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Is Miguel Castro figuring it out?

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He’s far from perfect, but the ever-interesting Castro is figuring out the importance of throwing strikes.

MLB: Exhibition-Baltimore Orioles at Philadelphia Phillies Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that the era of the “crafty” veteran is at an impasse.

One of the better Orioles stories in a long line of really cool 60-game samples has been Tommy Milone, who’s pitching as well as he has in five years. Milone’s average fastball velocity sits in the second percentile among current big leaguers, but he’s striking out more batters than he ever has, and has actually provided some stability in a rotation in a predictable teeter.

But you gotta love the fastball. And Miguel Castro has always had THAT kind of fastball.

It’s the kind of fastball that’s offered him second and third chances. It’s always made you wonder if he was capable of taking hold of what he could never harness. It’s a special sort of filthy, so much so even Pitching Ninja pumped it into his timeline. Castro, who’s built as if he was born in a pitching coach’s laboratory, never parted with his potential because he’s done just enough in his three-plus years in Baltimore.

Yet again making incremental improvements, Castro’s results are trending in a more immediate direction. But first, the bad news, because there’s plenty enough to get out of the way.

If I told you that only six pitchers in baseball surrender more hard hit baseballs than Castro, would you be surprised? That his average allowed exit velocity of 94 mph is fifth-highest out of everybody? I mean, probably not. That’s always been his schtick. When allowing such a rate of high-velocity balls-in-play, batted ball luck tends to tell the truth, as Castro’s .376 opponent BABIP is towards the top of the heap.

To his credit, Castro does all he can to be of assistance to hitters that are able to put bat on ball considering his average sinker velocity (97.5 mpg) is nearly identical to future superstar Dustin May. Again, not a surprising discovery, because we all know how dynamic that fastball is.

Again, he’s not a perfect product, and there’s plenty more evidence to frame the argument against him, but Castro has managed to navigate treacherous territory to some degree.

His 4.30 ERA is right around league average, not much news there. Though, including one clunker of an outing on August 11 in Philadelphia (2 HR’s allowed/3 ER’s), Castro has only allowed opponents to cross the plate in four of 15 appearances, while stranding a career-high 84 percent of base runners. He basically allowed nearly half of his total allowed runs in 2/3’s of an inning in a game the Orioles won anyway.

That’s why his expected FIP of 2.85 is more than a full run lower than his actual FIP (4.04). Thus far, one really bad outing has dictated his numbers on the surface, and that’s a shame, because there are some really good things folks should take notice to.

In his 14.2 innings, Castro has posted a career-high strikeout rate (33 percent), while producing more ground balls (54 percent) and fewer walks (eight percent) than he ever has as an Oriole. What’s funny is his pitch usage is essentially identical as it was a season ago, as Castro made more of an effort to mix in his slider and changeup.

Miguel Castro Pitch Usage (Fangraphs)

Year SI% SL% CH%
Year SI% SL% CH%
2018 58.10% 15.60% 26.10%
2019 49.10% 20.00% 30.90%
2020 49.20% 20.20% 30.70%

It makes sense that a more attentive player development team would try to make Castro a less predictable pitcher, but he’s also made some personal improvements as well.

Miguel Castro Plate Discipline (Baseball Savant/Fangraphs)

Year Zone% F-Strike% SI F-Strike% SI Putaway% SL Whiff% K%
Year Zone% F-Strike% SI F-Strike% SI Putaway% SL Whiff% K%
2019 39.30% 52.00% 55.80% 14.90% 37.50% 22.30%
2020 44.50% 69.30% 67.60% 43.80% 48.00% 33.00%

Isn’t it amazing what throwing strikes will do? Seemingly more comfortable with what is assuredly a more diverse pitch mix, Castro has managed to get his fastball over for strike one, make hitters miss his slider, and because his fastball has become a strike with more regularity, he is able to use all three of his pitches in order to put away hitters. Castro’s sinker, formerly a significant detriment despite its otherworldly exterior, has become his most successful strikeout pitch!

Make no mistake, the bloated hard-hit rates he’s currently seeing aren’t great. Yeah, he’s supplying some of that exit velocity too, but when it’s happening more often than not, operator error is a safe avenue for blame. But the encouraging signs are more prevalent than at any time before, and Castro continues to string together moments of safety.

As much as I’ve oohed and aahed at Castro’s immense stuff, his jog to the mound has always been met with restlessness. Lately, he’s put me more at ease.