Of all of the things the D-backs have done well since the front office was assembled in September, the most impressive thing may be the timing of their decisions. Three, or four, or six weeks into the season, it would have been easy to pull the plug on Nick Ahmed playing everyday shortstop, but they stayed the course, and that is starting to pay some enormous dividends. Making a play for Welington Castillo shortly after Jarrod Saltalamacchia was plugged in as Tuffy Gosewisch‘s replacement on the roster is starting to look just as inspired.

Catcher wasn’t a strength of the roster for the early part of the season, although Gosewisch did yeoman’s work while holding down the position. And whether it was an in-person look at Salty or a question mark that had been lingering for a while even before Tuffy’s knee injury, the front office acted decisively. In bringing in Castillo, it looked possible that the D-backs had simply slapped yet another band-aid on a festering wound, but it also looked possible that he’d make a real difference. Jeff addressed the question of whether Castillo would help shore up the position just after the trade:

The immediate answer is a soft yes. He’s surely better than Saltalamacchia and Pacheco from a defense and framing perspective. He still ranks near the bottom of baseball in framing, but he’s twice as good as Salty, which really says more about how bad Saltalmacchia is at framing than how good Castillo is at the same task. Pacheco is a touch better at framing, but appears to lack some of the other important defensive aspects, like throwing out runners and blocking balls. Castillo’s a better hitter than both Gosewisch and Saltalamacchia, too, so the team should improve at the plate and behind it. That’s a win-win even if Castillo is pretty fringy as compared to most starting catchers. We can’t oversell Castillo here, but compared to the other options, he’s a bigger upgrade in Arizona than he could possibly be anywhere else.

The end there, especially, was very telling. An upgrade is an upgrade, but going from worst-case scenario to something better does not necessarily make for an end to the questions. In the last month, we’ve been in premature evaluation mode, because this has been a situation that has not been very stable.

One reason for the instability: the imminent decision that the D-backs face with Oscar Hernandez, set to return from the DL this weekend. It’s clear that Castillo isn’t going anywhere. Chances are, though, that come this time next week or when the team returns from the All-Star Break, one of Saltalamacchia or Hernandez will no longer be in the Arizona organization. The D-backs only have three possible options, as best I can figure — and it’s on Castillo that the decision may turn.

The real question before us may be: is Castillo a starting catcher? Time shares tend to be good things, because for every player with a healthy platoon split who starts, there’s another player out there that fits especially well who may be riding a bench. It’s not a great thing for the D-backs right now, as they try to figure out whether to let go of Salty and try to keep Hernandez on the 25-man roster for the remainder of the season (at least 90 days are required this season to avoid having him on the Opening Day roster in 2016). Whatever Hernandez is or may eventually be — and the D-backs may have the best feel for that of anyone, now that they’ve worked closely with him for several months — the D-backs have to expect that he won’t start more games this year than is completely necessary.

Welington Castillo: The Early Returns

Our all-inclusive hitting statistic, weighted Runs Created Plus, is set to 100 as exactly league average for non-pitchers. At catcher, average is something less than that (87 wRC+ so far this year), and that means that with a 97 career wRC+, Castillo clearly has had something to offer. He followed a 102 wRC+ partial season in 2012 for the Cubs with a full-season 107 wRC+ effort in 2013, and at that point, it really looked like the Cubs had a pretty good player on their hands. One 91 wRC+ season later, though, and the Cubs were out shopping. I forget who they got.

The stat-savvy Epstein front office was presumably thrilled to get a catcher who was one of the better framers in the game after striking out in the Russell Martin sweepstakes, and that’s partly because as Jeff described last month, Castillo hasn’t exactly been plus back there. We knew that, and accepted it. Framing hasn’t been a top priority for the front office and may not even be on the list, but Castillo has been what is, I think, what we normally think of when we think “offensive catcher.” He may be a pretty decent hitter, and his defense was pretty bad but not unacceptably bad.

All Castillo has done since joining the team is make everything look pretty easy. In 17 May games, Castillo had a -44 wRC+, which is a bit like missing the side of a barn with another barn. In 17 June games, he had a 141 wRC+, which is a bit like Paul Goldschmidt on a not particularly great day. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you: small samples. But it’s still worth noting that Castillo isn’t exactly the only hitter who has come to Arizona and thrived. Yes, at this point I’m willing to cite fairy dust as evidence.

