Orioles fans are – understandably – a bit annoyed at the news that the team was trying to make a trade at the waiver deadline (last night) for Chicago White Sox pitcher Miguel Gonzalez. Gonzalez, of course, pitched for the Birds for four seasons, and while he was never consistently dominant, he was reliable with a flash of brilliance every now and again.
MiGo’s best season in orange and black by ERA was 2014, when he posted a 3.23. By FIP, it was his first year, 2012, at 4.38. By fWAR, it was 2013, when he threw 171.1 innings at a 3.78 ERA/4.45 FIP, good for an fWAR of 1.6.
You’ll notice that none of those bests were during his final year in Baltimore, 2015. That season, Gonzalez put up a 4.91 ERA, along with career highs in BB/9 (3.17), HR/9 (1.49), BABIP (.295), and HR/FB rate (15%). Combine that with a career low LOB% (to that point) of 73.1, and you had a recipe for the down year he experienced. However, you also had indicators that he just went through some bad luck, and may have been due for a rebound.
Unfortunately for Gonzalez, in the spring of 2016, he tanked, putting up a 22.24 ERA in his first three Spring Training starts. He rebounded in the second half of March, but it wasn’t enough. Though he had an option remaining, Duquette decided to simply part ways with him instead of paying him the $5.1M he was owed.
Chicago picked him up and fixed…something. Whatever it was that was ailing him, I suppose. In his first season in the Windy City, Gonzalez racked up 2.6 fWAR (a full win above his previous career high) in just 135.0 innings at the MLB level. He wasn’t quite as good here in 2017, with 1.6 fWAR in 133.2 IP and a 4.56 FIP that’s much more in line with his career average (4.63) than was last year’s 3.71.
Chicago was able to flip their reclamation project for Texas’ 2014 second-round draft pick. Good for them!
If the Orioles had indeed been able to win the bidding war for Gonzalez this week, it would have been eerily similar to the Steve Pearce situation of a year ago – Duquette letting a useful player go for nothing, only to then turn around and need to use an asset to reacquire that player not long after.
But hey, that’s the bad/annoying news. Let’s talk about the good news.
New Miguel, Different from the Old Miguel
The good news is also named Miguel.
On April 7, Duquette traded cash or a player to be named later (who has not, to my knowledge, yet been named) to Colorado for Miguel Castro. Castro, 22, was a 2012 International signee by the Toronto Blue Jays. He made his MLB debut in 2015, at 20 years and 103 days, the youngest Blue Jay to ever appear in a game at the time (since beaten by Roberto Osuna). Later that summer, Castro was part of the deal that sent Jose Reyes to the Rockies for Troy Tulowitzki.
Castro pitched 13.2 relief innings for Colorado’s AAA affiliate in 2015, with a 1.32 ERA and 3.89 FIP. His 2016, however, was a disaster – a 10.34 ERA in 15.2 IP at AAA, and a 6.14 in 14.2 IP for the Rockies. It’s not hard to see why Colorado saw him as expendable, I suppose, though at 22-years-old, you’d think they wouldn’t be so quick to write him off.
In swooped Duquette, though, and the results have been overwhelmingly positive for Castro so far in Baltimore.
Looking at a stat called Win Probability Added (click here for a lesson), we can get an idea of just how valuable Castro has been.
Last year, Zach Britton led all O’s pitchers in WPA at 6.39. Here is this season’s leaderboard:
If Castro finishes at the top of the list, he’d be the first Oriole other than Britton to lead the team in WPA since 2013, when Tommy Hunter claimed the honor.
Castro has thrown at least 2.0 innings in 12 of his 31 appearances, including four of at least 3.0 innings, and one 6.0-inning appearance back on August 3rd (in which he allowed no runs). These outings of long relief – plus a Baltimore rotation that is ALWAYS, let’s say…lacking – have many wondering if the team could give him a chance to start next season.
Camden Depot’s Matt Kremnitzer explored this possibility last week.
At the very least, it seems like stretching Castro out to become a starter wouldn’t be a difficult transition. […]
Still, his lack of strikeouts with his current pitch arsenal causes hesitation. In 2017, the average major league starter has a K/9 of 7.9. Only one qualified starter this season has a lower K/9 than Castro’s 4.89. That would be Ty Blach of the Giants at 4.38. Blach is a former fifth-round pick who’s doing an even better job of avoiding walks and home runs. Maybe Castro could do something similar, but it’s tough to find success and maintain it year after year when you’re not missing bats. Major league hitters are too good at finding ways to maximize damage when they make contact.
Castro may not project as a solid starting option or even as any kind of long-term, shutdown reliever, but he is helping right now and does possess a couple of pitches that flash his potential. The Orioles don’t need him to be amazing; they just need him to do a decent Miguel Gonzalez impression. Is that too much to ask for?
Hey, another MiGo reference! Fancy that.
Castro’s 4.89 K/9 are certainly a concern. However, we need look no further than our own Dylan Bundy to see just how quickly pitchers – especially young ones – can figure out how to get whiffs.
Looking at a similar graph for Castro, we see that, once upon a time (last year), he had no problem striking guys out:
As Matt also points out, batters are swinging more against Castro and making more contact:
Another strange thing for Castro is that he’s getting batters to chase more, but they’re making more contact. His O-Swing% went from about 25-26% in 2015/2016 to almost 37% this season. But after posting O-Contact% numbers of 48% and then 55% in 2015/2016, that number has jumped to almost 66%. Overall, batters are swinging more against him, and they’re making more contact.
So guys are swinging MORE against Castro than they did back when he was a high K/9 pitcher, yet his K/9 have fallen off a cliff. This is certainly odd, and perhaps he’s due for a bit of a regression to the mean in this regard. In fact, you can see a recent uptick in his K/9 on the chart above.
He’s slightly above his season average lately, which we can see if we zoom in on 2017 (the dotted line is his season average):
Perhaps it’s as simple as saying, “Hey Miguel! Strike more guys out!” (it’s not). Maybe it’s just a matter of waiting for his contact numbers to regress (it might be). And maybe Castro just isn’t really a high-strikeout guy (though perchance, like Bundy, he could suddenly become one).
For now, it’s certainly something to keep an eye on, as Castro continues to work out of the bullpen. Hopefully his WPA will continue to rise, as he keeps on bailing out O’s starters from the miserable showings that you just know are bound to pop up.
Longer term though, given the Birds’ many questions at starting pitcher entering the 2018 campaign, it would seem logical that the organization give Castro every opportunity to show that he can make the transition to starter. If he flames out, you can always move him back to the bullpen. If he succeeds – the bar for which is depressingly low in Birdland – then you’ve truly swapped one useful Miguel for another, nearly one-to-one.