Jason Castro is The Way

The Angels currently have two catches on their 40 man roster: Max Stassi and Anthony Bemboom. Neither of them were above replacement level in 2019 and each of them struggled with the bat to the tune of a -15 and 5 wRC+ (where 100 is average)…Ouch. Stassi is arguably the best defensive catcher in baseball when healthy but he’s never caught more than 88 games in his mlb career and right now he’s not healthy.

So while most fans can’t stop thinking about the fact that the Angels still haven’t found a front line starter, an addition at catcher also seems necessary. Most of the notable free agent catchers have already been signed but my favorite pick for the Angels remains on the board. So let me make a case for why the Angels should bring on Jason Castro.

The Basics

Age in 2020 – 33
Bats/Throws: Left/Right
MLBTR Predicted Contract – Two years, $10MM
2019 final results – 275 AB, 1.6 war, 103 wRC+
2020 projection – 323 AB, 1.7 war, 88 wRC+

Castro has worked with Craig Wallenbrock (the hitting coach who’s credited with helping J.D. Martinez) over the years and was a launch-angle connoisseur before it was cool. He’s always put the ball in the air but in 2019 the 32 year old Castro began hitting the ball harder than he ever had previously. Whether by swing change or by nature of recovering from surgery for a persistent knee injury, Castro showed he has another gear.

Offense

Castro put up career highs in hard hit percentage and was 15th amongst hitters in Barrel percentage at 17.2%. He broke 90 mph average exit velocity for the first time and put up his best WOBA and XWOBA since statcast started tracking the data in 2015. Lets put that in more tangible terms:

Looking at the actual output instead of the expected stats shows that Castro likely was unlucky last year. His expected batting average was .249 against an actual batting average of .232 and his expected slugging was .521 vs his actual of .435. Statcast ranked as Castro as the second best hitting catcher in the league last year on a rate basis. Even if he regresses some with age Castro has elite plate discipline and it appears he’s now found something that’s helped him hit the ball with more authority than he previously had.

Castro does have some serve platoon splits in his career with a 53 wRC+ against lefties compared to a 106 wRC+ against righties. However considering Castro bats left handed and Stassi is right handed they seem like a natural pair to split time based on the pitching matchup that day. Hopefully leading to more of these:

Defense

Eppler has mentioned that he prioritizes defense over offense in selecting catchers on his roster. I must say I agree with him as a catcher’s ability to frame, block, and throw are often more important what they provide with the bat.

Castro graded at 3.2 runs above average as a framer last year according to Fangraphs, 6.2 runs above average according to baseball prospectus and 2 runs above average on Baseball Savant. He’s definitely not elite in the category (like Stassi) but he has been continually above average in his career. This could help our pitchers get calls like this:

Castro posted his first negative DRS (defensive runs saved) metric last year with -7 runs below average on defense. He had been over 10 DRS 2 of his last 3 seasons so it’s possible this was either a one off or the start of a general decline. His down year came from his struggles with blocking pitches and his generally sub par ability to control the run game. In years passed it would have been surprising to see Castro let a ball get by like this:

Castro has a reputation as a great defensive catcher but at the age of 33 it’s fair to assume he’ll only be around league average defensively going forward. In 2019 his he was overall 6.7 runs better than replacement last year and projects to be 13.1 runs above average next year. At either metric he is still a playable defensive catcher.

Conclusion

Castro at this stage in his career is very unlikely to be an all star level player but he is also not going to be paid like one. If the Angel’s give Castro a two year deal for around $10-16MM for his his age 33 and 34 seasons they’re likely to get at least an average catcher. Castro and Stassi make for a serviceable and affordable pairing. Castro being the lefty veteran who’s bat plays well in our lineup and Stassi being the young righty who’s magic glove steals strikes at a higher rate than anyone else in the league.

At a reasonable salary Castro and Stassi are the Angels best bet at a quality catching tandem for the next two years. Considering our budget, lack of prospect depth, and roster need Castro seems like the clear man for the job.

Acknowledgements:

Data and media content courtesy of Fangraphs, Baseball Prosectus, and Baseball Savant.

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