Welington Castillo’s framing success hasn’t carried over

White Sox catchers having difficulty controlling the strike zone

Baseball Prospectus calls Welington Castillo the second-worst receiver in the league, whether by average …

  1. Mitch Garver, -0.026 CSAA over 615 chances
  2. Welington Castillo, -0.021 CSAA over 1,287 chances
  3. Willson Contreras, -0.019 CSAA over 1,507 chances
  4. Omar Narvaez, -0.019 CSAA over 650 chances

… or bulk:

  1. Willson Contreras, -4.5 framing runs
  2. Welington Castillo, -4.2 framing runs
  3. 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.

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Jim Margalus
Jim Margalus

Writing about the White Sox for a 16th season, first here, then at South Side Sox, and now here again. Let’s talk curling.

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mikeyb

It seems like in all of the videos here, Castillo is trying to pull the ball back to a spot. If you oversell it, it seems like the ump is going to think you’re overselling it, and the call is going the opposite way.

It’s annoying, because this year we’ve actually seen Castillo steal a few balls for strike 3 (especially at the bottom of the zone) by just holding it where he catches it. If there’s going to be movement in the glove, it absolutely has to be subtle. The best bet is to shift the body and hold the glove. That’s much easier said than done when a pitch misses by a mile and is thrown hard (I truly don’t know if it would be possible for any catcher to show up as a net positive for Carlos Rodon), but in the videos here, that just isn’t often the case.

mikeyb

Because I find this stuff so fascinating after years of catching/umping, here’s where I think things fall apart in each of the videos:

1) Kolten Wong – This one seems pretty straightforward to me. The pitch was lower than Castillo anticipated, so he tried to oversell it, raising the glove a good 5 inches after catching the ball. An ump is going to get pissed if you do that.

2) Paul DeJong – Castillo for some reason starts to shift/rotate his body a bit during the pitch. When the ball ends up on the outer third of the plate, he has to reach back across his body, making it look like Giolito missed his spot by even more than he did.

3) D.J. Reyburn – I’m with Jim that this one is solely on the ump getting caught up in the check swing. Good pitch, fine job of receiving.

4) Alex Gordon – Soria misses horizontally but not vertically. You’d like to see Castillo be able to adjust to a miss in one direction and hold the ball where he catches it there. That being said, it’s tough to hold that one against Castillo. A fastball, reaching across your body, is going to take a hell of an effort to keep the glove steady. I’d put this one mostly on Soria, but you’d like to see Castillo not have to yank it back.

Greg Nix

FYI, the Wong and DeJong at bats are Narvaez. He’s definitely the worse framer of the two by the eye test. 

mikeyb

Apparently I only look at the moving pictures rather than reading carefully.

Otter

I think the Wong call is a blown call too. With strikes like those (ie not on the edges) what the catcher does or doesn’t do with his glove shouldn’t matter.

mikeyb

Yeah, the ump definitely missed it. But that’s an absolutely terrible job of receiving.

Shingos Cheeseburgers

Hashtag White Sox Free Agent Curse?

Has anyone come up with a cumulative scoring system for good/bad strike calls that strips out framing? One would think it would end up even over a large enough sample but the wildness of Sox pitchers probably tilts things towards not getting close calls. Essentially it would have to count the number of egregiously bad calls since framing in theory should be gaining the marginal calls. 

Patrick Nolan

Disappointing. Maybe last year was a blip for Castillo. Framing stats tend to stabilize reasonably quickly.

Amar

Your ol pal Jason Castro is well above average in framing this year 

https://legacy.baseballprospectus.com/sortable/index.php?cid=2519121

John SF

we think framing stats stabilize quickly.  

But we also know less about how framing works and how to best measure it than any other important stat we pretty much ever try to value.  

It’s possible they don’t stabilize quickly, just some outlying aspect of them that we latched onto early tends to stabilize.   Or several other statistical explanations.  

metasox

The article mentions the quality of pitching as a possible factor. Is there also an adjustment period in learning a new staff?

As Cirensica

Cervelli used to be elite in framing, and now he is among the worst? How can that happen?

Josh Nelson

I look forward to Ichiro’s Hall of Fame speech

Ted Mulvey

I’m surprised. I would have thought he’d go back to Japan and play there before retiring entirely. What a career, though.

Greg Nix

It’s possible a Special Assistant role wouldn’t preclude him from playing in Japan next year, but I’m just guessing.

Anohito

Truly feels like the end of an era

Shingos Cheeseburgers