Oh I’m sorry, am I supposed to write some fancy introduction here? You really didn’t want to just watch these over and over and over again?
After a rough start to the first half of the 2018 season, Castillo hasn’t looked back. Spanning back to the second half of 2018, he’s been rock solid, posting some phenomenal numbers. In 128 innings of work, he’s put up a 2.52 ERA, punching out 132 batters while only walking 32 of them.
All of this coming off the heels of that previously mentioned rough start in 2018 where an ERA of 5.70 in the first half had fans worried about his future. They thought wrong and here’s why. The xFIP (expected fielding independent pitching – basically a measure of variables a picture can control, while also replacing a pitcher’s home run total with how many homers they probably should be given credit for) states that he may have been just a bit unlucky with some home runs. Can I get a welcome to GABP anyone!? In the first half of 2018, his HR/FB% was touching an ungodly and almost unsustainable 18.4%, among qualified pitchers. That ranked 2nd worst only behind Cole Hamels. I mean it’s pretty insane to think that every fifth time Castillo turns his head around on a deep fly ball, it’s hitting the bleachers. On a side note, Sal Ramano and Tyler Mahle also pop up on the top 12. On three everybody! one, two, three, welcome to GABP!!!
This year however, the ball has bounced in Castillo’s favor. His HR/FB% is now sitting at 4.5% . Furthermore, last year his HR/9 topped out at 1.49, while this year it stands pat at 0.42, meaning he’s either found a way to neutralize the home run ball from the opposing hitter’s arsenal, or he’s getting extremely lucky after being extremely unlucky just a year before. The BABIP supports that as it stands at .245 . After all, with an ERA of 1.45, you have to be having a little bit of luck go your way.
Just about every major stat is an improvement from last year, including his strikeout rates which are also up from 8.8 to 10.4. Really, the only worry so far is his walks are slightly up from 2.6 to 3.5 . Part of this could be due to his pitching style. He really wants to bury that change-up or slider while he’s ahead and force the hitter to expand the zone. Hitters can pick up on that over time, and as a result they become more patient. Of course that isn’t always the case or else we wouldn’t be beaming over his numbers this year.
Lets talk fastballs and change-ups, because Castillo has a good combo going right now. In the perfect world, Castillo is going to use his heater, which tops out at just under 100 mph, to try and get ahead of the count.
Statistics courtesy of FanGraphs – blue squares indicate an average of .000
From the graph above, you can see it’s rare for a hitter to ambush Castillo on a first pitch fastball. So why not blow one past them and get ahead of the count early? After he does that, and statistics say he most likely is going to do that, he’s going to use his overpowering change-up to put the hitter away.
What makes me think that? Take a look.
Yep. According to this graph, in the 53 times Castillo has thrown a changeup while ahead of the count, no hitter has been able to turn it into a base hit. Basically at this point if you want to live, you have to keep fouling that pitch away and try and make him throw something else.
They call it the equalizer for a reason folks.
Although, he’s been gifted a little bit of luck this season, there’s no reason why Castillo can’t keep this hot streak going and make this season truly special. bWAR already has him down for 2.1 wins, which is already more than any Reds pitcher had last year (Which was also Castillo at 1.4 wins). In fact, if Castillo is able to keep up this pace, which would be extremely unlikely, but hey a man can dream right? He would tie Pedro Martinez’s 2000 season for most bWAR accrued by a pitcher in a single season (not counting dead-ball era pitchers for obvious reasons). Again, that’s most certainly not going to happen, but it does show how good Castillo has been out of the gate thus far, and how little attention it’s receiving. He’s not only been the ace of the Reds, he’s been the ace of the entire MLB. among qualified pitchers, he trails only Zach Davies and Marcus Stroman in ERA. It’s worth noting however that Castillo has more innings pitched than either of those two.
Enjoy it while it lasts Reds fans, we’ve been long overdue for a, dare I say it, ace? It seems we’ve finally found him. Thanks Miami, sorry not sorry.