Castillo has also improved on his framing. He had recovered a bit of value there this year before the trade in very limited time; now that he has doubled his number of starts behind the dish, that’s becoming more remarkable. On a rate basis, Castillo is looking like he’d rank in the 10-15 range among catchers this year in framing, all the more remarkable in that we’re talking about 60-70 catchers, not 30.

Should we hesitate to trust the framing numbers? Absolutely. We should hesitate to trust June as a window into Castillo’s destiny in every way that would be possible. For reference, though, this is definitely something that stabilizes faster than hitting statistics. Castillo made just 65 trips to the plate in June. In terms of “framing chances” — the number of pitches caught close enough to the edge of the strike zone that the call is uncertain — Castillo has gotten nearly 60 chances per game.

The Arizona Baseline

If Castillo came at all close to his June numbers for the rest of the year, we’re talking about a Miguel Montero-caliber player, but the Montero who was slugging his way into the cleanup spot day in and out. That’s oh-so-unlikely. But right now the threshold for starting caliber is Tuffy Gosewisch, and in terms of 2015, Tuffy who was a little behind Castillo in framing and a fair bit behind him at the plate. That’s enough to work with, it seems, even if Castillo swings sharply in another direction soon.

It’s not all good news. Castillo’s overall stats this year say good-not-great starter, but the splits are not quite as high on him. In this 79 wRC+ season, Castillo has lit up lefties (112 wRC+) but has been a liability at the plate against righties (66 wRC+). I love platoon splits, but in a catcher… if you’re playing pitcher matchups, I think I’d rather match a catcher to his own starters, not to those of other teams.

Castillo hit the lottery this June. It really couldn’t have worked out any better for Castillo so far. We knew coming in that he was no Montero, but he’s done more than plug a hole — he’s made it very tempting to treat him as yet another experiment in a very long list of those this season. Why not see what he can do full time while hitting dry baseballs in the desert?

That was comparing Castillo to a Theoretical Starter like the ghost of Tuffy Gosewisch’s knee ligament; but Castillo needs to be compared to the team’s other current options.

Castillo may only have a 66 wRC+ against right-handers this year, but Jarrod Saltalamacchia has a 45 wRC+ against all pitchers as a switch-hitter. And in terms of framing, Salty is now up to -3.0 framing runs by count according to the Baseball Prospectus statistics. That’s 73rd out of 78 catchers with at least 100 framing chances. You should know, though, that Salty has had less than half of the playing time that ranks 74-78 have had. Really, there is only one catcher worse this year in a game-by-game sense, the Phillies’ Carlos Ruiz (who, god help us, is probably available this month by trade). If you prorate the 2015 framing statistics of both Castillo and Salty to a vaguely full season (140 games), you’d have a difference in 30 framing runs between them. It’s 0.2 runs per game. On average, all of the pitchers would have an ERA that was 0.20 worse. If that doesn’t sound like a lot, that’s a bigger difference than the offensive difference between A.J. Pollock and Ender Inciarte — even if you took this year’s stats and doubled it to make it a full year.

If Jeff and I didn’t like ourselves at least a little, we’d be jumping up and down and screaming at the top of our lungs about this Salty business day after day after day. It makes no (&@#*@#$ sense to keep playing him. He is obscuring who the pitchers actually are, and that is the most vital question to the D-backs right now. I never understood this and I never, ever will.

Salty is way past the moniker “offensive catcher,” because he’s one of the worst hitters at the position right now. At this point, it looks like he’s also left “catcher” behind. And the D-backs should move on, too.

The D-backs’ Options

Here they are:

  1. Keep the Castillo/Salty time share, offer Oscar Hernandez back to the Rays for $25,000.
  2. Keep the Castillo/Salty time share, work out a trade with the Rays to keep Hernandez.
  3. Designate Salty for assignment, make Castillo the starter, Hernandez the backup.
  4. Designate Salty for assignment, make Castillo the starter, and call up Jordan Pacheco to split backup duties with Hernandez.

