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Baseball Prospectus calls Welington Castillo the second-worst receiver in the league, whether by average …
- Mitch Garver, -0.026 CSAA over 615 chances
- Welington Castillo, -0.021 CSAA over 1,287 chances
- Willson Contreras, -0.019 CSAA over 1,507 chances
- Omar Narvaez, -0.019 CSAA over 650 chances
… or bulk:
- Willson Contreras, -4.5 framing runs
- Welington Castillo, -4.2 framing runs
- Francisco Cervelli, -3.5 framing runs
You can also see Narvaez just outside show position in the first group. We knew his receiving was an issue, but Castillo’s is the one that’s worth watching. His sudden improvement in this category with the Orioles in 2017 was one reason why he was worth a two-year, $15 million contract.
That hasn’t panned out yet, and you can say the same for his offense (.221/.284/.397) and pitch-blocking (10 wild pitches, three passed balls over 19 games). Strength is the area where he’s providing immediate returns. His power is in line with previous seasons, and he’s teamed up with Narvaez to throw out 36 percent of baserunners, which is no small feat for an all-righty rotation.
I’m not rushing to judge here, because White Sox pitching has been largely awful over the first six weeks of the season. There’s a lot of unframeable missing and pitch-spiking that I imagine can tax the other skills. Bruce Rondon in particular looks like hell to catch, and Cold-Weather Lucas Giolito couldn’t find the target’s neighborhood, either.
But there have been a handful of pitches over the last week that make me think the poor numbers reflect catcher performance well enough. Giolito had to overcome not one, but two missed third strikes with Narvaez behind the plate on Wednesday. Here’s one in the third inning to Kolten Wong:
And here’s another one to Paul DeJong in the sixth, right before Carlos Martinez took him deep:
Giolito shrugged off the misfortune and struck out both hitters, only costing him a total of three pitches.
Joakim Soria had problems with strike one a couple times. He fell behind Matt Carpenter 1-0 en route to a game-tying homer on Tuesday, although Castillo might not have been to blame:
D.J. Reyburn may have been distracted by the issue of whether Carpenter swung, and not whether he offered at a strike either way. Carpenter ended up homering.
That wasn’t the issue last Thursday, when Soria didn’t get a first strike to Alex Gordon with Castillo behind the plate. Soria missed a spot, but I’ve seen pitchers miss by more.
These things stood out more over the last couple weeks. The Sox have played in closer games where every pitch counts, and they’ve also played against better framers. Mike Zunino and Yadier Molina elicited more dumbfounded looks from hitters over the course of a couple series than their Chicago counterparts.
The problem with looking at individual pitches is that maybe those cases are entirely umpire error (and it probably was in the pitch to Carpenter). I’m more pointing these out because these seem to be the kinds of misses that contribute to the poor grades for Sox catchers, and also put Sox pitchers in a tougher position. Giolito had two outs taken away from him — or at least delayed — and Soria twice had to pitch from behind in the count to the leadoff battter in a save situation.
The hope is that the Sox see fewer of these over the course of May, and particularly from Castillo. For one, it makes games more watchable and aids in pitcher development. Beyond that, while Castillo’s success wouldn’t tilt the scales for the White Sox over the 2018 and 2019 seasons, it’d give fans reason to believe the front office has gained some idea of what it’s doing with free agent position players. Castillo enters May below replacement when including receiving (-0.3 WARP), and the last thing Rick Hahn needs is another case where doing nothing would’ve been more helpful.
It’s too early to draw that conclusion, even if the White Sox’ history makes predicting this particular future seem easier. For all we know, this could end up being a sluggish start among many during a weird, weather-altered April, and it comes out in the wash by the end of the season. Should this post not reflect his greater body of work when we size him up in October, at least it’s here to show us the low point from which he improved.