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.

47 Responses

  1. Melvin

    I’m a lot more confident that Castillo will get straightened out than I am about Suarez.

    • Tomn

      I’d take Castillo in that bet too, but he only has once chance every 5 games to right the ship. Suarez has 4 chances every game. But yeah, Suarez looks really lost AND it’s a trend that goes back to 2019 apparently.

      I really wish we’d bring up A. Rodriguez or Garcia to play SS, bench Suarez til he comes around (he could spot start at 3B, PH), that that would improve our defense already. I also think we should move Senzel into 2B, have Akiyama play CF and move India down to Louisville to work on his hitting (though India’s 2B defense has been excellent!).

      • Doc

        Interesting that Suarez gets 4 chances every game to right the ship, but Castillo only gets one chance every 5 days or so. So, a single at bat for Suarez is equivalent to an entire start for Castillo. Does not compute on the logic scale.

      • MBS

        Right, I’d say an Batters AB vs a Pitchers Inning seems more appropriate. You get to reset yourself from your last AB, and inning pitched.

    • Jimbo44CN

      Long loopy uppercut swing. grounders, strike outs or fly outs. No line drives. I think he has to do some swing adjustments. I watched yesterdays game today and zipped thru the recording mainly to see his at bats. Not good.

      • Melvin

        Yeah. I understand that his real slumping really didn’t start until after shoulder surgery but that doesn’t account for the way he swings and his approach.

      • MuddyCleats

        Agree on Suarez; his approach needs to change. Then again check the stats for the last 15 days and that comment would apply to a lot of Reds! India is 0-14 and Moose is far from loose!! Suarez actually has 1 more run & HR than Moose. Votto’s #’s aren’t good either.

  2. KDJ

    We can only blame cold weather for so long. Hope he gets it straightened out soon.

  3. Old-school

    Castillo’s K% is way down and his K/9 way down. His changeup is a 30% put away pitch usually that is now a 13% put away pitch. His 4 seam FB velocity is down over 1 mph- That may be early cold spring temps so yes come June and July and sweltering temps that 4 seam FB might avg 96.3 again. Ill defer to Derek Johnson and trust that Luis comes back this summer assuming health.

    I’m a big Jon India fan and believe he needs to play every day. He’s hitting .211 and wRC+is below 70. Go to AAA for a month and hit 2nd and play 2nd every day and come back June 15. Jon India is part of the future and a very impressive defender.

    Geno Suarez turns 30. He might be in rapid decline. Scooter Gennett went from All star and folk hero to unemployed after 30. Playing MLB at a high level for 7-10 years is very rare.

  4. RojoBenjy

    How often has an INCREASE in spin rate resulted in regression of performance?

    Quisas spincinnati es no bueno para El Peidro.

    Go back to what made him elite, yes?

    • Doug Gray

      I could be reading into your reply, but it sounds like there’s an assumption being made that his increase in spin rate is purposeful. Perhaps it’s not. It’s a smaller increase (except with the slider), and one that could just be as simple as slightly gripping the ball differently to the point he’s not even consciously doing it.

      • RojoBenjy

        Ok that makes sense. I had just assumed that they wanted his rate to increase.

        One thing unclear to me—which slider has been more effective—this year’s or prior years’?

      • MuddyCleats

        Watching Castillo’s last start – I noticed his FB velo was still @ 97, but in the middle of the plate as he pointed out. His change up had more vertical movement down, but I noticed it was in the 86 mph range w/ much more of a hump which IMO is a big part of the problem. The speed variance is too much giving hitters time to adjust. Normally, the goal is 5-7 mph difference. I think it goes back to his arm slot; I think he needs to be a bit more on top so he gets more velo and downward tilt on his change up?? It would also give more bite to his slider. His slider is almost non existent & never thrown for a strike which is another mistake IMO. It would be nice to see him throw his slider for a 1st pitch strike and then actually use it as an out pitch just off the plate or maybe bounce one fm time to time. He really needs to use the left half of the plate more & the slider would help w/ that.

  5. scotly50

    It is my opinion that teams have adjusted to his pitches. they are laying off the change-up because he rarely throws it for a strike and sitting on his fastball. His fastball, although it has velocity, it has horizontal movement and very hittable.

    • Klugo

      I’ve been wondering if he could be tipping.

    • Melvin

      To me his stuff doesn’t look the same.

  6. BatsLeftThrowsRight

    Throws change-up way too often, has been wild in the strike-zone, hanging change-ups makes the worst of hitters dangerous.

    Needs the confidence to throw his above average fastball more often and not worry about pitching perfect. Keep it simple, less change-ups more fastballs.

    Can’t afford to have two guys in rotation to be inconsistent, never get above .500 this way.