That’s pretty much it. Either Hernandez is on the roster, or he’s with the Rays, or the D-backs work out a trade. As to #4, if I’m Pacheco, that’s the main reason why I accepted an outright assignment, because that was always going to be a pretty good possibility. And while I thought I could discuss this with a straight face… it comes back to what Jeff flagged a month ago.

DFA’ing Saltalmacchia should be the obvious answer. He doesn’t offer much offense unless the team thinks he’s going to turn things around in a big way and he’s a monstrous liability behind the plate. That’s clearly not very helpful, plus he just doesn’t fit the long-term plan. Castillo is younger and better and under team control. He really makes the newly-acquired Saltalamacchia obsolete, which he kind of was to start with.

Yes, and yes, and yes. #1 and #2? No. Jarrod Saltalamacchia is just not good enough to catch in the majors at this point. I don’t know why. He could get better, he really could — and yet he’d still be a bad idea for this team at this time. It’s nothing personal, it’s that if the D-backs are going to turn this ship around, they need pitchers, and with so many with promise to choose from right now, they have to help themselves make the best evaluations that can be made. It’s just not worth it.

It has to be #3 or #4. We have a standing offer on the table: Jeff can be a Hernandez chauffeur, shuttling to and from Chase and Salt River Fields at Talking Stick, allowing Hernandez to get work in during the day but still be in the dugout if needed every night. Jeff has even offered to provide ham sandwiches free of charge to Hernandez. It’s a pretty good deal and I’m not sure why he hasn’t gotten a phone call yet.

It’s not that the D-backs front office has made great decisions all year, but they’ve committed to the right experiments among the ones they’ve had available more often than not, and they’ve been willing to make a move when the situation has made that a good idea. It’s a good idea to release Salty right now. Go ahead and stitch up that Oscar Hernandez jersey. It’s time to be decisive again.

11 Responses to Welington Castillo Makes Choice Between Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Oscar Hernandez Clear

  1. Anonymous says:

    If dbacks fade, is Beef a sneaky trade candidate?

    • Ben says:

      No, we have no depth at Catcher at all and Castillo’s trade value is negligible.

      • Ryan P. Morrison says:

        I agree. And I doubt they’d do it. If anyone has a fresh impression of what it’s like to try to scrape by without a real catcher, it’s theses guys.

        Wondering/hoping Castillo happens to be a hitter that gets helped more than average by Chase Field…

  2. Kevin says:

    Any sense of Hernandez’s pitch framing abilities? That would seem to an important indictor for this decision process.

    I know people say he is a good defensive catcher, but does that include framing?


  3. Ben says:

    I just looked up Welington’s framing numbers and he is actually providing positive value in the area right now. Definitely a huge improvement over the framing hammer for sure.

    • Kevin says:

      Nice — thanks for looking that up! I think Castillo and Hernandez are the way to go. Not much of a platoon split offensively, but one guy to play when you want more offense and another when you want more defense is not bad.

      Too bad there’s no way to quantify the effect of Salty’s Chuck Norris bat on the ball club’s collective psyche and how that translates to wins. 🙂

  4. Mark says:

    If you listen to the DBacks Podcast (at about the 20 minute mark, but lengthy interview with Hale) Hale talks at length at having Oscar Hernandez as 3rd catcher, with the ability to use Salty/Castillo as an earlier inning pinch hitter, than just the 9th inning…

    • Ben says:

      If they keep Salty and he gets any playing time. I will be so pissed. Almost Touki trade level pissed. He has no business catching in the Majors at all. If they keep him it will be like they are blind or something.

  5. Dave-Phoenix says:

    You left out the option of keeping all 3 catchers on the roster.

    With Oscar Hernandez as a 3rd catcher, Castillo and Salty will be more like traditional bench players when not in the starting lineup, and can be used in pinch hitting duty leaving Hernandez as the emergency backup catcher in the event of an injury or extra-inning marathon.

    This is definitely an available option for the D-Backs, especially considering we are paying Salty League minimum and is a left handed bat off the bench.

  6. […] staff is in line for a bit of a breather. That will not be the case in ten days, and there will be a decision to make. Castillo has a large platoon split this year, but the team requires intelligence in order to […]

  7. […] those pitches or their locations by themselves won’t solve the pitching problem in Sedona Red. Having crappy catchers when it comes to framing won’t help either. There are a number of things compounding the situation here. If anything, a few D-backs hurlers […]

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