Luis Castillo thinks he’s close to turning it around. But to this point in the season he has not been the pitcher that was expected. As things stand this morning, Luis Castillo has allowed the most earned runs in the National League. He’s given up 45 hits in just 33.2 innings. Opening Day was very rough on his ERA, which currently sits at 6.42 on the season. He’s been better since that first start of the season, but he still hasn’t quite been good – posting a 4.75 ERA in 30.1 innings with eight walks and 26 strikeouts.
He’s been a bit too hittable. Part of that may be that the Cincinnati Reds
“What I’ve seen is about 70% of my pitches are staying in the zone,” said Castillo after the game on Saturday. “I’m definitely noticing that, and I’m definitely focusing on that, too. What I’m trying to do now is I’m trying to pitch lower so that way we can get more swings and misses and more ground balls.”
Swings and misses and ground balls. That’s been the combination that’s made Luis Castillo one of the best pitchers in the league since he made his debut back in 2017. Both rates are down so far this season. His ground ball rate for 2021 is 50.5%. That’s much better than the league average, but it pales in comparison to the 59% he had in 2017 (59%), 2019, 55.2%), and 2020 (58.4%) when he was among the elite ground ball starters in baseball. The strikeouts are also way down – though Opening Day is skewing the numbers a tiny bit as he didn’t record a single strikeout in the game. Still, his strikeout rate this season is 16.8%. That’s Bronson Arroyo-esque. His career rate is 26.3%, and in the last two seasons it’s just over 29%.
Fewer ground balls. Far fewer strikeouts. Terrible defense. It’s a recipe for disaster.
“I think we’re close,” Castillo said about getting back on track. “The reason why is because we know what’s going on and we know what’s wrong. And we know we can fix it, too. I think we’re definitely close and we’ll be there soon. ”
When it comes to his pitch breakdown, Luis Castillo has been using his change up more than ever. This season he’s throwing it 38% of the time. It’s never been higher than 32% in the past (2019). He’s also throwing fewer 2-seamers than he has since his rookie year. This season it’s at 17%. In 2018 and 2019 it was 21%, and last season it was 25%.
Looking at data from Brooks Baseball it’s interesting to note that the vertical movement on both the change up and slider are very different from where they’ve been in the past. Context of course is needed here because with this stuff we’re talking about an inch being a big difference, but when you are talking about hitting a baseball and in difference in movement is the difference between a ground ball and a fly ball, or a ground ball and completely missing the bat.
From last season to this season the change up has gone from -0.48 to -1.03. In 2017 through 2019 it ranged from 0.42 to 0.86. The pitch has changed a bit over the years, with nearly a full inch of difference from 2019 to 2020. The slider, though, has gong from -0.82 in 2020 to -2.32 in 2021. That’s an enormous difference.
When you head over to Baseball Savant and begin to look at some of the spin rate data, you can see some differences there, too. The change up, 4-seamer, and 2-seamer are all spinning more than they were last year. The differences aren’t huge like we saw from Trevor Bauer from 2019 to 2020, but the spin rate is up on each of those three pitches. What’s interesting though is that the spin rate is down on the slider.
It’s clear without much of the “advanced” data to see that Luis Castillo hasn’t been the same guy he was in the past. But when looking at that stuff we can also see that his pitches aren’t acting the way that they used to as well. The location has been off a little bit, but there’s a little more happening there, too. It’s probably something mechanical and just a small adjustment that needs to be made – and it sounds like the organization knows what’s going on and Castillo seems to think they are close to getting things corrected. That would be a good thing. Cincinnati has hung around that .500 mark this season despite what should have been one of their top pitchers performing mediocre at best for much of the first five weeks of the season.