ability to muster enough strikeouts, his issuance of free passes, and a lot batted ball luck, you can’t help but fight off reality.
If the decision were up to me, I’d probably leave Castro exactly where he is in the swingman role the Orioles have sorely necessitated. But given the state of the O’s supposed “depth”, I’d rather seem him start a baseball game than a lot of other guys the front office will have to choose from.
Man, with decisions he’ll soon have to make, Buck sure does have one hell of a poker face.