2009 Analysis: Luis Castillo
Except for that one matter of a dropped popup in the bottom of the ninth inning of a Yankees game, Luis Castillo played as well as anyone could have expected — and far beyond the expectations of most Mets fans.
Anyone who was reading MetsToday back in early April might remember my “Wild Mets Predictions“. Most of them were off, but one of them was:
Luis Castillo will receive consideration for the All-Star Game, and finish the year with a .295 AVG., .375 OBP, and 28 SB.
As it turned out, Luis did NOT receive consideration for the ASG, but he was on his way toward a comeback year by mid-July. And his final numbers were: .302 AVG, .387 OBP, and 20 SBs.
Still, that bonehead play against the Yanks and his lack of punch frustrated many fans, and many would be happy to see him jettisoned from the team this winter. I’m torn.
On the one hand, Castillo did re-establish himself as an on-base machine and a stolen base threat, and he continued to handle the bat well in regard to bunts and advancing runners. Those were his core strengths and greatest values to the team, yet Jerry Manuel incomprehensibly wrote him into the 8th spot of the batting order 24 times during the season — where his value was dampened batting ahead of the pitcher. Luckily, Manuel was bright enough to remember Castillo’s strengths 86 times during the year, when he batted him second. Luis responded with a .326 AVG., .402 OBP, 29 RBI, and 56 runs from that position in the lineup.
But the rest of Castillo’s game continues to drop. Once a Gold Glove fielder, he is now only mediocre to average — and some might say he is a liability. The range is gone, his arm — always weak — is less accurate, and he is tentative when going after popups in the outfield (even before that debacle). The only part of his defensive game that remains above average is turning the double play — which unfortunately didn’t happen often enough to matter.
Is his offense good enough to outweigh his defensive shortcomings? If this were 15-20 years ago, the answer is yes, with certainty. In today’s homerun derby version of the game, it’s questionable. His lack of power but ability to get on base would be acceptable if he were surrounded by more sluggers in the lineup — but, it seems we could say that about many of the Mets’ position players (Daniel Murphy, Omir Santos, LF?). At some point the Mets have to start replacing these supporting characters with, um, support. What’s in Castillo’s favor is the ability to get on base and great success at home — he hit .350 with a .429 OBP at Citi Field. Though most fans are frustrated by his taking too many pitches with runners on base, he actually hit .325 with RISP, and 40 RBI from someone who usually hit #8 or #2 on a 72-90 team isn’t too shabby. His penchant for taking pitches is something the Mets need more of in their lineup, and it is particularly useful when it comes from the top; and Castillo was 6th in the NL with 4.25 pitches per plate appearance.
You have to wonder, though, if the Mets wouldn’t be better off with someone else at second base in 2010 — someone with more punch, less age, and less expensive. Dan Uggla would fit the bill, and though his glove is a negative, some would argue it’s no worse than Castillo’s. Uggla also sees about as many pitches, gets on base at a .350 clip, and will hit 30 HR — though at the cost of 150-170 Ks. Many love Orlando Hudson, but at this point in O-Hud’s career, he may not be much of an upgrade over Castillo. Of course, there is the matter of moving Castillo in the first place — which has been made somewhat easier by his comeback season. There are two more years and $12M left on his contract, and this may be the Mets’ best opportunity to trade Castillo for something of value (or, to trade him at all). Maybe they can sell high on him this winter.
If they can’t, it wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world. The Mets have many other problems and holes to address first — namely, catcher, first base, left field, the starting rotation, and the bullpen. I’d prefer they make the right decisions in those other areas before they create another hole at second base. Though at the same time, if a worthwhile and cheap alternative arises, it makes sense to pull the trigger.