Like many pitchers who make the jump to the big leagues at a young age, Miguel Castro struggled in his first taste of major league baseball, earning a trip back to the minors for some more seasoning and to be stretched out as a starter. Was Castro’s failure to be expected? Was the 20-year-old phenom with only 170 innings of professional baseball under his belt really expected to step in and be a big league closer?
If you’ve been a regular reader here, you’ll know that I had reservations about moving Castro too quickly and you’ll also know that I had some issues with Castro’s command within the strike zone after seeing him pitch for Lansing last August. Back then, I wrote the following:
The biggest weakness that Castro has right now is his command. His pitches have enough life on them that he can get away with throwing the fastball in the strike zone and pitching to contact. He threw about 62% of his 74 pitches for strikes but he didn’t spot pitches in specific locations enough for me to think that his control within the strike zone was deliberate.
Velocity and movement help. Throwing a sinking fastball at an average velocity of almost 96 mph (95.8 mph according to Fangraphs’ PITCHf/x data) makes life difficult for hitters. But big leaguers are pretty damn good and will wait for you to throw a strike and will make decent contact when they have an idea of what’s coming, especially if you’re having trouble locating a certain pitch.
The only reason that Castro survived in the big leagues as long as he did was because of the quality of his stuff. Despite the improvement to his slider over last year (when it had much less downwards break to it), Castro is going to live and die by his fastball command and there’s a very good reason why it hasn’t been particularly good this year.
Castro’s release point has been all over the map so far this season, as you can see from the above graphic (courtesy of Brooks Baseball). Each dot represents one game and you can clearly see that the consistency has been far from ideal. The next graph shows us how Castro’s release points for his pitches have gone up and down, pretty much together over a vertical space of about seven inches.
Note: clicking on image will enlarge it.
This graph shows a more troubling drifting of his release point horizontally of over a foot over the course of his outings with the Blue Jays in 2015.
If your reaction to this last graph is “gaaah!” then you’re probably seeing it the same way that I am. If you’re reaction is “what’s the big deal?” then let’s look at someone who has a little more experience in the big leagues.
This graph is Mark Buehrle’s release points this season. You’ll notice that there’s one cluster that’s set apart from the rest but, for the most part, Buehrle releases the ball in just about the same space every time. What’s even more impressive is that because Buehrle is a starter, he throws more pitches and has more opportunity to miss the “sweet spot” and yet he doesn’t hasn’t missed it nearly as much as Castro. In fact, there’s no real “sweet spot” for Castro since he’s so inconsistent that he hasn’t been able to establish one.
In case you’re interested, above is Buehrle’s vertical and horizontal release points per game. You’ll notice that the lines move pretty much together whereas there was a bit of a scattershot motif to Castro’s graph. Additionally, you’ll probably also notice that there was some significant adjustment between Buehrle’s first start and the rest and that in his May 1 start against Cleveland (the second last point on the graph), there was some significant deviation in both the horizontal and the vertical release points. Buehrle got bombed by the Indians in that game for eight runs but threw five innings of one-run ball against the Yankees after correcting adjusting that release point the following game.
So what does this say about Miguel Castro? It says that he’s young and inexperienced. He has the stuff to be an excellent big league pitcher but stuff alone doesn’t make the pitcher, as Mark Buehrle has taught us over the past two-plus seasons. Almost to a man, when I talk to minor league pitchers and pitching coaches, the tell me that the difference between a Double-A and a Major League pitchers is consistency. Most Double-A and Triple-A pitchers have the stuff to get major league hitters out but the ability to make big pitches by hitting spots and repeating their mechanics over and over again is what separates the minor leaguers from the major leaugers.
It’s probably unfair to ask a 20-year-old with only 170 minor league innings under his belt to be able to do that. Castro should head back to the minors and work out his consistency in a less pressure-filled environment and not come back until gets his arm into a consistent slot that allows him to locate more effectively and, of course, more consistently.
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