Read The Room
David Bell has made some interesting choices, some that he may want to tweak his thought process on. Let me explain.
On Monday’s podcast my friend Jeff stated he liked the fact that David Bell was able to remove himself from the equations on many big decisions. He stated that by focusing on the analytics Bell is able to make an objective decision versus a gut decision. I won’t disagree with fact that I am loving the front office and managements use of analytics. I, like most Reds fans, love to see the organization finally joining this century of baseball thinking in full force, from an analytics stand point. However, while I do support the use of analytics in helping make decisions, I don’t feel as if it should be the sole reason for decision making.
The best managers in the history of this game are often forward-thinking and also having the right instinct at crucial points in games. I think the Reds, and even David Bell, are some of the most forward thinking in baseball right now. We have seen it in all the new positions created this offseason specifically for analytics within the Reds front office. The Reds outfielders carry cards based on each pitcher and each batter in where to align themselves. The infield is making unique shifts. Bell seems opposite of his predecessor, because he despises bunting frequently. The amazing performance by our pitching staff which has been one of the worst in recent years. I believe these things will continue to help this team as the season continues. I also believe it’s one of the main reasons we have one of the best pitching staffs in all of baseball right now.
On the flip side of this is the daily, head-scratching decisions Bell has made. The constant hooking of starting staff or bullpen pitchers too early. This isn’t just something making fans question his decisions, but his players as well. I have seen almost every starting pitcher this year, on at least one occasion, have a baffled look after being removed to early. Bell often pulling starters in a close game due to the “third time around the order” analytics. In regards to the bullpen often pulling relievers early who are up there throwing smoke and no one is touching them. All that started back on Opening Day when he used three relievers, each for one out in the bottom of the ninth. Then when it comes to the lineup we are often seeing players who may be crushing it that day pulled for favorable situational matchups such as lefty right or righty lefty. On several occasions I’ve seen him pull Dietrich or Winker when there out there hitting rockets just for an analytic advantage. It often causes me to yell at my television.
One of my favorite sayings is “READ THE ROOM”. Bell desperately needs to “READ THE ROOM” in more crucial situations. Leaving pitchers in to go one extra innning in a start or relief when there mowing batters over. Leaving a guy in the lineup who is on fire rather than pulling him for a analytic matchup. This shows faith in your players as well as your instincts as a manager. It’s what differentiates the best coaches from everyone else. It’s the knowledge that no amount of statistics can provide and it will ultimately be what puts this team over the top. In recent weeks I have seen signs of this coming to fruition. I hope to see more of it as the season goes on. And I promise you Reds fans when it does the most important statistic WINS will come much easier.
Reds Catchers Now and in the Future
Let’s take a look at the catching picture for the Reds organization.
In late September of 2017, the Cincinnati Reds locked up Tucker Barnhart to a 4-year, $16 million contract. And why not? Barnhart hit .270 in 2017 and was a gold glove winner. $4 million a year for him was a steal. Fans were ecstatic about the deal, especially at the price. Don’t get me wrong, having a catcher with a career average of .248 with about 10 home runs a year and a great glove is something most teams are satisfied with. It’s more about what he does with the pitching staff and defense than the hitting. But in 2019, although only 100 at-bats in, how concerned should Reds fans be about their catching situation now and in the future?
The Reds currently have two active catchers: Tucker Barnhart and Curt Casali. Barnhart has struggled mightily out of the gate. A .160/.282/.270 line is not anywhere close to his career numbers. Adding to that, he only has two hits in the past 10 games. A switch hitter with only 10 at bats versus Left-handed pitchers tells us Bell wants Casali taking those at-bats.
