added 5/30/2013 by Scott Barzilla
There comes a time when you have to be honest with yourself. The Astros have the worst record in the American League and you don't get that record without having some really bad baseball players. Yet, the Astros do have some bright spots and as your self-appointed lime wedge to the tequila shot that is this baseball season, I'm going to try to highlight some of those players as we go. What better place to start than the first position on the diamond (for position players anyway)?
Coming into the season, the general consensus on Jason Castro was that he was decent offensively last season, but struggled mightily defensively. Many openly wondered whether he really was the catcher of the future. Not coincidentally, the club added two catching prospects via trade between the summer of 2012 and the spring of 2013. Carlos Perez got promoted all the way to Oklahoma City and Max Stassi got the promotion to Corpus Christi. The implication was clear: either Castro started to perform or there were a couple of prospects that threatened to take his place. Perform he has.
Bill James uses a newer metric called total runs. It really is a different take on an older number that simply combines all of the various skills (fielding, hitting, base running) that a player has to demonstrate. He uses runs created to tackle the hitting, Dewan (Fielding Bible) runs to tackle the fielding, and his own base running runs to tackle the base running. He adds a positional adjustment, but since we are comparing players from the same position, we can eliminate that for the time being. Coming into Tuesday's action, here were the standings for catchers in the American League:
RC Dewan BR Total Joe Mauer 37 4 0 41 Jason Castro 26 4 -1 29 Carlos Santana 32 -9 0 23 Salvador Perez 19 3 -1 21 Matt Wieters 22 -2 0 20 J.P. Arencibia 22 -2 -1 19 Derrek Norris 13 0 1 14 Jarrod Saltalamacchia 20 -5 -1 14 A.J. Pierzynski 13 1 -1 13 Chris Iannetta 16 -5 -1 10
These were the only ten American League catchers to register in the top 300 in this statistic. So, obviously, we are dealing with a weak crop of catchers. Maybe this is a fluke based on a thin position and maybe there are some guys underperforming that will pass Castro by as the season wears on. There are a whole lot of maybes at this juncture of the season, but as the Astros pass the 50 games played plateau, one cannot help but wonder whether Castro deserves to get the call to go to the All-Star Game.
Of course, we can go blind looking at the sabermetric numbers. For many, those are just a way to avoid the truth. Those that know me well know I'm not one of those people, but in order to be a man of the people you have to be able to look at things from multiple angles. So, we can take a look at the basic numbers. The Astros are through 50 games (as of this writing), so if we extrapolate Castro's numbers to 162 games we can compare them with the top single-season totals for an Astros catcher.
AVG OBP SLG HR Runs RBI SO BB Player A .284 .335 .475 19 68 49 146 42 Player B .300 .401 .487 14 47 69 74 55
Some might quibble with the selection of Player B and while that player overall wasn't the best catcher in the team's history, his offensive season was the best in terms of rate statistics. That player of course would be Mitch Meluskey in 2000. Mind you, he had a couple of different things going for him at the time. First, the ballpark and the league in general was at its zenith in offensive production. In point of fact, Jason Castro's 118 OPS+ is actually ahead of Meluskey's 117+.
Beyond that, he might have been a part of the best offense in the history of the Astros. Lance Berkman was just coming up and into his own while Jeff Bagwell and Craig Biggio were in their prime. Richard Hidalgo added 44 home runs himself in a "supporting" role. Castro has no one anywhere near that level in the lineup with him. This doesn't even mention the huge defensive differences between the two players.
If Castro is going to take the next step, he needs to improve his contact rate moving forward. The strikeouts above are where the current numbers are projected to go. If he can wind up somewhere just north of 100 then he will have made tremendous progress on the season. Obviously, the walk numbers could also go up and should if he produces anywhere around career norms. If those things happen then the Astros might have a legitimate everyday player going forward at catcher.