>2010 Preview: Luis Castillo

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This is the second edition of my 2010 Mets previews, which I began last week, when it was still January. For Oliver Perez, click here.

Full Name
: Luis Antonio (Donato) Castillo

Anagram of his name I used the internet to create: I outclass, ill.

Career Line: .292/.369/.354, 28 HR, 426 RBI

2010 Chone Projection: .281/.367/.350, 3 HR, 40 RBI

If he were a Muppet, he would be: Which one would be a poor-defending slap hitter? Probably Elmo.

Suggested at-bat song for 2010: “Pressure Drop” – The Clash

***

Luis Castillo had a miserable off-season – but he probably doesn’t know that yet. After his bounce-back 2009, the Mets desperately wanted to move Castillo in exchange for just about anything. They failed. So now Castillo has become the 2010 on-field face of off-season failure. He’s Harry Potter living with the Dursleys. The Mets’ version of Annyong. Grandpa Simpson. Kimmy Gibbler at the Tanner residence. The guy invited to the party that everyone hoped wouldn’t show up but then did anyway. I don’t think he knows that yet, but he may be in for a surprisingly chilly reception this spring. It’s not his fault, but it is what it is. Sorry, Luis.

Castillo’s defense is mostly responsible for this shift in fan perception. At this point in his career, Luis Castillo’s only value comes from his on-base abilities (.387 OBP in 2009). He has no power (.043 ISO in 2009), and his defense is awful – he ranked 31st in defensive plus/minus and last in UZR. Fan Scouting reports states that he has slow initial steps, perhaps explaining his lack of range. The biggest complaint about Castillo going into 2009, and thus the cause of the unenthusiasm surrounding him, is that his defensive struggles partially killed Mike Pelfrey’s ability to be a successful right-handed ground ball pitcher. That is probably true.

For visual illustration of Luis’ defense inabilities, here is a graph of his 2009 plus/minus. Towards first is his left, towards second is his right, forward is balls hit at him, and behind him is double plays. The red diamond represents league average:

Luis range diamond is much smaller than the league average diamond. No surprise there. Historically, Luis has always been a poor defender going towards the first base bag, poor at turning double plays, and he’s never been adept at running down and catching pop flies. The great range he had going to his right seems to have slowly declined since 2005, when he moved to the AL and the Metrodome, thus making him the worst defensive second basemen in Major League baseball. Which is to say that he’s “not good.” For comparison, here is oft rumored Orlando Hudson:

That doesn’t look much better, but what’s not shown on the chart are balls in the air. Hudson is fantastic at running down pop flies, while gimpy Castillo is not. So, oddly enough, while Hudson’s defensive is indeed better than Luis’, it would be more likely to help Johan Santana than ground ball pitcher Mike Pelfrey. Felipe Lopez’s second base defense is also questionable — a +7.8 UZR and a favorable fan scouting report contrast with a 0 plus/minus, which has always disliked his defense at second — though he probably would provide the most boon for the Mets ground ball pitchers. Here’s Felipe’s defense:

While both Hudson and Lopez would be an improvement over Gimpy McSingleton, neither is exactly a defensive wizard in either own right. Relative to the cost, neither Hudson nor Lopez would have been that a significant of an upgrade. So – and I can’t believe I’m saying this – the Mets may have been correct in sticking with Luis Castillo. Maybe.

However, because of age and his steady decline, Luis Castillo is still a below average second baseman, one who will probably continue to decline in 2010 – in fact, his skill set has already dropped off to the point that it is nearly identical to Eddie Gaedel’s skill set, the midget who walked in his only plate appearance in 1951. Think about it. If the Mets stuck Gaedel at second base for this season, virtually nothing would change. Neither Castillo nor Gaedel would play defense with any real range. Neither one ever swings the bat, instead just daring the pitcher to try to throw strikes. They’re both physically handicapped: Gaedel was a little person and Luis Castillo has legs that are different sizes. Castillo is probably a better base runner, but that’s really the only advantage he has over Eddie, who was measured at 3 foot 7 inch. That’s really it though: baserunning is the only thing separating present-day Luis Castillo from baseball’s shortest player.

And maybe that’s all that really needs to be said about what to expect from 2010 Luis Castillo.

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