Curt Casali has put together a great season for the Reds. Acquired off waiver last year from Tampa Bay he hit .310 before the All-Star break. In 2019 he is hitting to the tune of .293/.349/.379. When used as a pinch hitter, he’s delivered at times for the Reds. Although Casali is the better hitter so far, I do not think it is time to give up on Barnhart. 100 at-bats into a season with plenty to go. *Deep breath* He can still put together a decent season. Something needs to change though, drastically. Right now, the Reds have bigger issues than the catcher’s spot. But will Casali take reigns as the team’s number one catcher? A lot of fans are calling for it. Keep in mind Casali is a career .229 hitter. He has been streaky in the past. The Reds will probably continue to platoon and giving at-bats to Casali against left-handed pitchers. 2019 catcher situation is pretty much locked in. The depth at AAA Louisville are not “prospects” and haven’t shown to be MLB hitters either. The question is what will it look like in the future?
Tyler Stephenson is one of the top prospects in the Reds organization (#6 mlb.com) and is showing his potential this year in Chattanooga. A first-round pick in 2015, he’s struggled with injuries early in his career and is now showing his potential. Hitting .267 with 3 HR and 18 RBI while throwing out 26% of baserunners is a nice start to the first part of the season. He won’t be in Cincinnati this year, who knows where he will start next year, but he plays into the future of the Reds.
There are some other options in the minors. Chris Okey (#30 Reds prospect) was drafted in the second round of 2016 but has really struggled with the bat. Hendrik Clementina (#23 Reds prospect) is someone to watch. He was acquired in the Tony Cingrani trade and hit 18 home runs with Dayton in 2018. He has some pop and but also strikes out too much. We all know how frustrating that can be. Other than those 3, the Reds do not have another top 30 catching prospects. A thin position of depth look for the Reds to bring in more talent this year.
The Reds catching future is banking on Stephenson and Barnhart to be the guys. That could end up being just fine, but it also doesn’t leave much room for error. Casali has two arbitration year left and is 30 years old. He could be a Red past this year, sure. Good catchers are hard to find and that’s why the asking price is so high (paging JT). I would expect the Reds to try to add depth here through the draft or offseason. The quick fix would be Tucker returning closer to 2017 form but who knows if that will happen.
What The Reds Should Be
Wednesday night was a glimpse at this team’s potential.
If you were able to witness tonight’s win over the scorching hot Chicago Cubs you were probably ecstatic. It was a comeback win, in extra innings, and a one-run game. In a season clouded by early disappointment and many missed opportunities, tonight we witnessed the Reds full potential.
This game had all the markings of what was shaping up to be another Reds loss. A five-inning start by the pitcher, playing from behind almost the entire game, and constant pitching changes. Instead the Reds played together and won, as a team. The chemistry we see off the field was finally seen on the field. The bullpen stepped up when they needed to. Stephenson, Hughes, Peralta, and Garrett all providing top notch performances. Garrett making what seemed to be an impossible out at first to save a run from scoring. When providing a clutch at-bat was needed, we saw it from nearly everyone put on the spot. Senzel with 2 hits and 2 stolen bases. Iglesias continues to be the Reds MVP of position players having a double and solo home run to keep the Reds in contention. Suarez starting to catch fire with a 3-for-5 evening, 3 RBI’s, a double, and a 2 run HR in the eighth inning to tie up the game. Quietly, Joey Votto was the one who actually came up big, in the clutch, during the eighth, with a single. He then scored on Suarez’s dinger. Then again in the 10th inning with a one-out walk. For the icing on the cake the player all of Cincinnati wants to see perform comes up to seal the deal. And most importantly the extra innings walk-off hit by Puig with a bat flip for Reds highlight reels for years to come happened.
What made it most glorious was the absolute look of disappointment on Cubs fans faces as the Reds came back to pull off the comeback win. Wednesday, we saw the Reds full potential as a team. This is the Reds ceiling as a team performance. I hope we grow accustomed to this scene more often and start to see them compete in this division. There is no doubt they are in the toughest division in baseball. That being said, they can absolutely shake things up whenever they decide to get hot. I know it’s possible. I just hope it’s not too late when it does.