  7. Indy Red Man

    His velocity is slightly down and he doesn’t pitch inside. When he does try to come inside it seems to move out over the middle of the plate. If he could bury the slider towards a lefty’s hitters back foot then he’d have 3 pitches, but his slider is always a work in progress. IDK, but its a bummer because he was electric when he first came to the Reds. He would touch 100 at times and looked like a star.

    Now he looks like Volquez II and on his way to a mediocre career like EV. The Reds are 1-6 in his starts. You can’t tell me the regulars don’t feel a little bit of “Here we go again” when he pitches because they rarely show any fight when he leaves them behind. Just like they lost 20 straight Homer starts at one point during his downfall.

    I’d make him the long man and put Antone in his place.

    • TR

      If Romano is still around, the Reds would have two long men.

    • VaRedsFan

      You’re dead on about pitching inside (especially to lefties). It runs back over the plate. Perhaps use a cutter, instead of the 2 seamer, where it bores in on lefties.

      Welsh noted in his last start, that his changeup was breaking horizontal instead of downward. Agree…pitches are easier to hit if the horizontal plane is the same.

      • MuddyCleats

        Agree! Check his splits RHH vs LHH, lefties are much better which is hard to understand w/ his exceptional change up that runs away fm them and down. He must not be backing them off the plate so that can be more effective? Arm slot may be too flat which flattens his pitches out ???

  8. Scott C

    Personally, and I have no “hard ” data to back this up but I don’t believe that Castillo has ever pitched well in cold weather and it seems that almost everyone of his starts this year has been in cold weather. If that is right then he may soon right the ship, if not I hope he figures out what is wrong.
    As far as Suarez goes, until he starts taking the ball to right field, I think he is going to continue to struggle.

    • MuddyCleats

      Spot on w/ Suarez; guy has to make an adjustment. Start small & work on solid contact instead of trying to drive the ball to N. KY. Power can come later

  9. Chris


    Not all trying to be argumentative or confrontational here, but please tell me/us why or when Castillo was ever “one of the best pitchers in baseball.” He’s never had a season ERA under 3, he has has just one full season(2019) where he pitched like an All Star. 2017 small sample, 2018 he frankly was mediocre. To me he’s had flashes throughout 5 years mixed with bas outings to frequent to consider him consistent. Thanks in advance.

    • Doug Gray

      In 2019-2020 Luis Castillo had the 11th best WAR (Fangraphs version) in Major League Baseball. If you go back to 2018, then he’s 18th in baseball in WAR – that’s a three season span where he was one of the 20 best pitchers in the game.

      I think you just have an unrealistic idea of what places someone in that ecehlon of pitchers. deGrom, Scherzer, and Cole are just on a different level from everyone else. That next tier of guy is a handful of guys just like Luis Castillo has been.

      • Chris

        Overall WAR or pitcher WAR? Out of curiosity than, where does Sonny G rank? Besides his Yankees debacle his numbers seem better and his consistency much more so. Thanks Doug.

      • Doug Gray

        Pitcher. Sonny was 13th in 2019-2020. They were close – the extra 30 innings were probably the factor for Castillo there.

  10. centerfield

    Castillo is effective when he can throw low fastballs on the same plain as his changeup. He isn’t keeping his hand on top of the ball. Everything drifts up. Fixing that is easier said then done. I do think a quicker pace would help him keep the hitters off balance. Who calls the pitches for the Reds? Cather, DJ, Bell? I see Tucker standing up a lot. Of course the pitcher can throw whatever he wants to. For Castillo’s next start, I would use an opener, Amir Garrett, and bring Castillo in about the 3rd inning. David Bell: Wake up! Try something different.

    • MuddyCleats

      Yep, arm slot – hand more on top. Might be something as simple as how he starts his motion or where he’s breaking his hands which allows him to be more consistently on top of the baseball w/ a higher arm slot ?

  11. Old-school

    Mlb is hard.
    Other than mike trout and max scherzer and joey votto , no one just churns out 10 years of consistent excellence

    Trevor bauer was bad as a Red in 2019. Anyone check out Taylor Trammell lately?
    Bauer was a stopper and cy young in 2020.
    Disco was injured then good then after may 2019 led the free world in home runs allowed then adjusted and has been good since.

    Give Castillo another 8-10 starts and let DJ do his thing. Theres no Plan B if Castillo isnt any good.

    • Jim Walker

      The Reds had starters on back to back nights (Greene/ Lodolo) throw 5 innings at AA where they commanded the zone better than we’ve seen Castillo do in 2022 with the exception of maybe 1 start.

      Yes it was AA but if Castillo could make the jump from there at mid season, who is to say one of these guys couldn’t do the same by the all star break. After all, the old axiom is that if a guy can consistently pitch successfully at AA, if his stuff is good enough, he can pitch in the big leagues.

      • Old-school

        Greene and Lodolo are plan A for 2022-2028. Greene needs innings mileage across a full pro season and seasoning. Lodolo is an interesting one who could advance quickly.

