If you’re reading this, you know that the Orioles starting pitching needs some help. We’re talking about a rotation that posted a league-worst 5.48 ERA last season. Believe it or not, that was actually an improvement over Baltimore starters’ collective ERA of 5.70 in 2017. Orioles starters have let their club down mightily over the past two season. While we aren’t expecting the O’s to compete, an improved rotation would at least make the team much more watchable in 2019.
Will Mike Elias take pity on us poor O’s fans and improve that disastrous rotation, in which Alex Cobb, Andrew Cashner, and Dylan Bundy are currently the only locks? We know that the team isn’t going to give a potential free agent signing more than a one-year contract. The leading in-house candidates are David Hess and Yefry Ramirez. (Insert joke about printing playoff tickets.)
Given this, would it be worthwhile giving Miguel Castro another shot in the starting rotation? In yesterday’s blog, MASN’s Rock Kubatko passed along some quotes from Castro about the topic. Castro said, “Right now I’m thinking of myself as a reliever, coming out of the bullpen and helping my team.” That’s a pretty straight answer. Still, the club should at least consider such a move, which would have long term impacts on both Castro and other contenders for rotation spots.
The argument in favor of giving Castro a crack at a rotation spot comes down to the fact that he has one of the most electric arms on the roster. His fastball averaged 95.9 MPH last season and his slider is a very effective pitch again right-handed hitters. Castro has always had a live arm that impressed scouts. While the strikeout numbers haven’t translated to the majors as much as you would expect (averaging 6.1 per nine innings over his career and 5.9 in 2018), he has shown himself to be a capable major league pitcher. In 152.2 innings with the Orioles, he has pitched to a respectable ERA of 3.77. That number is even more impressive when considering how bad his fellow Oriole pitchers have been over the past two seasons.
Starting pitchers are far more valuable to a club than relievers, so it can be said that a team’s best pitchers should be given the opportunity to start. Is Castro a better overall pitcher than Hess or Ramirez? The answer is probably yes. There are other factors that could help Castro transition into the starting rotation. One is that the lack of command he has exhibited in his career may play better in the rotation than the bullpen. Castro has walked one batter every two innings throughout his career and that number ballooned to 5.2 walks per nine innings last season. That is serious trouble with command. However, starting pitchers have more wiggle room to work out control issues. A reliever entering a bases loaded, tie game situation and walking the first two batters is a huge problem. Also, unlike many power relievers Castro is more than just a fastball/slider pitcher. He has a change-up, which he typically uses against left-handed hitters. He held left-handed batters to a .244 batting average against (14 points higher than righties) so he has the tools to get out all batters.
Discussing Castro’s prospects as a starting pitcher wouldn’t be complete without mentioning last year’s spring training results. Buck Showalter gave him a chance to win a rotation spot and it didn’t go well. In 12.2 innings, he compiled a 6.39 ERA and 1.59 WHIP. So we got to watch Mike Wright start games in April instead! It’s hard, and maybe unreasonable, to draw conclusions from such a small sample size. But that’s the reality of spring training, and the numbers speak for themselves. There is also a concern that stretching Castro out to a starter’s length may cause him to be less effective. Would that 96 MPH be there in the fifth, sixth, or seventh inning?
It also needs to be considered that perhaps what isn’t broken shouldn’t be fixed. Castro has settled into a nice bullpen piece for the Orioles. The walks make his WHIP higher than we’d like to see, but he is only 24 years old and can improve. Baseball Reference rated him as a 1.3 WAR reliever in only 86.1 innings. He provides value in that role. If the O’s rebuilding process is accelerated, he could be a vital bullpen piece on the next competitive team in Baltimore. Or he could turn into a nice trade chip.
Castro competing for and winning a rotation slot would have an impact beyond him. David Hess and Yefry Ramirez have worked as starters throughout the whole career and neither has had eye-popping success at the major league level (5.80 and 5.29 2018 ERAs respectively). Neither have dominating stuff that would play well in the back end of a bullpen. They are best bets to succeed as starters and Castro would block them. We can say the same thing about more highly regarded prospects Josh Rogers and Luis Ortiz.
If Brandon Hyde were to ask me for advice (doubtful) I think it would be best to stretch Miguel Castro out as a starter in spring training and have him compete for a spot in the rotation. He has a higher upside than Hess or Ramirez and his value increases if the switch works out. If the results are the same as last season, it is easy to reign him back to a reliever’s innings. According to Castro, his role doesn’t impact how he trains. He told Kubatko, “My plans stay the same. Continue to improve my body, continue to improve my mechanics and especially to improve my command.”
While any potential wins gained or lost from this decision won’t matter to the 2019 Orioles, this decision could have future ramifications. If you had Brandon Hyde’s ear, what would you have him do with Miguel Castro in spring training?
Do you want to see Miguel Castro in the starting rotation or in the bullpen?
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