Although Boston’s playoff hopes have been dashed by their woeful play in the first half of the season, there are still reasons to watch the Red Sox. The young players on the roster are improving across the board, and hope to make the road to the playoffs tough on their opponents. Ian York takes a look at Rusney Castillo and how, despite his recent slump, his bat finally seems worth the contract he received.
Rusney Castillo had a slow start for the Boston Red Sox this year. On June 21, he had a pathetic .544 OPS, and he was relegated to AAA Pawtucket for a month. Even there he did not impress, playing 22 games with just a .667 OPS, but he was called back up to the big leagues anyway on July 27. From then until September 7, he had an .830 OPS, looking much more like the player the Red Sox hoped they were signing for 7 years/$72.5 million.
A slow start for Castillo is excusable, given that he had not played organized baseball for two years after his defection from Cuba in 2013. We can use a rolling ten-game average to see how his offense has progressed this year (the horizontal lines represent his overall season averages):
His season averages are held down by his slow start, and he is currently in a slump, but for most of the second half of the season he has been a good to very good batter, with some power and moderate patience.
Over the season, he has a significant platoon split, hitting left-handers much better than righties (.333/.373/.508/.881 vs. .252/.280/.354/.635). While the extent of that split is similar in both first and second halves, he still has a respectable OPS (about .700) against RHP in the second half, and has hit LHP very well in that period (OPS over 1.000).
Looking at where in the strike zone he has hit balls of various categories, the most remarkable thing about his profile is how well balanced he is:
In these charts, the background contour plots show where the pitches of each type were located. The size of the outer circles represent the number of strikes – called or swinging – in each sub-zone, and the size of the inner circles represents the number of hits he achieved in each section. The color of the inner circles represents the number of bases he has achieved on average for his hits in each zone; bluer circles are less than average, and redder circles have more power than the average batter. As a right-handed hitter, Castillo stands to the left of each of these charts, since they are from the umpire’s viewpoint.
For each sub-category, Castillo has roughly 1 hit per 10 pitches or more, a rule of thumb for a decent hitter. That means there is no category of pitch or handedness that has him completely baffled. Similarly, his hits are distributed quite evenly through the whole strike zone; he does not depend on pitches in a specific area. About the only trend that shows up is that he hits pitches toward the outer part of the plate with more power, which is a fairly common pattern among batters; but he is still able to hit the inside pitch to get on base. He has a tendency to chase offspeed pitches below the strike zone (as seen by the open circles below the zone). That is also a very common tendency; it’s a main reason pitchers throw offspeed pitches in the first place.
Castillo has not racked up enough innings for defensive statistics to be reliable, but he passes the eyeball test as a plus defender. He has good range and a strong arm, and (especially in the second half) has seemed to get good reads and good jumps on batted balls. There have been a couple of occasions when his concentration has seemed to lapse (most obviously, throwing the ball into the stands with only two outs), but in general he seems to be a more than acceptable outfielder.
One small surprise about Castillo this year has been his lack of aggression on the basepaths. In Cuba, he was a fairly prolific base-stealer (68 SB/28 CS in 323 games from his age 20 to 24 years) and in Pawtucket he stole 10 and was caught twice in 40 games; while in the majors he has just 3 SB in 5 attempts and FanGraphs grades him as a roughly neutral baserunner.
Overall, Rusney Castillo is turning out to be a very solid, though not extraordinary, package. Assuming that his second half is closer to his true level than his rusty first half, he is an above average batter, combining reasonable patience and power, as well as an above-average outfielder. His hit profile does not show any obvious weaknesses for pitchers to attack, suggesting that his results are sustainable. His minor-league numbers suggest that as he grows accustomed to the major leagues, he can also contribute as a base-stealer. His contract with Boston takes him to 2020, when he will be just 32 years old, so it is realistic to expect him to perform at his present level or higher for most of that time. Barring injury, he should be part of a strong outfield for years to come.
Ian York has written about Koji Uehara, an impressive start by Eduardo Rodriguez, Joe Kelly’s approach in certain counts, the effect of better bullpens on offensive strategy, Rick Porcello’s resurgence, Matt Barnes’s first start, and a look at the much improved Jackie Bradley Jr.