        Throw in Garcia and if you are a reds fan a weekend trip to chattanooga might be fun.

      • MBS

        I agree Lodolo, and Green are thought of as 2022 candidates, but if they are locked in and our rotation is not by the All Star break, All bets are off. Let’s just call them plan C for 2021

      • Klugo

        That’s why, if we’re out of this thing (or not), you dangle Castillo and Miley out there as trade bait.

      • Melvin

        Starting pitchers these days rarely go more than five innings if that especially with our manager. As I was saying yesterday, as bad as our bullpen has been, why not bring up someone who is consistently throwing 100+ (strikes)? Why not get his innings in up here? He’s going to be limited on innings this year anyway. There are a lot of relief innings to go around. I’m sure to some degree the same would hold true for Lodolo. Eventually they will be starters but they don’t have to start out that way. So I agree with you Jim. If they’re pitching well be creative and bring them up sooner rather than later.

    • MBS

      I think plan B for the Rotation is Antone, Gutierrez, and Santillian. I’d expect it won’t be long before Gutierrez or Santillian are up here in the pen or replacing a starter.

  12. MBS

    I’m no pitching expert, but some of the guys that call the game are. Larkin talks about his command a lot. He’s not saying Castillo’s stuff is the problem, just where he puts it in the zone. I’d have to say my eyeball tests would agree with Larkin. I guess if that’s true, the question has to be is it a mechanical issue or mental issue. Either way hopefully Castillo and DJ can figure it out.

  13. Sliotar

    Really good post, Doug.

    IMO, the ground ball rate can’t be emphasized enough for any Reds pitcher and effects of pitching home games at GABP.

    An example corresponding to Castillo – Wade Miley.

    Currently, Miley has a career-high 58.8% GB rate … he was 50.0% in 2020.

    Miley is 4th all among all MLB starters in GB rate of those with at least 20 IP
    (Stats from FanGraphs)

    I absolutely want a “fixed” Castillo and Gray being a 1-2 SP punch in a playoff series … can do a lot of damage, especially in a 5-game series.

    Kudos to Castillo for talking about the struggles … lots of season left for him to get right.

  14. Rod Andrews

    I think you could be right. I admit I’ve never felt he was as great as others thought, but certainly above average. It’s possible he has peaked out. Maybe time to deal him if the return is good enough.

  15. 3rdbaseTom

    Who was Castillo’s primary catcher prior to this year?

    • Ohiojimw

      Castillo found his way out of a funk last year when he worked with Casali in September. Barnhart was recently quoted as saying they are reviewing the charts and seeing that some guys Castillo has worked with in the past called a slightly different game with Castillo than the records indicate he has.

      This came following one start this season where Castillo seemed to indicate he was not comfortable with the game called by Barnhart.

  16. Rednat

    If you would have told me that we would have no production out of Suarez, Garret, Castillo, Lorenzen, Shogo and only be one game below 500 i would have certainly taken it.
    I think the rest of the team has actually been over performing up to this point. Obviously if Suarez and Castillo continue to stink we are going to be a sub 500 team. But if they can step it up we have a good chance of making the playoffs if guys like Winker, and Naquin continue to produce

  17. DataDumpster

    Good question, demands some research. I had always thought that Castillo and some others strongly preferred Casali as catcher. Apparently, he is really good at “framing” the pitches (to get strike calls, yes they now measure that!). Reference:

    Also, it is interesting to note that Casali became the first player ever to catch 5 consecutive shutouts with 5 different pitchers (the ageless Johnny Cueto plus A. DeSclafani, Alex Wood, and Kevin Gausman). The Giants seem to be feasting on the Reds pitchers cast off during the David Bell regime.
    Castillo looks pretty lost with his command, pitch selection, and fastball speed. Just like Suarez, I don’t understand why a reduction in playing time with additional coaching (or holistic work) is not being prescribed by Doc Bell.

    • RojoBenjy

      With Castillo, don’t know that the “doc” is doing too much wrong. But in my opinion what he’s doing with Suárez is malpractice—the patient (the Reds’ team)—has suffered undue harm

    • Jim Walker

      Casali keeps the pitchers on task by getting the ball back quickly and getting set to hang the sign for the next pitch without delay. He also follows the philosophy I’ve heard Chris Welch often espouse that every pitch should look like it has a chance to be a strike coming out of the pitcher’s hand even on 0-2 and 1-2 counts which helps pitcher efficiency and also helps to keep the pitcher focused.

  18. Michael B. Green

    I have not read every post but one of the writers at BaseballHQ has some statistical data supporting the ideal that Castillo does not pitch well in games below I think it was 65 degrees. I could see that – particularly if he cannot get the feel for his change-up.

    Otherwise, the team needs to look long and hard if Castillo is tipping his pitches.

    I am convinced that he will get back in track.